Tuesday, April 21, 2009


Sticking To Their Guns

Last Thursday was the two-year anniversary of the Virginia Tech massacre that killed 33 students and teachers.

Earlier this month, a gunman killed 13 people in a Binghamton immigrant civic center before turning the weapon on himself.

Yesterday was the tenth anniversary of the Columbine High School shootings in Colorado that took the lives of 12 students and one teacher and sparked a national debate on the nature of violence in the United States.

How much has changed? Well, in one certain area, a fair bit.

It will undoubtedly come as a surprise to many, given what seems like an otherwise movement to the left on a number of issues (size of government, increased spending, more open foreign policy), but there is actually less support for gun control now than there was 10 years ago. In the summer of 1999, after something of a wave of shootings, 63 percent of Americans supported stricter controls on firearms -- 46 percent "strongly" supported that notion, about twice as many as "strongly" opposed more gun control.

Now, much of this has to do do with the differences between the culture of the North East and the Mountain West. But, given the close proximity between Boulder and Columbine, if there was any place where

But, today, only 39 percent favor stricter gun control laws. In fact, the numbers have been falling fairly steadily over the last decade -- 54 percent in 2001, 50 percent in 2007 and now down to the current level. And, it seems that the biggest drop has come from independents, who appear to be lining up with conservatives on this issue -- whereas they've sided with liberals and Democrats on most issues during the last two elections.

Furthermore, in a development that might be troubling to those seeking stricter gun control, it seems that just the fear that an Obama administration will seek stronger laws has actually sparked more gun and ammo sales. Figure that last week's report on so-called "right-wing extremism" -- and the Department of Homeland Security's defensive approach to it -- will only exacerbate that.

But beyond all of the shootings -- and recent political events -- one can't ignore the continued impact of 9/11 on the national psyche. That event, more than anything else, may have forced Americans to recognize the importance of guns -- not as misused by psychos -- but as properly used for self-defense. The cops and the military won't always be there to protect individuals. Some times, a citizen has to depend on his or herself. For that matter, even Barack Obama gave mild concurrence to last year's Supreme Court decision recognizing an individual right to bear arms.

While this viewpoint might not have widespread resonance in blue states, but it does in the red -- or purple -- states. There, independents vote with their permits.

I noticed this sensibility during my recent visit to Boulder, which despite it's rampant liberalism is very gun-friendly. I chatted with one student there who fit neither the profile of a tie-dyed CU hippie nor a Western redneck. In fact, he was majoring in engineering (or maybe it was astrophysics). Regardless, the average person might think of him as somewhat nerdy. Yet, here he was training for his Concealed Carry Permit. After he completes his training, the only real restriction that he has on carrying a gun in the state was that he wasn't allowed to do so on the university campus.

Later in the week, an older gentleman -- in all other respects, rather moderate-liberal -- showed me his concealed-carry permit. Ah, just imagine how Michael Bloomberg would freak over ordinary citizens (or college students attending any New York campuses -- say, Columbia or NYU) were permitted to have a concealed-carry license. But here in a college town, only 40 miles from one of the more notorious school shootings in US history, there is no paranoid fear of guns.

It seems that that attitude seems to be the increasing sentiment in the country.

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