Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Do we really want open carry of firearms?

President Obama came to Portsmouth, NH on Tuesday to talk about his health care plan and how best to care for the well-being of our nation’s citizens. Hundreds of people lined the road leading to the high school where Obama spoke. Some came to catch a glimpse of our 44th President. Some to show their support for Obama’s efforts to reform our health care system. And some came to protest Obama’s policies.

One protester, William Kostric of Mancester, New Hampshire, held a sign that read “It is Time to Water the Tree of Liberty.” This line was in reference to a quote by Thomas Jefferson, “And what country can preserve its liberties, if its rulers are not warned from time to time, that this people preserve the spirit of resistance? Let them take arms. The remedy is to set them right as to the facts, pardon and pacify them. What signify a few lives lost in a century or two? The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time, with the blood of patriots and tyrants. It is its natural manure.”

Kostric also carried a loaded 9mm handgun in a holster strapped to the outside of his pant leg.

According to news reports Kostric had left Arizona because it was “becoming too restrictive with gun laws” and moved to New Hampshire, “a ‘live free or die’ state.” A proponent of openly carrying firearms, Kostric chose to wear a gun to where the President was speaking in order to make a political statement.

The unbelievable thing is that what Kostric was doing was not against the law. That's's perfectly legal in New Hampshire to openly carry a firearm. Unbeknownst to most Americans, some form of open carry is legal in approximately 43 states and gun extremists want you to know it. According to the Portsmouth police, because Kostric was protesting with permission on private property belonging to a local church they could do nothing to stop him.

This action was just the latest in a push by gun extremists across the county to ramp up their efforts to normalize abnormal behavior by encouraging citizens to openly carry firearms. There have been a growing number of public events designed to get the gun crowd to come out of the closet so to speak in the hopes of intimidating the public into accepting their dangerous worldview.

Is this the world we want? Would you be willing to sit with your kids at a local fast food restaurant while a fellow patron openly displays a gun at the table next to you? Would you want to stand in line at a bank to make a deposit as two men enter wearing guns on their hips? Would you want to board a crowded bus with upwards of 5 other passengers openly carrying guns?

If we allow a man to carry a loaded gun outside of the venue where the President of the United States is speaking won’t we also permit all those other displays of firearms? What else will we consent to? At President Obama’s next speech will we let someone stand outside with an assault weapon strapped to their back? How about ten protesters with handguns?

In one media interview, Kostric cited research done by John Lott over a decade ago that erroneously pointed to a link between an increase in guns and a decrease in crime. But he failed to mention the numerous studies that have followed debunking Lott’s study and, if anything, suggesting just the opposite, that more guns equals more crime.

Every year in this country guns kill over 30,000 people. 70,000 people are shot and injured, leaving physical and emotional scars that last for years. More than 375,000 people are victims of armed robbery or aggravated assault with a firearm and countless others are threatened and intimidated with guns, sometimes by so-called loved ones. In contrast to gun lobby rhetoric, guns provide a false sense of security and cause much more crime and injury than they prevent. Flooding our communities with guns and arming ourselves at all times only adds to the problem, it is not the solution.

Unless we wake up to the growing threat of any gun, anywhere, anytime and demand that guns laws effectively address the inherent dangers associated with carrying guns in public places, the seemingly far-fetched examples of every day outings turned into repeated encounters with armed people will become all too real. After all, leaving decision-making about where and when to use a gun to folks packing heat in churches, restaurants and parks is a frightening prospect.

Sally Slovenski, Director, Freedom States Alliance

Cathie Whittenburg, Director, New England Coalition to Prevent Gun Violence