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Looser gun laws don't always mean tighter grasp on liberties

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Looser gun laws don't always mean tighter grasp on liberties

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Since statehood 98 years ago, Arizonans have carried guns openly without mandatory classes, written tests, paperwork and fees. The same wasn't always true for carrying guns discreetly. Somewhere along the way, it was decided here and in many other cities and states that this method of carrying required special licensing. 

When Arizona's CCW (carrying a concealed weapon) law took force in 1994, it called for all the requirements listed above and then some, including fingerprinting and entry into a criminal database.

This "right" even came with an expiration date. 

Those provisions for concealed-carry still exist should someone choose to get an official license — and they'll need it if they travel to other states and expect to lawfully carry concealed — but Arizona's new concealed-carry law, SB1108, removes those requirements: Arizona residents and even nonresidents — who are not prohibited possessors — may lawfully carry weapons concealed for self-defense without paperwork, fingerprinting, mandated training or fees.

This new kind of law is really not new, and it's often referred to as constitutional carry in reference to Vermont, whose peaceable citizens have enjoyed it since the colonial era. Alaska passed its own version of the law in 2003. Some other states — Indiana is one — can be seen as being in between. Indiana requires a permit for concealed carry, but with no mandated training. Other states have constitutional carry, but not in all geographical areas.

Now, and as the Arizona law was still wending its way through the state legislature earlier this year, old gun myths have been dusted off, and with some predictability. "The Wild West is about to get wilder," began one local news story. Never mind that the old West was a much more civilized place than today's murderous Chicago, Washington, D.C., or any other large American city (with strict gun control — yes, even after recent Supreme Court decisions); scholars including Peter Hill and Terry Anderson and Roger McGrath have documented this.

As to the fear of escalating violence, this is the kind of dire prediction (bloodbaths in the streets) that has for years accompanied almost every liberalization of a gun law. A prominent example is the successful 1987 Florida law, which helped lead to dozens of other states enacting similar laws. 

The removal of Arizona's CCW training requirement is another objection. But as Alan Korwin points out, half the population already has guns and isn't required to get training, while only two percent of the population currently gets the mandated training for a CCW. And that is not counting the extensive training many non-CCW holders pick up on their own at firearms academies. Korwin and others even hope and expect that the new law will create a new demand for firearms training by individuals because they want the training, not because it's mandated.

It's beyond the scope of this commentary to sketch out the history of how and when guns went from being carried openly by some to being carried concealed, but it will suffice to say that concealed carry is not a modern phenomenon. A New York attorney and friend of this writer says that before belt holsters were standardized, even New York City policemen, when they were first armed, would carry revolvers in their coat pockets. With the advent of fixed-cartridge guns in the late 1800s, more pistols were stuffed into pockets by both shady characters and upstanding citizens. In legal history, an 1897 Supreme Court case is among the first prominent mentions of concealed-weapons carry.

Since elected officials usually politicize the gun issue, let's use an article about guns and politics to illustrate a point. While there is good cause to celebrate Arizona's step in the right direction, there is also a larger, underlying, possibly unfortunate, trend in all this gun-related euphoria, and it's connected to the attitude exemplified in a recent statement by Mitch Kopacz, president of Gun Owners of New Hampshire. Kopacz wasn't addressing Arizona's law, but national politics. He said, in essence, that as long as he and his organization's members have their guns, other freedoms are safe.

I have news for Kopacz. If you focus solely on guns, and if you think that because you have guns, everything else falls into place, or that you are relieved of further responsibility, you have outsmarted yourself.

True, guns could and should be the palladium of liberty if they were used to preserve it at a tipping point in history. In the mid-twentieth century, Hubert Humphrey, one of the last great liberal statesmen, voiced this concept. As essayist and philosopher Jeff Snyder said much more recently, Americans are encamped in the mental state that precedes cowardice.  

Americans have more than enough guns and ammo to dispense with pretty much any large-scale problem. But if you're waiting to see that tipping point — a watershed event — (for some, that might be an image of disarmed citizens — having complied with gun control — being herded into cattle cars) you're probably not going to see it or recognize it. If at an earlier time in history a society's freedoms were ripped away in chunks, today's liberties are more often nibbled away. And you may not notice if you've been eyeing that new AR-15 or jet ski too closely.

Owning and bearing arms, with or without a hall pass, is no substitute for the vigilance required to participate in government.

The writer took his first gun course at age 11, when the sixth-grade curriculum at Tucson’s Greenfields Country Day School offered a rifle class with the late Malcolm “Sparky” Watt. He later enrolled in tactical courses at Glendale Community College with Maricopa County Sheriff’s Deputy Don Burke, and at Westhampton Beach,  N.Y., with noted educator Ken Hackathorn.

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