Second Amendment Culture Wars: Eastern Elites vs. Gun-Friendly Red States

America's gun-rights debate has moved into some new territory that highlights the ideological divide separating gun-hating Eastern elites from Americans in fly-over country. 

Recent events in New York City, Washington D.C., and in gun-friendly fly-over states (mostly red) demonstrate how profoundly the nation's Second Amendment debate is wrapped up with its culture wars.

Consider how Americans on opposite sides of the liberal-conservative divide are viewing the gun-rights debates underway in at least nine state legislatures. According to Eastern elites, lawmakers are doing the unthinkable: They're debating whether to eliminate so-called "gun-free zones" on public college and university campuses; such zones exist in 22 states, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Texas is considered the most likely to pass such legislation, with a vote possible this March. Only Utah allows concealed carry holders on its campuses.

Conversely, 25 other states leave it to colleges and universities to allow or ban concealed carry holders; and so a handful of schools in the Midwest and West actually do allow concealed carry holders on campus to varying degrees. They include Michigan State, Colorado State, and the University of Colorado, schools where no concealed carry holders are reported to have been involved in campus massacres or robbery sprees. Nine of those states nevertheless introduced legislation last year to ban concealed carry on campuses, a response to shootings like the Virginia Tech massacre.

Besides gun-friendly Texas, states that may do the opposite and ban gun-free zones on campuses include Arizona, Florida, Tennessee, Michigan, New Mexico, Mississippi, Oklahoma, and Nebraska. To be sure, abolishing gun-free zones wouldn't involve handing out Glocks to boozed-up college kids, as gun-haters fear. Rather, it would to varying degrees allow gun owners with concealed carry permits, including students, to bring handguns on campus. 

In gun-hating New York, getting a carry permit involves a nightmare of red tape. But not so in Texas and most states, where it's relatively easy for law-abiding adults to obtain concealed carry permits after passing a course and undergoing a background check. In Texas, one part of the 10-to-15 hour course includes instruction in "non-violent conflict resolution" - to help ensure people only use their weapons for legitimate self-defense purposes.

Gun-hating liberals may be surprised to hear it, but it's virtually unheard of in Texas for people with carry permits to commit crimes or be involved in unnecessary shootings. They don't hold up convenience stores; don't get involved in shoot-outs at bars or after traffic accidents. Nor do they shoot people whom they feel have "dissed" them -- a common occurrence in gritty parts of Chicago and Detroit. It all underscores a fact that gun-hating liberals overlook: Culture plays a big role in gun violence. Switzerland, after all, is armed to the teeth, with members of its large citizen militia keeping military-issued weapons at home -- yet gun-related crimes in Switzerland are rare.

In the guns-on-campus debate, reasonable people might disagree about the wisdom of allowing undergraduates to keep handguns in dorm rooms. But what about college professors and staff members? Consider a strange inconsistency in Texas. In Austin, a short drive from the University of Texas' gun-free zone, is the state capitol. It's a part of the real-world: Concealed carry holders are allowed to bring handguns into the legislature and capitol building. Security guards wave them through after they present their carry permits. To date, no shoot-outs have occurred among gun-toting legislators, lobbyists, and visitors during heated debates.

Yet at the University of Texas, professors, staff, and students with concealed carry permits are prohibited from carrying their guns on campus when, say, they must walk to and from a night class and a dark parking garage. The absurdity of campus gun-free zones prompts the National Rifle Association to ask: "Should you have less freedom and safety than anyone else simply because you go to college?" Besides personal protection, gun-rights advocates note that a person with a carry permit could stop a Virginia Tech-style massacre in its tracks.

Recently, legislative initiatives to abolish gun-free zones were the subject of an article in the New York Times, an agenda-setting paper for liberal elites. It soft-peddled the obvious: Gun-free zones don't make anybody safer -- except for gun-toting criminals. If the Times thinks otherwise, it should disarm the security personnel who presumably guard the New York Times Building.  Then it should put up a sign that sanctimoniously proclaims: "Gun-free Zone." But don't count on that happening; even Times publisher Arthur Ochs Sulzberger Jr. wouldn't be so stupid.  Yet gun-hating liberals nevertheless portray gun owners in fly-over country as bubbas and hayseeds: people who cling to their guns and religion as President Obama put it.

Speaking of Obama, the Senate Judiciary Committee is now considering the President's controversial nomination to head the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms. Andrew Traver, 47, is being vigorously opposed by gun-rights advocates. The veteran ATF agent, among other things, has likened automatic black-market weapons to legal semi-automatic assault weapons and is involved with the anti-gun International Association of Chiefs of Police. "You might as well put an arsonist in charge of the fire department," said Chris Cox, an NRA spokesman. 

Traver was based in Chicago, a city without gun shops; and yet it's got a high crime rate and well-armed gangs that Trevor, to his credit, went on the offensive against -- treating them as criminal organizations instead of neighborhood thugs.

'Outing' Gun Owners

As the gun-rights debate has heated up, the New York Times recently launched an anti-gun crusade -- running a full-page article that "outed" well-known New Yorkers who own handguns. It portrayed them as members of a strange and troubling subculture; and it was published not long after another anti-gun piece -- a female reporter's amusing account (by red-state standards) of her visits to some New York gun shops.

Not surprisingly, getting a handgun permit in New York is hard if not almost impossible, whether it's to carry a handgun in the street or keep at home. Even so, many well-heeled New Yorkers have actually managed to get such permits. So who are these crazies? To find out, The Times culled through thousands of names of gun owners that it got from the police after filing lawsuits and freedom of information requests. It was amazed to learn that some of the city's leading citizens were handgun owners and even had carry permits. According to The Times, the list included: "Men and women. Democrats and Republicans. Doctors, lawyers, merchants and moguls. A remarkable, if relatively small, cross-section of New Yorkers."

In all, more than 37,000 New Yorkers keep handguns in their homes or carry them in the street, according to the full-page article: "Armed in New York, and Carrying Well-Known Names." The article's print edition was dominated by a photo of a shooting target: a human silhouette. And around it were 15 photos of high-profile New Yorkers with handgun permits: actors, public officials, journalists, and other celebrities.

In its quest for accountability from the city's gun-toting subculture, The Times then contacted a number of gun owners. Some were apparently outraged at being outed -- and told reporter Jo Craven McGinty to go screw herself. Others, apparently embarrassed at being outed, proceeded to blurt out some incredibly dumb comments; things no gun-toting bubba or hayseed in fly-over would ever be so naive to utter.

Consider not-too-bright Alexis Stewart, 45, a radio and television talk-show host. She was among a surge of New Yorkers who bought handguns after 9/11. Obviously embarrassed at being outed, the daughter of classy Martha Stewart gushed: "I keep it in my apartment unloaded in a safe. Wait. I probably shouldn't say that. It's under my pillow and ready to go." (Readers who don't know why it's dumb to say such things are obviously not among American Thinker's conservative readers.)

Then there was gun owner William Rosado, an illustrator. He all but apologized for enjoying his regular visits to a shooting range with his 9-millimeter Smith & Wesson. "In a weird way, it's kind of a stress reliever," he confessed. "It's something completely different than what I do for a living."

Most of the gun owners told the Times they'd never pulled their guns in self-defense; no surprise there. And nor did the paper mention that any New Yorkers had abused their concealed carry privileges -- and you can be sure such anecdotes would have been mentioned if the Times had found them. One example was nevertheless provided of a New Yorker who'd actually defended himself with a handgun. You have to wonder: How many other such cases did the Times find but fail to mention?

The case of John A. Catsimatidis, 62, was nevertheless interesting. The owner of a supermarket chain, he once used his Walther PPK to stop an armed robbery. Upon entering one of his stores, three armed robbers rushed past him, one by one. Each carried a sawed-off shotgun. (Shotguns are easier than handguns to obtain in New York City and surrounding metropolitan area.)

"Be cool, man!" the first thug told Catsimatidis. Then the second one rushed past, also saying, "Be cool, man!" As the third emerged, Catsimatidis was ready. He related: "I intertwined my arm into his arm, and I put my gun to his head, and I say: 'Drop your gun or I'll blow your head off'." When the police arrived, a sergeant told Catsimatidis: "You couldn't have shot the guy anyway; your safety is still on."

It was the perfect anecdote with which to end an anti-gun story -- one making a gun owner look like a bumbler.

Interestingly, the same edition of the Times also featured a long story with a self-defense angle -- of sorts. "It Ended in a Suitcase," as it was titled, dealt with a "strung-out" 28-year-old hooker who called herself "Jackie" and the violent 55-year-old man who killed her, a drifter with a long criminal history named Hassan Malik. It was an utterly banal crime story, the stuff of New York's lowbrow tabloids; and it certainly wasn't what the Times normally gives its upscale readers. But apparently Times' editors felt more "diversity" was needed in its crime coverage -- and so they offered up "It Ended in a Suitcase" -- an in-depth story about two losers from the city's low-life culture.

The fates of Malik and "Jackie" (real name: Betty Williams) were completely predictable given the lives they had led. Yet reporter Alan Feuer was clearly intrigued, and he naively wrote: "Why had things turned violent? And, most important, how, in 21st-century New York, was it possible for a strangled woman to be stuffed inside a suitcase and summarily deposited on the street?" Of course, no gun-toting bubba or hayseed in fly-over country would have trouble answering that question.

Malik, incidentally, didn't dispatch Williams with a gun. He used a frying pan and a VCR  cord - and he claimed he acted in self-defense. A likely story. One that raises a question: "When frying pans and VCR cords are outlawed, will only outlaws have them?"  

David Paulin is an American Thinker contributor.