In the streets surrounding the Republican National Convention in Tampa this summer, water pistols, slingshots, brass knuckles and glass bottles will be prohibited.
But loaded guns? Not a chance. While the spoilsport Secret Service won't let civilians carry guns inside the Tampa Convention Center, outside is a different story: Anyone with a concealed weapons permit will be permitted to pack heat almost anywhere he wants.
And yet, the NRA-manipulated paranoia about nonexistent threats to gun ownership has become even more pronounced since Barack Obama became president: The fact that Obama has done nothing to restrict guns — and, in fact, signed a law allowing people to take them into national parks — apparently is proof to them that he intends to take everyone's guns away. In Florida, the fact that guns are welcome even in the streets outside a national political convention is less shocking than that the mayor of Tampa actually tried to get a temporary ban put in place. Of course, Florida's governor, Rick Scott, flatly refused.
So perhaps the city should offer special training for conventioneers, media and potential spectators on how to respond if a would-be mass killer was to open fire on bystanders. Got to be useful information, right? As Jill Lepore reported in an article in the New Yorker magazine last month, when a student began shooting in the cafeteria of Chardon High School in Ohio in February, students, faculty and local police pretty much knew what to do. Ever since the 2007 massacre at Virginia Tech, they had instituted procedures for what has come to be regarded as just another emergency for which to prepare, a modern iteration of the old Baby Boomer favorite of the "duck and cover" drill. These days, a troubled kid with a gun is a far-more-realistic danger than an atom bomb was then.
For a while now, the carnage from the nation's 294 million guns has become so commonplace and so expected — and the clout of the gun lobby is perceived to be so vast — that the notion that anything can be done to limit guns is met with a collective shrug. And yet, recent research shows that gun ownership is growing less and less popular with each succeeding generation.
A series by Paul Waldman in thinkprogress.org reported the demographics. Rates of gun ownership have been decreasing steadily over the past 30 years: 54 percent of American adults lived in households that contained a gun in 1977; in contrast, 32 percent did in 2010.
And while gun ownership has gone down among all age groups, among young people the drop has been particularly impressive: down from 45 percent of people under 30 in the 1970s to 20 percent in the most-recent surveys.
So while the number of guns has gone up, the number of owners has gone down, suggesting a group of people growing further removed from the mainstream. But even gun owners — many of them NRA members — favor many safety procedures like background checks and banning assault weapons, even though the leaders of their lobby don't.
Maybe the sight of armed convention-goers will convince us that it's time for a few more rational limits on guns. n