What once was unthinkable is now commonplace.
Guns have become the preferred tools of revenge and threats in a society where handguns are symbols of swaggering manliness, political muscle and supposed protection against other guns.
Forget reasonable gun controls. Once some restriction is proposed, the National Rifle Association hits the alarm klaxon and tens of thousands of gun owners turn out to intimidate politicians into thinking again if they want to be re-elected.
If handguns seemed in the past to be common in community life, they're now even more so. Legislatures across the land are approving laws allowing gun owners to sport weapons in bars, restaurants and other public places. The push is on for classroom teachers to pack heat. Some judges stash pistols under their black robes.
The national obsession is ratcheted up by celebrities and politicians.
Actor Charlton Heston climaxed his 2001 convention speech as NRA president by holding a Daniel Boone-era musket over his head and proclaiming, "From my cold, dead hands"-- a generally understood credo of defiance that only death, not laws, would loosen a gun owner's grip on a weapon.
Almost-U.S. Sen. Sharron Angle proposed "Second Amendment remedies" to deal with disliked politicians, while Joyce Kaufman, a rabble-rousing radio talk show host who almost became chief of staff to Rep.--elect Allen West, R-Fla., declared, "If ballots don't work, bullets will."
Some regulars at tea party rallies wear handguns or carry rifles while parading with signs implying that the "tree of liberty" needs occasional refreshing with blood.
New York Republican gubernatorial candidate Carl Paladino threatened to "take out" a news reporter, presumably meaning with a gun.
The Social Security Administration just reported that administrative judges were targets of 80 death threats over the past year—such as a caller claiming to be a former Army sniper threatening to "take care" of a problem with his pension.
Most workplace killings involve handguns. Mass killings at schools, ditto.
Guns have been used for killings in U.S. courtrooms, too.
A gunman stormed Capitol Hill, killing a congressional security guard.
No other country has as many homicide gun deaths as the United States, according to a study, "The Global Gun Epidemic," by Praeger Security International. U.S. homicide gun deaths per 100,000 population for 2001 were 3.98, while the next closest was Italy with 0.81 per 100,000 (1997 latest data).
Having four times more gun homicides than does Italy, home of the Mafia, should America worry about its gun culture?