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Gun issues could turn the U.S. into a Third World country

Write to the Point


The feeling of unease is still palpable.

Last summer in Guatemala we were preparing to sit down for breakfast at the hotel we were staying at just outside the town of Purullha. We were preparing to make a second journey to visit the Pocomchi Mayan people in the Baja Vera Paz Mountains of north-central Guatemala.

Sitting waiting for the plates of tortilla shells and bowls of refried beans — yes they serve those for breakfast and they’re the best in the world — I noticed a couple come into the dining area looking for a table. Likely either travelers on the road stopping for a bite or locals coming to enjoy a favorite meal, I thought.

I was about to load up a tortilla with eggs and beans when one of my companions nudged me to my attention, and having done so, discreetly pointed to the couple saying, “Check him out.”

I did. At first I didn’t notice anything, just a man and woman likely in their early to mid-40s until the man went to sit down. That was when I noticed the big, shiny, Glock-looking handgun holstered at his right side.

The incident replays a lot in my mind lately. It replayed when I read that Idaho’s Legislature passed a law allowing guns on college campuses, much to the chagrin of university presidents and law enforcement officials.

It replayed when I read that the Georgia Legislature passed a law allowing individuals with concealed carry permits to bring their weapons into public establishments such as bars, school zones, government buildings, certain areas of airports and even churches if they allow it.

It returned this week as I was reading the Associated Press story about the U.S. Supreme Court letting stand a New Jersey law limiting guns in public, requiring those wishing to do so demonstrate “specific threats or previous attacks demonstrating a special danger to applicant’s life that cannot be avoided by other means.” Plaintiffs in the case cited a number of reasons for a need to carry, from restocking ATM machines to one who was the victim of an interstate kidnapping.

Violence happens, I understand that, and until we can positively change the human condition so people don’t resort to violence to settle differences or incur financial gain it will continue to happen.

Part of our fears may not necessarily come from physical threat, but from a very real belief that justice might not ever be meted out on perpetrators of crime, violent or non-violent. I realize Gail Gerlach thought his life was in danger when a thief attempted to drive off with his vehicle full of his plumber tools, but he still fired from behind and in my opinion, not for physical self protection, but in a panicked haste to prevent the loss of his livelihood.

There are dangers out there. But we have law and order and a justice system that can work, if given the resources to do so.

Guatemala is different. Highway banditry is rife, helped by bad roads causing slowly crawling traffic at many points and dense underbrush that grows right up to the edge of the road, even on what few paved highways there are.

Justice can be bought. The law is generally confined to the towns, is well armed and in some places backed by the military — and not just soldiers in bases, but actual patrols with automatic weapons.

There is a real need for armed protection against violence in Guatemala. Still, gun ownership isn’t nearly as high as in the U.S.

With our resources, we shouldn’t have to resort to increasing an armed presence to fight crime. We shouldn’t have to reduce ourselves to the status of a Third World country — or worse.

John McCallum can be reached at


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