Last week in Phoenix, Ariz., cable television broadcast the image of a man toting an assault-style rifle stood outside of a health care "town hall" event featuring President Obama. He was one of a dozen people openly carrying firearms in what was apparently a staged demonstration.
This would seem bizarre enough except it seems to be something of a trend. A protestor was seen carrying a handgun strapped to his leg outside a similar event in Portsmouth, N.H. At a town hall meeting in Memphis, Tenn., police escorted a man with a handgun out of the room.
In most, if not all of these incidents, no laws were broken and no arrests were made. The people involved had either legal permits to carry concealed weapons or were demonstrating in a state that allows people to carry firearms out in the open.
But what a colossal lack of judgment. One shouldn't have to be old enough to recall the John F. Kennedy assassination or even the shooting of Ronald W. Reagan to be uncomfortable with the notion of presidents in close proximity to strangers with guns.
U.S. Secret Service agents may claim that President Obama is not put in danger by such behavior when it takes place outside their secure perimeter, but surely it doesn't make their job any easier. You can bet that police have to keep on eye on everyone they spot packing heat.
It's hard to imagine any reasonable justification for carrying loaded weapons into a testy crowd. Recent public forums on health care have proven to be heated and confrontational enough without risking life and limb of everyone in attendance.
The National Rifle Association and its supporters have long maintained that most anyone should be permitted to carry a firearm in most any circumstance. They've also taken the extreme position that concealed carry permits issued in states with lax gun laws should be honored in states with stricter controls.
But as data collected by the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms & Explosives demonstrates, a nation besotted by violent crime can ill afford less restrictive gun laws. The most recent statistics show that gun dealers in states with weak gun laws are supplying criminals with firearms at a rate 5 times greater than their counterparts in other states.
When is enough enough? If people can't be counted on to be rational and leave their loaded guns at home when they're in proximity to the leader of the free world or in some other government-sponsored public forum, they've made the case for stronger gun control laws all by themselves.