Making a Killing in Florida

GARRY WILLS

October 05, 1993|By GARRY WILLS

Fort Lauderdale, Florida. -- I am in southern Florida, where the talk is all of murder. This is where 10 tourists have been killed in recent months. The results of that kill rate are registered at the gun stores. Business has never been so good. New gun stores are opening at a record rate. They, too, are ''making a killing.''

With what result? Consider the case of Ed Connors, from the Fort Lauderdale area.

Last week, two robbers came up to his car. One reached through the window for the car keys. Mr. Connors, who is 69, went for one of the two guns he keeps in the car. The robber grabbed it from his hand. Then the assailants found his other gun, and went off with them both.

And Mr. Connors' response? He moved one of his other two guns into the car, ready for the next attempt on his property. He says, ''It's up to people like me to defend themselves.'' What ''people like him'' did, in this case, was arm the crooks.

He boasts: ''If I would have taken these guys out, they would have been dead criminals who wouldn't have bothered anyone again.'' He seems incapable of grasping the fact that he made it a lot easier for them to ''bother someone else,'' with the help of his two guns. The Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel photographed him for its story, sitting in his car with a fresh gun ready on the seat beside him.

The gun-purchasing rate in Florida has reached this point: One more new gun is bought every eight minutes, round the clock, seven days a week.

That means 20,000 more guns will be floating around, out in the populace, by year's end. There are a thousand more dealers already added to the 8,000 who were in business last year. There may be another thousand in place before Christmas, a 25 percent increase for the year. At one store alone (Caton's) sales have increased 30 percent just in the last three months.

Are people safer for all this new firepower? Just the opposite. An arms race makes as little for security at home as in international affairs. But logic has little force in this matter. People reach for guns out of atavistic instinct, because of their mythic status in America as guarantors of individual safety.

We like to think that guns settled the West. Actually, the cattle-drive towns were the first places to disarm on this continent. They were the original home of gun control. The danger of having too many guns around had been impressed on the citizens so intensely that cowboys had to check their guns at the town line.

That is not what people want to believe, however. Taking anyone's gun away has become the equivalent of depriving people of air. No wonder Florida is sinking back toward pre-civilized levels.

Garry Wills is a syndicated columnist.

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