Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., is sponsoring the National Right-to-Carry Reciprocity Act, which would let 65,000 West Virginians with pistol permits wear their hidden guns in other states -- and let millions of other American pistol-packers carry their concealed weapons here. The bill would remove state barriers, enabling nationwide pistol-carrying from sea to shining sea.
Will you feel safer when more people around you have loaded guns hidden in their pockets? It hardly matters how you feel, because the pistol stampede is snowballing everywhere.
"Gun nation: Inside America's gun-carry culture" is the title of a long Christian Science Monitor special report. It says the powerful gun lobby is winning victory after victory, letting multitudes walk around with deadly killing power.
The national newspaper cites "hundreds of new gun-friendly laws enacted by states and localities in the past few years." Mississippi now lets people "carry hidden weapons on college campuses and in courthouses." Ohio lets armed people "bring concealed weapons into restaurants, bars and sports arenas." New Hampshire, "along with several other states, has removed restrictions on bearing arms in the ultimate politically symbolic place -- the State House."
Four states -- Alaska, Arizona, Vermont and Wyoming -- let anyone carry a hidden pistol with no permit at all. West Virginia doesn't require permits for pistols worn in full public view, unconcealed.
"Fully 40 states now mandate that anyone who asks for a concealed-carry permit and meets the qualifications must be issued one," the Monitor wrote. "One result: The number of concealed-weapon license-holders in the United States has gone from a few hundred thousand 10 years ago to more than 6 million today."
President Obama signed a 2009 bill letting people carry pistols in national parks. The ban on carrying mow-'em-down assault weapons was dropped.
After an Ohio teen took a pistol to school and killed three classmates last month, U.S. House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, shrugged: "There are about 250 million guns in America, so they are out there."
While the gun flood is growing, America's gun murders have declined slightly -- from 10,158 in 2005 to 9,146 in 2009. Of course, other democracies have only tiny pistol tolls.
What's driving the pistol upsurge? Fear, mostly. Americans are afraid of some people around them, and feel they must be prepared to kill. The fact that most people live their entire lives without facing an attacker doesn't reduce the paranoia. Bizarrely, the Monitor said:
"Some experts say this generalized anxiety is reflected in the popularity of movies and TV shows about zombies and similar topics. The grim mood hasn't gone unnoticed by ammo manufacturers, one of which is trying to capitalize on the zeitgeist by selling a line of Zombie Max cartridges."Existentialists say that humanity has a streak of lunacy. Six million Americans with permits to wear pistols -- plus more millions who wear them without permits -- seem to uphold this view.