Gunning for health care

 Thanks to the health care protests recently, the United States seems to have come to a fragile consensus on a few critical issues. For instance, government-run death panels — not good. And, Nazis — nobody likes them.
        Interestingly, we do not have any agreement at all on the question of whether it is a good plan to bring a gun to a gathering of angry and overwrought people. To be honest, I thought we might be able to settle this one once and for all.
        But no.
        “The question is, why don’t people bear arms these days,” said William Kostric, when asked why he came to welcome President Barack Obama to Portsmouth, New Hampshire, with a protest sign and a loaded handgun strapped to his thigh. This turned out to be completely legal under New Hampshire law.
        Meanwhile, over in Arizona, a protester who showed up to meet the local congresswoman at a supermarket was removed by the police when the pistol he had holstered under his armpit fell, bouncing on the floor and alarming the nonprotesting attendees. This, too, turned out to be legal, although the dropping part is not recommended.
        Also escorted away but not arrested: an armed man at a loud and rancorous town meeting hosted by Representative Steve Cohen of Memphis, Tennessee. Both the armpit guy and the Memphis guy had the required permit to carry a concealed weapon. Kostric did not even have to have a permit since his gun was not concealed, which in New Hampshire makes it completely OK. This is under the theory that as long as you know that the strange-looking guy waving the big protest sign is armed, you can take steps to protect yourself, perhaps such as purchasing a bullet-proof vest from a nearby street vendor.
       (Actually arrested: Richard Terry Young, 62, in Portsmouth. While Young’s loaded gun was in his parked car, not on his person, the fact that he did not have a license and that police discovered him lurking inside the high school where the president was scheduled to appear later in the day apparently warranted action.)
       We are getting yet another series of reminders of the vast gun gap in this country. There is the part that thinks a room full of red-faced men and women screaming at one another is the worst place in the world to bring a firearm. And then there is the part that holds it is exactly the place where you need it most.
       “A firearm is a defensive tool,” said Kostric, in an interview with Chris Matthews the MSNBC news network. He was wearing a yellow T-shirt, and he told Matthews that if everybody in the crowd waiting for Obama to arrive had been armed, things would have been much safer.
       The health care protest phenomenon hasn’t been particularly uplifting, unless your idea of decorum is World Extreme Cagefighting. But it has provided a very, very rare opportunity for members of Congress to look semiheroic. Representative Gabrielle Giffords, an Arizona Democrat, was not actually holding a town hall when her gun incident occurred. She was conducting a “Congress on Your Corner” at the Douglas Safeway supermarket — a simple event where people line up to get help with things like applying for government aid.
       Rudy Ruiz, the father of one of Giffords’ college interns, saw the gun hit the floor. “It was an older gentleman, 65 or so. Basically, he was one of the ones holding up a banner saying ‘Don’t Tread on Me,'” Ruiz said. “He bent over, and it fell out of the holster is what it did. It bounced. That concerned me. I just thought what would happen if it had gone off? Could my daughter have gotten hurt?”
       His daughter, a college senior, is hoping to pursue a political career after graduation.
       “Are you sure you want to get involved in this stuff?” Ruiz asked her on the way home.