Like many Americans, I am working hard to come to grips with the recent violence in Las Vegas. In trying to comprehend the situation, I have scoured my experiences and memories to find some perspective upon which to focus my thoughts.
In doing so, I cast back to an experience that remains vivid in my memory over 55 years later.
In the summer of 1962, I stood on the street in the city of Las Palmas in the Canary Islands. The Canaries were then, and remain today, Spanish territory.
Burned into my memory is the image of a member of the Guardia Civil standing on a street corner surveying the passersby with eyes shaded beneath a battle helmet. Around his neck was strapped a submachine gun, which looked like the automatic Sten gun used by the British throughout World War II.
I had little doubt that the weapon, which he held ready in his hands, could be swung into action in an instant. Townsfolk and tourists alike strolled past the officer with little notice or concern. They seemingly felt safe in his presence. Not I.
I felt anything but safe. To say that I was a very naïve youth would be an understatement. As a recently promoted 3rd Class Cadet in the U.S. Coast Guard Academy, I was a little over a year removed from my rural Ohio roots. A year of intense indoctrination at the Academy and recent port calls at Halifax, Dublin and Antwerp did little to season me.
Strolling with Irish shop girls and twisting the night away in Belgian dockside taverns may have given me the temerity to swagger a bit as I walked down the sun drenched avineda in Las Palmas, but the veneer of worldliness was thin indeed. That soldier of Dictator Francisco Franco’s regime scared the salt right out of me.
In 1962, the sight of a militarily equipped authority on a city street would have been anathema in the United States, even in our most cosmopolitan of cities. The sheriff’s patrolmen in my rural county were seldom seen outside their patrol cars, and city foot patrols twirled nightsticks not submachine guns.
The thought of that Guardsman’s weapon being trained on me caused me to break out in a sweat and instantly curb my swagger. I meekly walked past the soldier (who in truth may have been only a few years older than I) with my “eyes in the boat” and a lump in my throat.
Fifty-five years later, we find heavily armed police in public places a routine part of life throughout Europe and the UK. The increased use of SWAT in the U.S. and the nature of the current administration portend the possibility that we could follow suit.
The Department of Homeland Security has recommended armed patrols in major U.S. airports as recently as 2014. I fear that we as a society may become so inured to mayhem and violence that we could come to accept heavily armed police as a necessary fact of life.
Before that comes about, we need to ask ourselves –– would we feel safer with armed patrols in our airports, malls and city streets as is now commonplace in other countries? Perhaps.
Do more guns in the right hands always further our personal security? Perhaps.
However, for me, even as a firm supporter of the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, I can truthfully say that, deep down, the thought of this possibility frightens me. Much as did the sight of the Guardia Civil on the streets of Las Palmas in 1962.
Koloski of Enterprise is a commander, U.S. Coast Guard, retired