The 1950s were called the golden age of television because of programs like “Playhouse 90,” the “Goodyear Playhouse” and “G.E. Theatre,” which ran from 1954-1962 and was hosted by Ronald Reagan. If only it and he had stayed on a few more decades.
Even more popular were the TV westerns, which featured cowboys and Indians. (In those days Native Americans were usually portrayed as savages, ignoring that we were stealing land they had lived on for centuries. Naturally, had we known that the Indians would someday be millionaire casino owners, we’d have gladly called them Native Americans.)
Among my favorites TV westerns were, “Gunsmoke,” “The Rifleman,” “Have Gun Will Travel,” “Wyatt Earp,” “Bonanza,” and “Rawhide” (1959-1966), which featured a young and handsome Clint Eastwood. In many shows there was a saloon filled with drunken ranch hands and gamblers. And of course there was often the obligatory gunfight, between the aging, fastest draw (gunfighter, not sketch artist) and a young gunslinger “tryin’ to make a name fer hisself.”
You might say the wild west is making a comeback but not on TV or in the movies. And this time it’s not in Dodge City but in Seattle. And it’s not in the Longbranch Saloon but in more civilized watering holes, like Starbucks.
This development is a result of laws in many states known as “open carry,” shorthand for “openly carrying a firearm in public.” This, as distinguished from concealed carry, where firearms cannot be seen. Yikes!
Washington, as is California, is one of the growing list of open carry states where it’s legal to wear handguns into coffee shops like Starbucks or anywhere unless the proprietor refuses. The only caveats are that it’s not legal in government buildings or within 1,000 feet of a school, and the guns have to be unloaded. The latter reminds me of the Barney Fife character on the “Andy Griffith Show” who had to carry bullets in his pocket for everyone’s safety, including his.
The open carry controversy is not amusing to everyone, including Starbucks and our esteemed police chief, Tim Jackman. Last week the Starbucks chain announced that it will continue allowing customers to openly wear unloaded handguns in its coffee shops.
Trying to balance its NRA customers with its New-Age clientele, the company asked that both sides refrain from putting Starbucks in the firing line of the national debate over the right to bear arms. I’m afraid it’s too late for that.
Here’s a scene that I imagine taking place in a Seattle Starbucks. Two grizzled strangers packing holstered six shooters (or maybe a Luger?) order lattes. On the wall over the nervous barista’s head is a shotgun, to remind folks to just chill.
One of the fellas leaves his latte to relieve himself in the gent’s room. When he returns, he’s angered by what he sees.
“Stranger, I believe that’s my barstool you’re sittin’ on.”
The other gunslinger slowly turns his head, and spits out the toothpick he was chewin’ on. “I don’t see yur name on it, cowboy, so just simmer down ‘fore you get yurself in a heap of trouble.”
“I don’t fancy movin’ to another stool, pardner.”
“Well then, hombre” says the toothpick stranger, “it looks like you and me gotta settle this another way.”
As the barstools are kicked over, the two men back up slowly, their trigger fingers twitchin.’ Customers cower under the tables as the two strangers stare at each other with narrowed eyes.
Finally, each draws his six shooter but, since they’re unloaded, they can only exchange noises imitating gunfire (like we used to do as kids playing cowboys and Indians, I mean Native Americans). One man falls to the ground, which I realize makes no sense. Even more inexplicably, Marshall Dillon charges in followed by his gimpy-legged deputy, Chester, bespectacled Doc and Miss Kitty in her low cut dress.
Enough of my bizarre imagination. In reality a gun magazine, containing 10 bullets, is slapped into deadly readiness in 2 seconds. As for our Santa Monica police, open carry calls are often tense, and worse, are a serious drain on resources.
Every day 240 Americans are shot. (Hopefully, not all in Starbucks.) Worse, in 38 states, including California, it’s legal for gun owners, with a permit, to carry a concealed weapon into a bar. Booze and guns. What could go wrong there?
There remain many questions like what were Marshall Dillon, Chester, Doc and Kitty doing in a Starbucks? Seriously, isn’t it a tad contradictory that, as there are fewer places to smoke a cigarette, there are more places you can take your gun?
Frankly, all this wild west meshugas (Yiddish for madness) makes me long for the serenity of the 1950s when it seemed like the guns we saw being flashed around were only on TV.
For opposing views on open carry go to www.opencarry.org or www.bradycenter.org. Also check www.youtube.com/watch?v=OYWz7BEEg1k. Jack can be reached at Jackneworth@yahoo.com.)