In the March 11 New York Times, Neil MacFarquhar notes in passing, "Most Iraqi households own at least one gun." This comes as a shock to those of us who've been hearing for years from the gun lobby that widespread firearms ownership is necessary to prevent the United States from becoming a police state. Here, via the National Rifle Association's Web site, is Bill Pryor, attorney general of Alabama, decrying the "war on guns": "In a republic that promotes a free society, as opposed to a police state, one of the basic organizing principles is that individuals have a right of self-defense and a right to acquire the means for that defense." The basic Jeffersonian idea is that you never know when you'll need to organize a militia against your government. In director John Milius' camp Cold War classic Red Dawn, Russians and Nicaraguan commies take over the United States in part by throwing gun owners in jail. In one memorable scene, the camera pans from a bumper sticker that says "You'll Take My Gun Away When You Pry It From My Cold, Dead Fingers" to a Russian soldier prying a gun from the car owner's … you get the idea.
The obvious question raised by MacFarquhar's piece is how Iraq got to be, and remains, one of the world's most repressive police states when just about everyone is packing heat. Chatterbox invites gun advocates (and Iraq experts) to e-mail (to email@example.com) plausible reasons. The best of these will be examined in a follow-up item.