RICHMOND

It has been estimated in various group studies that there are 270 million civilian firearms in the United States of America and 88.8 of every 100 people own a gun. (Look out for those .8 people. They are more dangerous than they look.) All 50 states allow people to carry a concealed weapon, most with permits but some without. The state of Illinois held out as long as it could, but a federal appeals court forced it to draft a concealed weapon law and when it goes into effect next year, you might want to go slow and easy when debating prairie staters.

It is possible to get a concealed weapon license in Massachusetts and bring your gun from place to place in your car. Large capacity rifles and shotguns have certain restrictions, but handguns are sort of freewheeling.

We also have "stand your ground" laws in some states which basically gives you free rein if somebody breaks into your house and you decide to maim or kill them. Florida's law specifies in part that if an "occupant was in his dwelling at the time of the offense and that he acted in the reasonable belief that the person unlawfully in such dwelling was about to inflict great bodily injury or death upon such occupant or another lawfully in said dwelling, that said occupant used reasonable means to defend himself or such other person lawfully in said dwelling. There shall be no duty on said occupant to retreat from such person unlawfully in such dwelling." This means that you may not have an 007 rating but you do have the right to defend yourself and your family to the death. Of somebody else, of course.

For example, the death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin at the hands of 28-year-old George Zimmerman and the subsequent jury finding of not guilty of any of the three charges ranging from second-degree murder to manslaughter is not atypical. The cable channels went their usual berserk and there is barely an adult in this country who is not aware of the basic facts of the case and the innumerable sidelights.

Some of the pressure of the Martin-Zimmerman case has been relieved by the controversy over the allegedly rock-star-like picture of alleged Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev on the cover of Rolling Star magazine. Just as with Newtown and all the other recent tragedies, a new outrage dampens the hullabaloo over previous tragedies, no matter their importance. The shooting death of the young man might not have lost its relevance but it must take its place in the long list of atrocities.

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The point that lingers with me is one that is a significant part of the picture -- America's fascination with guns and their impact on our politics, everyday living and future. I spent an important part of my life with men who were armed and dangerous. Their mentality was quite often pretty low and in some of them their boiling points were even lower. But they had guns, some of them potently big guns, and were well trained in their use.

I myself was instructed in the use of a rifle during my basic training, but when I was transferred to the Army medical corps, I gave up the guns and learned how to deal with the damage that can be inflicted by guns. When World War II ended, most of the combat veterans brought home guns as souvenirs and an inordinate number of these weapons are still usable.

Luckily, they were not the wholesale killing machines that are available now. But you'll remember that 88.8 of every hundred Americans own a gun and a huge number either legally or illegally carry their weapons concealed.

George Zimmerman, a wannabe law officer, had a gun, a black Kel-Tec PF-9.9 mm. semi-automatic pistol, which he had owned for three years. Certain personalities can handle possession of a weapon capable of killing a person or animal while others can't. For three years Zimmerman didn't know whether he could or couldn't.

Then that fateful night he followed Trayvon Martin around until he had the young man as unnerved as he was. Finally, frontal confrontation was achieved. Finally, blows were struck and the young man was obviously giving better than he was receiving. In desperation, Zimmerman reached for his gun which had been sitting protectively on his body for some time. I don't know if he intended to kill the young man or just scare him off. In either case, the trigger was pulled and the bullet launched its way into the young man's heart. Sporadic attempts were made by police and emergency medics to revive him, but nothing availed.

I had a cousin in Texas who carried a concealed gun for years, just itching for an opportunity. Cancer spoiled his plan. We don't know what plans Trayvon might have had. A bullet took care of them.

Milton Bass is a regular Eagle contributor.