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Before the booing and counter-booing begin, let's remember what the gun symbolizes in American culture: More than the bald eagle or the don't-tread-on-me serpent, the firearm to the American male and increasing numbers of females has come to stand for our ideals of independence.

It doesn't matter that the U.S. Supreme Court recently tried to sort out the ambiguous Second Amendment to expand gun-possession rights.

Long before the Constitution was written and ratified, guns were as American as venison and pumpkin pie. That was true across the land but more so in the South and West.

Though I grew up as a Georgia town-boy, the first object I recall owning outright was a .410-gauge shotgun, which I still proudly maintain.

I never got around to joining the various firearms clubs, though from a political point of view, the American gun lobby is perhaps the most effective government-pressure organization in the country. I could have learned something.

Watching Georgia politics over the years, I cannot remember a single lawmaker who won statewide office who did not support the NRA and its goals. I recall a few office seekers losing elections simply because their NRA support did not run deeply enough.

If other important national lobbies were as successful as the NRA, our nation might be a better place to live. Why can't we employ NRA-style tactics to raise money to fight cancer? Or to stop our land from being ravaged by greedy developers and corrupt zoning officials?

Sometimes, I believe the gun lobby supports wild legislative initiatives as tests, just to see how far it can go. They may now have stretched the envelope to the limit. Prompted by the lobbyists, the Georgia Legislature passed and the governor signed a new gun law that permits licensed gun owners to carry concealed weapons just about anywhere. They can go armed into cafes that serve liquor, as well as into public parks and on public transportation.

Shortly after the bill became law, Rep. Tim Bearden, R-Villa Rica, said he intended to tote a gun into the Atlanta airport terminal to see what would happen. Bearden wanted to make certain Atlanta officials understood that packing heat in Hartsfield-Jackson was permissible.

Airport manager Ben DeCosta promised Bearden he would be arrested if he brought a gun into the airport, even if he were just squirrel hunting.

Not long ago, Bearden would have been flirting with suicide by police if he tried such a dopey stunt.

Politicians and the NRA assert that we'll have a safer country if everybody except perhaps certified lunatics and violent felons can pick up a gun permit and carry a handgun anywhere.

Maybe Bearden and his pals are right: More people with firearms spell a safer America, even if such a declaration carries an eccentric ring.

To be sure, we live in an increasingly crime-ridden society. Stern measures are needed to restore law and order. Listen to TV news every night, and you'll come away with the notion that the city of Atlanta and environs are shooting galleries. Murders are commonplace, and so are robberies, car-jackings, kidnappings, rapes and home invasions. Every punk on the street carries a Glock or some other firearm of choice.

In certain communities, ownership of a firearm carries platinum proof of manhood. No gun - no acceptance. Got a gun - you're one of us. Gang membership promotes firearms sales better than any sporting goods store ever will.

Even some lawmakers, who must know that more guns lead to more shootings, are afraid to speak against E-Z Duzit permits for concealed weapons.

They are afraid to ask: If you are not a licensed peace officer or security guard or permitted collector, why would you insist on strapping on pistols to stroll around the airport?

When I see a regular guy walking down the sidewalk with a gun stuck in his belt, my first thought is "Run! Here comes another nut!"

It is too bad that the NRA can not or will not, for once, slightly change the method of its mission to ensure public safety. Let the NRA get behind our present weak gun laws to make certain even those weenie ordinances are strictly enforced.

Wouldn't it be nice if the NRA sponsored a crusade for tough sentences for offenders who use firearms in the commission of a crime?

Wouldn't it be refreshing to hear that the NRA and other gun lovers were throwing their collective influence behind a fresh swift-justice law to keep another accused killer, like Brian Nichols, from making chumps out of the courts?

You hardly ever hear such legal reforms mentioned. Passing lenient gun-packing laws are so much simpler and more popular than lobbying for laws to get killers off our streets in a hurry.

We don't need civilians with guns in the airport. We need courts, judges and lawyers who will be compelled to work fast to dispatch murderers, rapists and robbers. And we need an informed public to cheer them on.

You can reach Bill Shipp at P.O. Box 2520, Kennesaw, GA 30156, e-mail:, or Web address: