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When Guns Were Not Taboo: Reflections on American Gun Culture in the 60s and 70s

By: Friedrich Seiltgen

Growing up in rural New York and Florida in the 1960s and 70s, guns were a part of everyday life. The families in my community treated them with care and respect, of course, but didn’t view them or the people who owned them as evil, and it certainly never occurred to us to try to outlaw their possession or confiscate them from law-abiding citizens.

As kids, we’d dress up and play “Army.” Many of us got a Daisy Air Rifle for Christmas, and our fathers had some rifles and shotguns stored in the basement.

I remember our Halloween parade at Allen Road Elementary School in North Syracuse. In my gangster costume, I was the spitting image of James Cagney: a fedora borrowed from my father, a plastic cigar, and (good grief!) even a plastic Colt 1911 pistol.

During my high school days, some of my classmates had firearms in their vehicles, and more than a few displayed them in the gun racks of their pickups. Nowadays, those “gun” racks hold baseball bats, and chewing your Pop Tart into the shape of a pistol will get you suspended from school.

Later on, throughout my law enforcement officer (LEO) days, I was assigned to the West, East, and Airport Patrol Divisions in Orlando. I stopped many people who had firearms in their vehicles, which didn’t bother me in the least. Some people were worried I would arrest them because their gun was loaded. I told them it should be loaded, since an unloaded gun is worthless in an emergency.

Some people forewarned me they did not have their weapon in compliance with the mythical Florida “Three Step Rule” – an urban legend that has circulated a long time. It’s the notion you have to make three motions to access your weapon when it’s in your car. You need to, according to the “rule,” carry the gun in a holster, have no round in the chamber, and keep the gun in the glovebox. In fact, as I told people I stopped, Florida law states simply that guns need to be “securely encased.”

Not very many years ago, people carried guns onto airplanes without any problem. Can you imagine what would happen if you tried to pack your sidearm in your carry-on luggage today? Some states have laws against carrying firearms into airports in general. In Florida, if you carry a loaded firearm, even with a concealed carry permit anywhere in the terminal, you’re breaking state law. I guess Ft. Lauderdale Airport shooter Esteban Santiago didn’t get the memo.

While assigned to the Orlando International Airport, I was frustrated by the differences in firearms transport rules, as each carrier was different. I told passengers traveling with firearms they must comply with airline rules, as well as local, state, and TSA regulations.

Shortly before retiring, I was told a horror story by the station manager of a major airline. A passenger transporting a firearm arrived at JFK Airport. The passenger had stopped at other destinations prior to JFK without issues and had a mountain of paperwork, licenses, permits, etc. that enabled him to transport the firearm. While checking in at JFK, the police showed up – standard procedure at JFK when checking a firearm. All went well until the passenger was asked for his New York City firearm paperwork. The passenger had what he needed from New York State, but the laws in NYC are even more draconian. The passenger was arrested, and his firearm seized.

As an aside – had I been that LEO and seen the amount of paperwork and attention the passenger had taken to transport his gun, I would have known he was obviously not a criminal. I would have advised him he was not in compliance with NYC law, and sent him on his way.

What has happened to the America I once knew – the America of my youth, where possessing a gun was as natural and accepted as saying the Pledge of Allegiance or gathering together as a family at mealtime? Our Second Amendment rights have eroded over the years, often hand-in-hand with our First Amendment rights and our morals. The citizenry is growing weary of the harassment and bureaucracy of big government, and who can blame them? It IS hard work!

Our government has virtually unlimited resources (your tax dollars) with which to impose itself and make our lives miserable by burdening us with regulation after regulation. But we, the people, are still in charge, at least for the time being. So we must keep the memory of “the good old days” ever fresh in our minds, and fight to restore our cherished freedoms before they’re gone completely – and forever.

Friedrich Seiltgen is a retired Patrol Officer with 20 years of service with the Orlando Police Department. He currently conducts training in Lone Wolf Terrorism, firearms, and law enforcement vehicle operations in Florida. Contact him at polizei22@msn.com.

Photo Credit: Shutterstock

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Gunpowder Magazine.