Blue Byline

A cop's perspective of the news and South Sound matters

A Tombstone state of mind

Post by Brian O'Neill on May 18, 2011 at 9:25 pm with 27 Comments »
May 19, 2011 8:34 pm

“Arizona really was a gas…mind-blowing all the way, you know, just out of sight.”  Scorpions (1982)

After riding motorcycles in Arizona last week, I returned a couple days ago with a new facial tone (burnt red), miles of motorcycle riding etched into my vertebrae and a bar tab that makes me wonder if my buddies were squatting on my credit card.

Now that I’m home I realize that my trip to the desert gave me more than just sunburn and a hangover. It gave me a broader perspective. Normally that’s an unlikely accomplishment after only a couple hours in the air and four days on the ground, but the Grand Canyon State is unique. Amidst the red peaks and baked desert, Arizona is nothing less than a windblown and broiled version of the wild, wild west.

As I cruised the highways, the burnt wind pulling vapor out of my body without the usual method of sweating, I began to notice the guns. As a cop I consider myself more attuned to the presence of firearms than the average person, but one would have to be extremely dense to miss the ubiquitous presence of individuals who were openly expressing their 2nd Amendment Rights. Wandering around town I scanned the belts of random people and found many whose cell phones on one side were balanced by sidearms on the other. It was just so natural and casual that it didn’t seem to bother anybody except me.

I previously wrote a piece for The Trib regarding an encounter with an individual openly carrying a .45 calibre pistol in downtown Tacoma. When he passed my family as we walked into a restaurant, every nerve in my body leaped to attention. After this brief, unnerving encounter I felt as if I had just walked past an explosive that, for some reason, failed to go off. Whatever their stated reason to carry firearms in public, whether for security or peace of mind, for the sense that they are exercising their constitutional rights, or a perverse intent to shock others and thereby empower themselves (don’t kid yourself that this isn’t sometimes the case), that is not my issue. My issue is that everyone else also has the right to walk down a city street and not feel afraid.

How does this relate to Arizona? Surprisingly, just about everywhere we travelled I also encountered a completely different genre of gun-toting individuals. Call them cowboys or gunslingers, I saw a large number of dudes dressed in dusty old hats, bandanas, riding pants and boots, with great big six shooters holstered securely to their thighs and pistol belts encircled with .357 rounds. Ironically, I could not help but feel more secure with them around. You can’t spend a lazy adolescent Saturday afternoon watching “Shane” without knowing that these are the good guys, am I right?

While at a tavern in Tombstone, I leaned across the rail and spoke to a man that looked like an extra from the set of a Clint Eastwood western. I got up to walk to the other side of the railing to ask him about his revolver, but then, “Whoa, where you going with that beer, fella?” the bartender asked me. The gunslinger gave me a look as if to say, “Wouldn’t do that if I were you.” I’m pretty sure that’s when I saw my first tumbleweed roll by in the distance. I backed up, of course.

As it turns out, you can do a lot of things in Arizona, such as dressing up like a cowboy with a large revolver to walk the streets talking to people, or legally ride a motorcycle at 75 mph sans helmet. But try to take a step past the tavern railing with a beer in your hand and you might as well keep heading out of town.

Interesting perspective.


Leave a comment Comments → 27
  1. APimpNamedSlickback says:


    Let me start off by saying that I live in Arizona and work with law enforcement agencies throughout the state. I’m not in law enforcement, but my work requires me to interact daily with the heads of various local agencies throughout the state, so I know a little about the unique issues they face that others throughout the U.S. do not.

    While I don’t discount the fact that there are some people who just like raising eyebrows (and really, seeing a gun here even in the most populous area, doesn’t raise many eyebrows), that isn’t the main reason why people carry here. As I’m sure you noticed, Arizona is a little bit bigger than Washington, geographically, and a little smaller in population. All those people are basically located in one of three major urban areas. The rest of the state is a whole lot of nothingness. Pretty, for the most part, but desolate. Nevertheless, people have to travel through those desolate areas to get to the urban areas. And that’s where the border-related violence happens.

    I see it in the news back home in Washington every now and then, but it’s in the news every day here; and from what I’m exposed to at work, I can tell you that what gets reported here is only a fraction of what is actually happening. The people who live here see it. I don’t usually carry in Phoenix, but I never leave the city without a gun on me, ever. That’s because I know that if I break down in the desert, which is 90% of my travel area, I can’t call for help and no one is patrolling out there.

    I, like many people who regularly drive through the desert, also know that the same highways I use are the ones used by human and drug smugglers every day. They attack people stopped on the sides of the road, taking money, cars and sometimes the people. They attack anyone who gets in their way or recognizes what they’re doing. And when you see a pickup with Sonoran plates,15 people in it, and two of them with guns, you know what they’re doing.

    People carry guns down here because despite the best efforts of law enforcement, the cops can’t protect us where we’re most vulnerable. I’m not so deluded to think that me carrying a pistol is going to defeat all border-related violence, but it definitely gives me peace of mind to think that if I break down and encounter a smuggler in the desert, I at least have the tools to try to defend myself.

    To be sure, there is a real cowboy mentality here, but by and large, people carry for protection. It surprises visitors, mainly because they aren’t exposed to the cartel violence and they don’t see drop houses in their neighborhoods getting raided every day. Arizonans do. Add to that, half of them live in the 4th largest county in the U.S. (more than twice the size of King County), and most of us live in the 6th largest city in the U.S. (2.5 times the size of Seattle), so we have all the normal crime issues that come along with any other big metropolitan area. Meanwhile, our law enforcement agencies are overworked, undermanned and underfunded.

    When you call 911 in King or Pierce County, you’ve got a pretty good chance of the police getting to your house in a few minutes. When you call 911 in Phoenix, you sit on hold for a few minutes, then if you’re lucky, you’ll get someone to show up within a half hour. If you live in any of the less populated areas, calling 911 is sometimes a complete waste of time. Apache County (where the Arizona quadrant of the Four Corners is located) is the geographically longest county in the U.S. Depending on the time of day and the day of the week, there may be at any one time, one sheriff’s deputy on duty. That’s one officer patrolling a county that takes four hours to drive across, north to south.

    Arizonans know that, and that’s why so many of them carry guns.

  2. Brian, Is Washington an, “Open carry” State?

  3. LibertyBell says:


    Washington? An open carry state since 1889.

    Of course don’t let any fact into the “feel good” approach to law enforcement.

    Didn’t General Washington teach firearm safety course, to a few so called British lawmen?

  4. LibertyBell says:

    Of course sometimes the three legged Pony Express rider missed a few local stops.

  5. Interesting. I’ve not seen anyone openly carrying a gun in Washington and I have lived here all my life.

    If a person has a CWP and the wind blows his coat jacket open and a citizen see’s it and calls the police. Or if the gun imprints through your clothing? Would this be a violation?

  6. LibertyBell says:

    “No free man shall ever be debarred the use of arms. The strongest reason for the people to retain the right to keep and bear arms is, as a last resort, to protect themselves against tyranny in government”

    Thomas Jefferson, discussing Tacoma’s Classic Chief Brame.

  7. Brian O'Neill says:

    Hey Slickback (I have a hard time with your whole moniker),

    I greatly appreciate your unique point of view. I have written a few columns on the cartel and narco-trafficking violence that spills across our southern border. My particular assignment gives me daily access to briefings in your area and across the border to Mexican law enforcement. In a word, I agree with you. If I were to live in your neck of the woods I would consider a firearm as a necessary piece of equipment, though I would first ascertain the possibility of carrying concealed before openly brandishing a gun.

    Washington State is different. For starters, we have a fairly loose law governing concealed firearms. This allows participating individuals to carry weapons when they feel the need, yet not openly in a manner that would cause alarm. On the few occasions you might see someone carrying a weapon openly on their belt, our citizens are likely to a) be alarmed, and b) call 911. The second issue is that we do not have Arizona’s level of violence, a fact which your statistics and anecdotal evidence confirm. Because of that, our culture is extremely ill at ease with open carry.

    If I had chosen to write on this topic further, I would have pointed out the differences in our states’ cultures and response to crime. I’ll leave that to someone with more time on their hands.

    Thanks again–it was well said.

  8. APimpNamedSlickback says:


    Thanks for the response. Most of the people I know back in Washington don’t believe what’s actually happening here every day, but if you’re getting daily briefings on it, then you know that the general public can’t begin to imagine some of the sick stuff that never gets spread beyond the law enforcement community, much less making headlines.

    When I lived in Washington, I had a concealed pistol license. The qualifications for which apparently were having a heartbeat and a check that didn’t bounce; and with the three-day turnaround time from application to issuance, I’m guessing they really only cared about the latter. Even though Washington is technically an open carry state, I would agree that most Washingtonians would be alarmed to see a gun in the open.

    In Arizona they do issue concealed weapons permits, but they are now somewhat obsolete. You have to go through an 8 hour class and pass a range test, but as of last year, the state mostly did away with the need for permits. Now, if you’re 21, a U.S. citizen, and have no felony record, you can carry concealed without a permit, provided you identify and surrender any weapon you’re carrying during any interaction with a peace officer. The logic there being that since this is a very permissive open carry state, if you don’t qualify for a permit, you can just carry in the open anyway; and if criminals will carry concealed with or without a permit, why restrict which law-abiding citizens can do the same?

    Why some choose to carry open while others carry concealed is a matter of personal preference, I suppose. If I’m just on a long drive, I carry open because my belt holster is more comfortable. But if I’m going where I’ll be around a bunch of people, I conceal… that’s probably the Washingtonian in me.

  9. Brian O'Neill says:

    For a Pimpnamedslickback, you sound like a pretty reasonable guy. Thanks for the perspective.

  10. smokey984 says:

    Robert A. Heinlein who wrote: “An armed society is a polite society. Manners are good when one may have to back up his acts with his life”

  11. BlaineCGarver says:

    I’m disappointed that an LEO is expressing his emotional response to open carry, rather than pointing out the letter of the law. I”ve been watching Law Enforcment slowly change from Protect and Serve, to a para-military company that can’t seem to disquinish between Law Abiding Citizens and criminals, vis-a-vis the Second Amendment. Perhaps it’s a good thing that those that serve us have a good reason to respect us.

  12. I am not shocked at Brian’s attitude, as it probably pervades most of the police agencies on the west side of the mountains in washington state, and probably the east side as well.

    Open carry in Washington is, frankly, more of a political statement than any desire to have the ability to defend yourself. While I support the right to openly carry a firearm, I wouldn’t do so myself in public for several reasons. First, openly advertising I’m carrying a firearm makes me more of a target for robbery than concealed. Second, the sheeple tend to call in the “man with a gun” to 911 and chances are the trigger happy cops will over-react. Third, and finally, carrying concealed provides you with a tactical advantage if and when confronted by a situation where you’d need to defend yourself. If the bad guys don’t know you’re armed, chances are they won’t expect an armed response.

    But Brian’s blog simply tells you everything you need to know about his (and probably most washington cops) mindset. Instead of welcoming a citizen that is exercising his rights to defend himself, Brian immediately jumps to “bad guy”. That is very sad. But based on what Brian has posted before, not shocking.

  13. smokey984 says:

    disagree with Gandalf’s statement. Heres why open carry is so important. Lets take a Bank for example. 2 Dudes decide to rob it, they walk in and see no reason to be afraid as the 15 law abiding sheeple patiently await transactions. Bank gets robbed, end of story. The flip side of that coin, these same 2 dudes walk into a bank and notice 4 or 5 open carry sidearms on the hips of law abiding citizens, BETCHA these 2 crooks think twice about their intended actions knowing their chances of successfully walking out alive dont look so well…Now i know that situation can be debated with the outcome ending a thousand different ways, but a crime prevented becomes the bottom line.

    And if open carry was PRACTICED by Law abiding citizens a lot more often we would have a safer society. Its a STATISTICAL FACT that communities who have the least weapons legislation have the lowest violent crime rates and the communities that have the most weapons legislation have the highest. DC and Chicago come to mind with that train of thought.

  14. smokey984 says:

    I think the bottom line is Guns are always available for those who choose evil and all weapons legislation is only Victim disarmament…

  15. Brian O'Neill says:

    I admit to some frustration when someone takes a viewpoint they say is contrary to my own, then feel at liberty to misinterpret my statements. I understand the political statement made by those choosing to open carry, but my point is that these individuals do so at the risk of scaring many law-abiding citizens (I’ll call them that rather sheeple, if it’s all right with you). Is it okay to make people fear you? I don’t believe that is an appropriate usage of one’s 2nd Amendment Rights, and I think that you do more harm to your cause than good. The geographical area I wrote about in my column includes some comparatively lawless areas along our southern border, and an experienced and astute commenter pointed out the obvious advantage of open carry in this scenario. It is appropriate for the level of danger as well as for the culture of that area. But back in Washington, I do not believe it is appropriate to raise the hackles on the back of the public while walking down an otherwise safe public sidewalk amidst families walking to dinner.

    Legal, yes. Appropriate, no.

    I did not at the time consider this person a “bad guy” nor did I get all “trigger-happy” as we cops apt to be, as it was pointed out. For my part, I could point out the fact that 150 of us die on the job every year. Also, an open carry individual exercising his rights could also experiencing the same stress and mental health issues that an unarmed subject on the street might. I can only imagine how this information could be misinterpreted.

    And so we’re clear, the best outcome of walking into a bank with an openly carried firearm would likely be a trespass and your account being closed. That would be private property.

  16. smokey984 says:

    Brian said: And so we’re clear, the best outcome of walking into a bank with an openly carried firearm would likely be a trespass and your account being closed. That would be private property.

    …And the bank gets robbed because of that…with potential folks hurt/killed considering a 3 minute response time from our trusted first responders…My point being, open carry is a good thing actually, nationwide there’s 1 peace officer per 2000 citizens on average. You guys are way outgunned and out manned which is why your always screaming for more cops on the street. Open carry by law abiding citizens actually helps our first responders in preventing the crime from happening in the first place, since your job is inherently reactive in nature. You need all the help you can get our there, and we know that, trust me were on your side. With unemployment rising, it means less tax revenue, which means less money to fund society’s first responders, which ultimately means crime rates going up with unemployed and uneducated young men. Your help wont come from more cops on the street, there’s no money to fund it. Your help will come from open carry law abiding citizens preventing the crime from happening in the first place.

    I understand the general population has been brain washed over the last 40 years that open carry is mean and neanderthal, hell even our continued militarization of peace officers have. We once had a society of Peace Officers that used common sense and sound judgement,now we have a law enforcement officer who enforces all the silly litttle laws created by some group of politicians hell bent on making money. There’s a huge difference between a peace officer and a law enforcement officer. And i refer to the following paragraph to make my point of that:
    – There are two kinds of crimes: Mala in se (evil in themselves) and Mala prohibita (Wrongs prohibited). Mala in se, these would be crimes of violence and property, such as murder, rape and robbery. Mala prohibita, these crimes are not evil in themselves, but merely wrong because some group of politicians said that they’re wrong. For example that your backyard fence may not be over eight feet high, or that your home may not have rock landscaping. Natural law: Mala en se crimes. Political law: creates Mala prohibita crimes. By eliminating freedom we eliminate the need for responsible behavior. The so called, “Zero tolerance” basis of law enforcement requires no means rea (evil intent). Exceed the speed limit, or sell a gun to a peaceable citizen in the next state and you’ve broken some malum prohibitum law. Never harmed anyone? “Doesn’t matter. Just shut up and comply. It’s the law.”

  17. LibertyBell says:

    #1 Free Speech,

    #2 just in case your confused with #1.

    “The very atmosphere of firearms anywhere and everywhere restrains evil interference – they deserve a place of honor with all that’s good”

    — George Washington

  18. Brian O'Neill says:

    I don’t want to get sucked too deep into the black hole of gun control, but it would be refreshing to hear an eloquent quote on the 2nd Amendment from a source who didn’t live in an era when men wore white wigs and had wooden teeth. In short, a lot has changed since then.

  19. LibertyBell says:

    And Brian?

    Is it okay to make people fear you?

    Go ask Crystal Brame that question!

    A great question for the investigators in Seattle today from that United States Department of Justice.

  20. LibertyBell says:

    “Today, we need a nation of Minutemen, citizens who are not only prepared to take arms, but citizens who regard the preservation of freedom as the basic purpose of their daily life and who are willing to consciously work and sacrifice for that freedom.”

    — John F. Kennedy

  21. LibertyBell says:
  22. LibertyBell says:

    And the Ku Klux Act of 1871 Brian?

    Join the Pierce County Klub, on display Nationwide!

  23. Brian O'Neill says:


    I worked with David Brame, have met his kids, and frequented the location of his homicide-suicide. I find your reference to be unrelated and absolutely insulting. When you throw out vague references for shock value you lose all crediblity.

  24. BlaineCGarver says:

    Philly police have advised open carry practioners that they will be put on the ground, even though open carry is legal. That would be right up your alley, Brian, wouldn’t it? No one supports law and order more than I, but these JBT tactics are unconstitutional and illegal on your part. Either support the oath you took, or find another line of work. I did twenty in the Army, so don’t tell me about adhearing to an oath.

  25. Amazing areas to ride(Sedona, Prescott)-hope you road up OakCreek Canyon, and stopped at slide rock. Jerome is an amazing experience on a bike too! I’ve had the pleasure of riding there a number of times, and valued the experience every time.

    Nothing reminds me of being free as much as riding helmetless through some of God’s most beautiful country. It is sad that many people in society fear guns. Open Carry is legal here in Washington(I choose to carry concealed as I’d rather not announce I am armed myself)….but an armed society is a safer society.

    Glad you took the time to enjoy Arizona, sad that a law enforcement officer would be taken back by a large population legally carrying a firearm, and that its socially acceptable for it to be visible. Certainly would deter crime here if people knew that they were up against an armed populace at any given time. Just as Sea Tac and Tacoma Malls have set themselves up for gun violence by making it illegal to carry on their private property, outlaw guns and only the outlaws will have guns. Gives people like the Tacoma Mall Shooter free reign when they choose to do something heinous…..

  26. It’s too bad Libertybelle used Crystal Brame’s murder as a very misleading argument. 1) David Brame was a police officer and required to carry 24/7; 2) David Brame murdered his wife in a fit of insanity/passion. He was also not well received by his fellows, staff, and secretary, and should not have passed his ‘psych’ test. All water under the bridge and an ignominious use of material.

    My first view of the West, in the late forties, was a cowboy, sound asleep, his horse traveling by rote, with a long rifle balanced across his lap. Since then I’ve seen many ‘cowboys’ traveling with rifles attached to the inside back of their truckcabs, or walking into a restaurant/bar in western states, and never took offense or withdrew in fear. And I’ve been to Arizona. I’ve seen how barren it can be. I believe I understand the need to have a firearm near to hand there.

    It isn’t viable to have the same laws for firearms in every city and county in the U.S. The needs are too different and it’s too easy to acquire a firearm in any American city. Education about firearms is needed and sometimes provided by the NRA.

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