I may be a liberal, but make my day: Along with Dirty Harry, all sorts of unexpected people now carry guns in the US, reports Richard Guilliatt

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Indy Lifestyle Online
Alarmed by the gunplay that plagues their cities, some prominent liberal Americans are taking a decisive moral stand. They're arming themselves to the teeth.

Take Arthur Ochs Sulzberger, chairman of the New York Times, a newspaper that has waged a decades-long campaign for tighter gun-control laws in the United States. Mr Sulzberger can sit in his Manhattan office perusing his newspaper's fearless anti-gun editorials, secure in the knowledge that his trusty Smith & Wesson .38 is within reach in a desk drawer.

Bill Cosby, the comedian, is another ostensibly liberal American who is armed when he walks the streets. Mr Cosby was granted a 'carry permit' for his gun in 1988, although he expressed a certain guilt about resorting to weaponry in his application to the New York Police Department.

The gun-toting lives of Messrs Sulzberger and Cosby came to light recently courtesy of Al Goldstein, publisher of Screw, the scurrilous New York weekly magazine. Mr Goldstein has been seeking his own gun permit for 15 years, in pursuit of which he subpoenaed the Pistol License Division to find out which other prominent New Yorkers have been granted permits. Among them are Joan Rivers, the television talk-

show host, Michael Korda, chief executive of the publishers Si-

mon & Schuster, and Donald Trump, the property developer.

Mr Goldstein says he was not too surprised to find Bill Cosby and 'Punch' Sulzberger among the names. 'There's a cliche that a liberal is someone who hasn't been mugged yet,' he notes. 'Anyone who's got money and has clout wants a gun permit in New York. It's like the old West.'

It is impossible to quantify how many pistol-packing liberals there are in the US, but the phenomenon is certainly not confined to violence-prone New York. In Los Angeles, applications for gun purchases increased 45 per cent in the month following last year's race riots, and many of these new gun-owners are believed to be affluent yuppies who have cast aside their gun-control beliefs in the name of personal safety.

'I've had people who were tremendously anti-gun call me up,' says Paul Cole, proprietor of seven gun stores in the Los Angeles area. 'People saw this terrible stuff going on - police officials just standing by as people were carrying television sets out of stores and bashing heads in.'

'In the past few months, I've been shocked to find that some of my best friends own guns,' the film director Mick Jackson (L A Story) told the New York Times recently. 'Nice, peaceable, otherwise sane people talking about their Glock this, their Beretta that, like any other status symbol.'

Five years ago, Carl Rowan, a Washington journalist and staunch gun-control advocate who once suggested that only the police should be allowed to carry arms, demonstrated the hazy area between philosophy and practice when he shot an intruder at his home with an unlicensed pistol. The intruder, 18-year-old Benjamin Smith, had been skinny-

dipping with friends in Mr Rowan's pool at 2am.

'I guess I was trespassing,' admitted Mr Smith. 'But that's no reason to shoot a person is it?' Mr Rowan, who admitted the shooting but claimed it was in self-defence, confessed that he had kept the gun illegally in his home for six years, during which time he had written many impassioned articles denouncing gun ownership. Rowan was charged with possession of an unregistered handgun, but a mistrial was declared in October 1988, when a jury was unable to reach a verdict. Since then, the columnist has been the butt of merciless jokes by gun enthusiasts.

'There's this 'Do as I say, not as I do' mentality,' says Peggy Tartaro, executive editor of Women and Guns magazine. 'Certainly the New York Times publisher is doing everything he can editorially to set a political agenda whereby most people won't be able to get the same protection he has.'

Despite gun-control measures and the emotional debate they have engendered, the inexorable rise of urban violence in the US is helping to create new customers for gun-makers. Ms Tartaro's magazine caters to the growing ranks of female shooters, who can now choose from a selection of customised women's firearms ('Be safe, feminine and stylish]'). Gay men and women are increasingly turning to guns to combat the gay-bashing problem. Outweek, a gay magazine, ran a cover story in 1990 cover-story, 'Taking Aim At Bashers', which pictured a gun-toting woman on its cover and quoted several gay activists who advocate carrying guns.

Mr Sulzberger and Mr Cosby were not available to talk about guns and who should own them, although Mr Cosby outlined his mixed feelings about guns in his application to the New York Police Department in April 1988. 'That I am compelled at this point in my life to request authorisation to carry a weapon is, indeed, unfortunate and it troubles me very deeply,' said the entertainer, adding that he was worried that young people 'might be misguided enough to interpret the news of my carrying a weapon (as) legitimacy for their possession of one'. Mr Sulzberger, who said he required a gun because he carried 'large sums of money, securities, etc', told police he would keep his revolver in a desk drawer at work.

Mr Goldstein wants to know why people such as Mr Cosby and Mr Sulzberger were granted carry permits when he was refused.

'The New York City Police Department says I have not sufficiently distinguished myself from other New Yorkers to warrant the granting of a permit,' he says indignantly. 'But merely to read Screw or watch my television programme, Midnight Blue, would show I have distinguished myself. My television show is full of hatred and contempt for the world; my magazine is a vicious and antagonistic publication which attacks the Pope and everyone. I am surely more hated than Bill Cosby. Bill Cosby is beloved.'

In his application for a permit, Mr Goldstein contended that he regularly dealt with mentally unstable people, some of whom were frequent advertisers in Screw. He submitted a selection of hate-mail from white supremacist skinheads, Muslim fanatics and other correspondents who threatened him with death.

He also told the court that he regularly visited Times Square sex clubs which are reputedly run by the Mafia, and that he visited bizarre sado-masochism clubs where 'people are hanging upside down . . . these are adults, men and women who are beating each other up, lassoing each other, manacled. You really think you are in Dante's Inferno.'

The police apparently deemed none of this remarkable enough to warrant a gun permit, and have once again rejected Mr Goldstein's request, which has now gone to appeal. But the publisher has at least one self-defence option available when he is at home in his 61st Street apartment - he can call on his next-door neighbour, Bill Cosby.

(Photograph omitted)