Arizonans like their guns—or so the reputation goes. It's a reputation backed up by incidents like Tucson's recent road-rage altercation that left a man fatally shot in a Jack in the Box parking lot, and January's tragic mass shooting.
The gun-happy reputation is enhanced even further with tales of border shootings, home invasions and armed robberies at banks and Circle Ks.
More bolstering of the reputation comes from the state Legislature's hesitancy to back gun-control measures. Supporting such measures, an Arizona Republic article explains, can easily spell the end of a person's political ambitions—or even a career.
It's gotten to the point where Arizona is frequently viewed as a trigger-happy state full of mayhem. Former U.S. Sen. Dennis DeConcini, who has supported gun-control measures in the past and now serves on the Arizona Board of Regents, told The Republic the common line he hears when others find out where he's from: "Now, people will say, 'Oh, you're from Arizona. I'm sorry.'"
When I moved to Tucson several years ago, one of my friends nonchalantly pulled a pistol from her purse and said, "Now that you live in Arizona, you have to get a gun."
It really is that easy, with Tucson having a wider variety of gun choices than it has the latest shoe styles. Options run the gamut from Smith and Wesson revolvers to never-fired Colt semi-automatics, from military pistols issued in 1840 to the sweet yet powerful Beretta with the classy walnut grip.
Some of the shoe styles only come in beige.
Pawn shops are a hot spot for gun shopping, or you can cruise the small stretch of Grant Road that has enough gun shops concentrated in one area to be dubbed Gunshot Row.
While guns in Arizona are easily accessible, legal to tote into restaurants and bars, and seemingly always behind the ugliest headlines, it doesn't mean Arizona is the most gun-happy state—does it?
Not according to statistics.
Only 31 percent of Arizona residents had a gun somewhere in or around their home, according to a 2001 Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System survey that polled 201,000 folks across the nation. Wyoming had the highest percentage of households containing guns, at nearly 60 percent, while Alaska and Montana took second and third, each with about 58 percent. The lowest percentage of homes with guns went to Washington, D.C., so the survey said, with only about 4 percent of survey respondents admitting to having a gun around.
Arizona is also nowhere near the top of the heap when it comes to gun-related crimes, according to 2009 FBI statistics on the Guardian (United Kingdom) website.
Although 60 percent of Arizona's murders were committed by firearms, the state was well below Louisiana's 83 percent, and the 80 percent in Illinois. The national average of murders caused by gunfire was 67 percent.
Arizona's firearm murders matched the national per-capita average, with about three gun-related homicides per 100,000 residents. Louisiana's per-capita rate was 10 per 100,000. Washington, D.C., with its supposed 4 percent of households with guns, ranked highest with about 19 per 100,000 killed by gunfire.
When it came to assaults using firearms, Arizona ranked slightly higher than the national average, but again nowhere near the top of the list. Arizona's gun-related assaults numbered about 63 per 100,000. The national average was 55. Tennessee ranked No. 1 with 149.
Gun-related robberies in Arizona were only a tad higher than the national average, with 57 per 100,000, compared to the nation's 56. Washington, D.C., again took the top slot, with 310 per 100,000.
Based on the high rate of gun-related robberies and murders in Washington, D.C.—and the scant 4 percent of surveyed residents admitting to having a gun around the home—I have a strange feeling that not all of the stats are wholly accurate.
But I do know Arizona's gun-happy reputation is not completely deserved. Even the so-called Wild West is not all that wild with regards to gun use, abuse and ownership.
The South ranks highest in ownership, with 36 percent of its residents owning a firearm, according to a 2005 Gallup poll. The Midwest ranks second with 34 percent, followed by the West with 23, and the East with 22.
We also know road rage and mass shootings can happen anywhere, anytime, regardless of statistics, laws or a state's gun-happy or gun-controlling reputation. All it takes is one hotheaded or unstable person who happens to have one gun.