Pistol Packin' Politicos

It's a fair bet that your favorite Dade big shot is a sure shot, too

Historians report that upon seeing the men, Jackson refused to back away from their challenge. "Now defend yourself, you damned rascal!" he is said to have shouted as he rushed forward, armed with a pistol and a bullwhip. He was promptly shot twice. Some say his wounds soaked two mattresses with blood before they finally healed.

One would think that by this time politicians would know better than to get involved in dueling. But consider the following: In 1986, Jorge Mas Canosa, leader of the Cuban American National Foundation (and, if he gets his way, future president of Cuba), challenged then-Miami City Commissioner Joe Carollo to a duel, because Mas Canosa felt Carollo had impugned his character.

"I am going to prove to the Cubans that you are a clown and a coward," vowed Mas Canosa on Radio Mambi. "Your bullying in Miami has ended, because you have encountered a man with a capital M, a very big M."

Carollo was stunned. "He challenged me to a duel, with either swords or guns," the ex-commissioner recalls. "My reaction at the time was that if he wanted to have a duel, we should have it with water pistols, and maybe after I squirted him in the face he'd cool off."

The duel never transpired, but Carollo later heard that Mas Canosa, who reportedly owns a .357 magnum, had gone so far as to make arrangements with El Salvadoran armed forces officials to hold the duel on one of their bases in Central America. That way there would be no question of criminal charges against the victor. Besides, Mas Canosa doesn't even have a concealed weapons permit in Florida.

Further insight into the field of dueling politicians was provided by Donald Fleming, Ph.D., an esteemed educator and historian.

"Let me see," mused Fleming, reach by phone in his office at Harvard University. "Theodore Roosevelt had lots of guns, but that was because he was a great hunter. Of course you do have military men who were politicians, but that's a bit different from what you're after.

"You have the Burr-Hamilton duel," the renowned historian continued. "That incident with Andrew Jackson. I also have a vague recollection that one of the vice presidents in the 1800s, Richard Mentor Johnson, may have been involved in dueling. And of course Henry Clay had duels."

He was sorry, Fleming admitted finally, but those were about all he could come up with. "I'm not sure that there are any notable politicians particularly identifiable with guns since the dueling era passed," he noted. "No one is really studying the issue, though."

Upon being informed that someone was studying the issue, Fleming was aghast. He was particularly struck, he said, by the statistical revelation that Dade politicians are 30 times more likely than ordinary Florida citizens to possess concealed-weapons permits.

"Is that all true?" asked the dumbfounded professor. "My! Well, I take your point, then."

Contacted in his office at UCLA, psychology professor Jim Sidanius offered one theory about why politicians might be so enamored of artillery. "There was an old thesis, developed in the 1930s by a psychologist by the name of Harold Lasswell," Sidanius said. "Lasswell was a major figure in American political science and political psychology. He had the idea that the political power of politicians was simply an extension of personal power needs and various feelings of inadequacy."

As Sidanius explained it, Lasswell surmised that by and large, politicians were a bunch of sick puppies. In his 1936 treatise entitled, Politics: Who Gets What and How, Lasswell wrote: "They have often learned to cow their environment by the sheer intensity of their willfulness. Such are the men of Napoleonic mold, prone to break themselves or others . The common trait of the political personality type is the emphatic need for deference."

If one accepts Lasswell's argument, Sidanius pointed out, it would make sense that politicians would carry weapons.

"Having a gun, carrying a gun, flaunting a gun would be a natural extension of that need for power," the professor explained. "It would probably also be the case that male gun owners are probably more dominance- and control-oriented."

And so, in fact, they seem to be. According to the state's figures, among those Dade public servants who were granted a permit to conceal their weapon, more than 96 percent are men. (Among current officeholders, only Gilda Oliveros, the mayor of Hialeah Gardens, has a concealed-weapons permit. The other woman whose name surfaced in the computer search was former judge Ellen Morphonios.)

The overwhelming male-to-female ratio among the gun toters naturally leads one to ponder the long-held view that the pistol is a symbol of male dominance, an extension of the phallus. Politicians and guns. Politicians and sex. Guns and sex.

Enough said.
As of the first of this year, 79,762 Floridians had been granted permission to walk around with a gun hidden beneath their sport coat, or tucked into their boot, or hidden someplace else on their person -- easily accessible but out of sight.

One out of every four permits issued in Florida goes to someone in Dade County. Currently, 21,813 people in Dade have permits.

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