Thursday, December 27, 2012

Gun Nuts

You've seen them before, in popular culture references, in magazines, and lately in the news.

That last reference is to Nancy Lanza, mom to the crazy guy that killed her and then a slew of children and teachers at the elementary school where she worked as a kindergarten teacher.  That's right, that gun nut was a kindergarten teacher, the kind of person you usually associate with almost anything but guns.

What constitutes a gun nut?  That's a tough call.  In my lifetime I've owned a couple, though at this time I don't have any aside from an excellent pellet rifle that can shoot through a 1/2" thick piece of plywood.  As a "home defense" weapon (more on those later) it's almost worthless, since it's in a box, in the closet, unloaded.  Home defense is about preparedness in an emergency, in that regard the pellet rifle is more effective as a club in its current condition.  I think it would be safe to say I'm not a gun nut.

My dad owns a shotgun, I think.  I haven't seen it in about 35 years, which might be about as long as it's been since he saw it, assuming he even still has it.  I haven't asked, but I feel safe in saying: not a gun nut.

My brother-in-law has a couple.  He occasionally takes them to the local firing range, runs a box of ammo through them, keeping his eye in.  Not a gun nut.

I think the term "gun nut" has to apply not so much to ownership and use (more on that later, too) of guns, as to the philosophy surrounding their ownership and what that ownership means.

The point of the Second Amendment was ostensibly to ensure that the newborn American government never grow up to be a tyranny.  It's difficult to oppress and threaten with deadly force when the entire civilian population has its own weapons to bring to bear against a despotic government.  As I said when describing NPR's problems during March of 2011, when you have to take action against a force that can destroy you, you tend to work hard to keep things fair.  I'm not saying that disgruntled citizens should take up arms at every vote their Congressman makes that doesn't quite suit them, I'm saying that it would be damned hard for our governmental to become a dictatorship that disregards the needs and desires of its citizens, now that we've had legal access to our own military might for quite some time.

In the beginning, when the art and science of gunsmithing was relatively new, the gun you used on the battlefield as part of a military unit was a close cousin to the gun you used as a civilian, hunting for food.  It was understood by the government and the military machine that only the cannons owned and operated by the nation's military represented superior firepower and even so, superior numbers of civilians and smart tactics could overtake slow-firing, logistically cumbersome cannon.  In short, it would be desperately unwise to attempt to overthrow the nation's own citizens.  When so much of the army was really local militia called up to service and they already owned the guns they would use in such service, it would be a doomed effort from the beginning.

But in more recent times gunsmithing has become something else entirely.  It is possible to manufacture weapons capable of firing over 600 rounds per minute.   The fastest non-automatic firing I've ever heard of is damned fast - eight rounds in a single second firing a conventional revolver.  But when the eight rounds are gone, the revolver has to reload.  The AR-15 just keeps shooting until the 30-round clip is empty.

There are people who are freakishly fast shooters. I know I can't pull the trigger eight times in a single second, but there are some who can.  And they hit their targets, so they aren't just whaling away at it.  But that doesn't change the fact that most people simply aren't going to shoot that fast or fire very many rounds in a single go.  The automatic weapon changes that.

But no problem!  You can purchase an automatic weapon if you want one.  Well, semi-auto.  The gun fires a round, resets the trigger for you, and you fire again.  That limits how quickly you can fire the gun, but that limitation isn't a big deal: you can still fire a round every second.

Now is when I ask the question: how quickly do you need to fire?  Sportsmen, legitimate hunters, will usually tell you that being able to fire another shot very quickly is pretty important, but those same hunters will tell you that if you need to fire more than three shots, you're a crap hunter.  Really.  If you can't hit the target on the first shot and need the second shot to end its suffering - suffering you, the hunter, have caused, by the way - a third round can only underline your lousy performance.  And if that third shot doesn't finish it off, that's because the wounded animal has gotten completely away.

In my book, gun control is hitting the target the first time, every time.  But the larger question is what kind of gun should I be able to have?  If actual hunters will tell you that more than three rounds at a time is poor performance, then the "legitimate sporting" argument for a 30-round magazine and a round every second is a pretty weak argument.

Here's where the gun nuts start getting their wind up.  They'll shout "Second Amendment" this and that, that the Constitution protects our legal right to own and bear arms.  They're a degree.  The Amendment clearly states that the right to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed, so as long as the weapon can be owned, you can own it, absent legal reasons why you should not.  But in light of the Connecticut school shooting and now this nutjob in New York setting a trap for firefighters by setting his own home on fire, it points up the question, should some weapons be legal to own?

I don't hunt.  I know one guy who does, and I asked him a few questions about what kind of guns he owns, but it's been a couple of days since I asked and he hasn't gotten back to me.  I hope he does soon, because I don't want to file this essay without representing a legitimate user's view.

Having  a shorter magazine would not have stopped that murderer from killing all those kids.  It would have slowed him down, however, and maybe those heroic teachers who tried to stop him would have had a chance.  Maybe nothing would have changed.

Having to re-cock the gun for every shot would have slowed him down.  Maybe the teachers would have had a chance.  Maybe not.

Looking at the statistics, the United States isn't the worst place to worry about getting killed by somebody with a gun.  El Salvador, for instance, is way worse.  Colombia is way worse.  Brazil is way worse.  Countries, to put it bluntly, that are raddled by ultra-violent drug cartels that are killing indiscriminately are worse off than we are.  Third-world countries awash in organized crime are way worse off than we are.

I think it's high time we look very hard at whether having the capacity to deal out death at such a high rate is a good thing.  The many checks and balances already make it damned hard for our own government to take unchallenged control and become a dictatorship, a tyranny that dispossesses its constituents.

The right to own and bear arms shall not be infringed, but I think we need to look damned hard at whether the right to sell the capability of dealing death in bulk amounts should be infringed.  It really ought to be, since dealing death in any amount is by and large illegal, not useful in hunting, and a national tragedy every time it happens.

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