Well, it’s been over a month now since the Sandy Hook school shooting. The wounds are as close to healed as they ever will be for the family and friends of those who lost their lives on that horrific day. The school and the community is as close to recovered as they ever will be. Like Tuscon, AZ and Aurora, CO (among others), Newtown, CT is as ready to move on as it ever will be.
In my last post I ended by saying I wouldn’t get into the gun control debate at that time. I felt it would have been disrespectful to the memories of the deceased to do so. While I am now ready to talk about gun control, I would like to emphasize that what follows is not a response to those who want to use Sandy Hook as a catalyst to enact stricter gun control laws, but rather a summary of how I’ve felt about the right to bear arms since I’ve been cognizant of the issue. Certainly, my opinion has been refined over the years by events in my lifetime, including Sandy Hook, but my general position in regards to gun rights has always been the same.
First and foremost, the Second Amendment to the Constitution of the United States (a document that I view as the supreme law of the land, not just some museum artifact) gives its citizens the right to bear arms, and it is specific that said right shall not be infringed. Anybody familiar with this issue, on either side, is already aware of that. But what was the purpose of the Founders putting the Second Amendment in the Constitution in the first place? It wasn’t to allow people to hunt. People hunting in the Colonies in the late 1700’s was a given. How else were they to eat? If you couldn’t farm, fish, trap, or hunt, you were going to starve. Period. The amendment also was not put in place so that an individual could defend his or her home or person against an intruder or attacker. Again, that was a given. The Right to Bear Arms was given so that the citizenry could defend itself against a government that sought to become oppressive, like the one they had just freed themselves from.
“But that would never happen here. This is America,” many would say. I would say the roughly 110,000 Japanese-Americans who were put into relocation camps after the attack on Pearl Harbor might argue with you. The federal government of the United States of America, at the executive order of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, imprisoned thousands of American citizens who were guilty of no crime, without any trials. That is oppressive.
“But that was sixty years ago, during a war. We had just suffered an unprovoked attack. That would never happen today, in peacetime.” Really? How many laws have been passed since the turn of the century at the local, county, state, and federal levels? How many since George W. Bush was elected? How many since Obama was elected? How many since he was re-elected? Of those, how many actually had something to do with protecting our rights and freedoms? Remember, to the Founders, the point behind the laws in the Constitution was not to restrict the citizens of the new country, but rather to restrict their government. If a law did not protect a basic right or freedom of the citizen, it shouldn’t be implemented. Today we have laws requiring us to purchase health insurance. We have laws restricting the availability of soda containers of more than 16 ounces. We have laws banning the sale of single-serving plastic water bottles. We have laws banning plastic bags. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. What do any of those laws have to do with protecting one’s rights or freedoms? How do they restrict the power of the government? They all sound to me like they restrict the power of the individual.
“But those are harmless little laws. Banning plastic water bottles isn’t the federal government putting its boot on your throat.”* No, it’s not, but always remember the slippery slope. Remember mission creep. Remember “the new normal.” Remember the Overton Window. Remember this quote by James Madison – “Since the general civilization of mankind, I believe there are more instances of the abridgment of the freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments of those in power than by violent and sudden usurpation (italics mine).”
“Well, even if the government of the United States did try to oppress the people, do gun owners really think they’ll be able to overcome the numbers, technology, and power of the U.S. military? A bunch of average Joes with semi-automatic AR-15s are going to hold of the most powerful military in the history of the world? Come on!” I hear some variant of that a lot. And I have two responses to it:
1) So we shouldn’t even bother trying? We should just give up without a fight? I don’t know about you, but I’d rather go out like a wolf than live like a sheep. Better to die on your feet than live on your knees.
2) History would suggest that those average Joes would have a better chance than you might think. Remember, the Colonials were fighting the most powerful military in the history of the world at that time, and they were just a bunch of farmers, lawyers, blacksmiths, and the like. They won. Nobody thought the Viet Cong had a prayer against the US back in the Sixties. They won. Nobody thought the mujahideen had a chance against the Soviets in the 1980’s. How did that turn out?
Yes, the colonists received aid from France. Yes, the VC received aid from China and the Soviet Union. Yes, the Afghanis received aid from the United States. What’s your point? You don’t think there’s somebody who would help future American citizens overthrow their tyrannical government? I don’t know that there would be, but how do you know there wouldn’t be?
“But, really, what are the chances you’ll have to defend yourself from the government? Heck, what are the chances you’ll have to defend your home or yourself in a dark alley?” What are the chances your house will catch on fire? You still have homeowners’ insurance, right? What are the chances you’ll be in a car accident? You still have automobile insurance, right? What are the chances you’ll get cancer or break your leg? You still have medical insurance, right? It’s not about the likelihood of the need. It’s about being prepared. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.
So, we’ve established the existence of the Second Amendment, and its original purpose (and, in my opinion, it’s necessity). What about some of the other, more detailed arguments that are currently being used by those who are in favor of gun control (currently being used, yes, due to the climate of the day, but bear in mind that all of these arguments, really, have come up before, time and time again)?
1) “Do you really need a semi-automatic weapon and/or do you really need a high-capacity magazine?” First of all, it’s likely not a question of need, but rather of want. Maybe I want the gun to do as much of the work for me as possible. Maybe I don’t want to have to work the bolt or pump the slide or jack the lever to chamber the next round after my first shot. Maybe I just want the gun to be ready for me, just in case. Maybe I am a great shot, but I’m also human, and I’m also as subject to Murphy’s Law as the next guy, and so I just might miss, and I’d like to be able to recover and get off a second shot as soon as possible. Is that really so bad?
A personal aside, here. My father, uncle, and grandfather all taught me how to hunt when I was a teenager. They were very strict about gun safety and hunter safety (my father, in fact, attended the hunter safety course taught by the local police department with me). They were very emphatic about gun control – in the sense of having my gun under control at all times. Always knowing where the barrel was pointing. Always knowing whether the safety was on or not. Whether there was a round in the chamber or not. Not having my finger on the trigger unless I was about to squeeze it. Not pointing the gun down range unless I was 100% certain that what I was about to point my gun at was my intended target (a deer, for example). Not squeezing the trigger unless I was 100% certain I had a killing shot. Not squeezing the trigger unless I was 100% certain that there wasn’t something on the other side of my target that I might hit if I missed or if the bullet passed through my target after a hit. So I get it, ok? Don’t lecture me about how I shouldn’t have a gun in the first place if I’m not even sure I’ll hit what I aim at.
By the way, why does everybody seemingly have an issue with semiautomatic rifles, shotguns, and pistols because they automatically chamber a round after a shot is fired, but nobody is screaming about revolvers that can do the exact same thing? You squeeze the trigger, the cylinder rotates, and another round is ready for you. Hmm…
The bottom line is that semiautos can be as reliable and accurate as bolt-actions or any other kind of gun out there. There are many elite military and police units that use semiautomatic sniper rifles. The longest kill shot on record (made by an Australian commando in Afghanistan last year at over 3,000 yards – no, that is not a typo) was made with a semiautomatic Barrett .50 caliber sniper rifle. At the end of the day, it’s the shooter, not the weapon, that has the greatest influence on accuracy.
As far as high-capacity magazines go, let’s go back to the original purpose of the Second Amendment – if I have to fight off an oppressive government, I’m going to need high-capacity magazines. The less time I have to spend changing out mags, the better. In regards to more likely present-day scenarios, allow me to remind you of the Los Angeles riots after the Rodney King trial Or the situation in New Orleans after Katrina. Looting of homes and businesses was rampant until law and order was restored. Some people elected to allow their homes and/or businesses to be ransacked. Some did not. Some defended their property with “assault weapons.” Who do you think had more property left when it was all over? Those who elected to try to appease the looters by not resisting, or those who defended their properties?
Even the act of defending one’s person and/or home against a very small group or even single criminal could require high-capacity magazines. The average individual citizen may be a great shot at the range putting holes in a paper bullseye under controlled conditions, but that’s not the same as when you’re shooting at another human being, who may be moving, while you’re scared out of your mind, and perhaps in poor visibility. Your heart is pumping, your hands are shaking, adrenaline is coursing through your veins… The likelihood of missing a vital area – or missing completely – is much higher. Even crack shots typically use more than one round when engaging the enemy. Take a counterterrorist unit like SEAL Team Six. When the unit was founded, commanding officer Richard Marcinko had them shooting so much that the sixty-man outfit went through as much ammunition in a year as the entire United States Marine Corps. Nevertheless, despite the obvious prowess that was developed by so much practice, those SEALs were still trained to shoot their targets twice with a semiautomatic weapon (once in the chest and once in the head – the now-famous “double-tap”) and with a three-round burst with a fully automatic weapon. Why? To make sure their target was DEAD. When your life is on the line, you don’t shoot to wound, you shoot to kill. Now, if you’re not as accurate as a Navy SEAL and you can’t guarantee that your first shot is going to the heart and the next shot is going to the head, you’re probably going to need more than two rounds, aren’t you? And that’s assuming you’re only dealing with a single assailant.
2) “More / better / stricter gun control laws will make the country safer.” Utterly incorrect, and there are all kinds of statistics out there to back up this statement. For example, go here. Or here. Or here. Or here. Or here. Or here.
3) “Well, if we don’t ban certain types of guns,** how do we make sure things like Sandy Hook never happen again?” First of all, let’s be honest with ourselves – you’re never going to 100% guarantee that bad things will never happen. It’s simply impossible. So, stop setting unrealistic expectations. If they want it badly enough, bad people will do bad things. If a violent criminal wants to get his hands on a gun badly enough, he’ll find a way to do it. Remember, none of the guns Adam Lanza used were his – he stole them from his mother after he killed her. Banning guns is only going to ensure that law-abiding people don’t have them, and therefore render them helpless to defend themselves from the armed criminals.
Secondly, start placing the blame where it belongs – on the criminal. On the human being who pulled the trigger. A gun is an inanimate object. It can do nothing by itself. It has no brain, no will, no soul. It is a tool. Period. Done. End of story. Full stop. Stop making excuses for violent criminals. They’re not “misunderstood.” They don’t need “observation” after they’ve murdered people. They’re killers, and they need to pay the penalty for their crime. The penalty may not very well not reform them, but it may very well serve as a deterrent towards potential future killers and make them think twice before they pull a trigger.
Another quick aside – stop trying to place the blame on the entertainment industry or “the culture.” Banning violent movies and video games and television shows and song lyrics is as useless – if not more so – as banning guns. More importantly, it’s also a violation of the Constitution. I am certainly not willing to sacrifice the First Amendment for the sake of the Second. We need to re-establish personal responsibility in this country. It is not the government’s job to raise your child. It is not the school’s responsibility to raise your child. It is your responsibility to raise your child. If you don’t want your child to watch violent movies or play violent video games – don’t let him! Grow a spine and do your damn job as a parent!
So, what would I do? I have no issue with a reasonable waiting period while a background check is performed on me to determine whether or not I should own a gun. What’s a reasonable waiting period? In today’s America, with the communication and information technology that we have available, I don’t think it should take much more than a week or two to run a background check. If I have a violent criminal history, I should not be allowed to own a gun. If I have a history of mental and/or emotional disability and/or substance abuse (and yes, I think that information should be available to law enforcement personnel), I should not be allowed to own a gun. I don’t have a problem with having to register as a gun owner. I don’t even have a problem with that information being public.
Quite frankly, I rather like the idea of potential criminals seeing my name and address being associated with gun ownership – chances are they’ll then stay the hell away from me and my home!
Upon further review,I realize I could’ve have spared all of you this long-winded monologue and just had you watch this:
But that would’ve taken all the ego-stroking out of it for me. :)
* – in fact, the water bottle ban isn’t a federal law at all. It’s a local law in Concord, MA that was implemented January 1st, 2013.
** – or all guns, for that matter. Let’s be honest, there are people out there who like to see all guns banned from private civilian ownership.