Nearly four years ago (July, 2012) I wrote a blog regarding our country’s abysmal record of tackling the horror of mass-shooting body counts. Sunday morning’s record-setting slaughter of innocents in Orlando caused me to re-visit the piece. I wrote it after the Aurora, Colorado massacre. I decided to re-publish it now because it is still (unfortunately) appropriate.
My central thesis — and it hasn’t changed — was (and still is) that high capacity magazines have no business in the hands of anyone but combat soldiers. I would add that easily exchanged magazines are also a factor in the gruesome body count arena.
California passed a law banning magazines with a capacity of more than 10 rounds and required that all new firearms with replaceable magazines have a separate “magazine release tool” instead of the simple quick-release button. This supposed “re-loading tool” would then be an addition piece of equipment requiring the shooter to engage in a re-loading process that would add time to the process. The gun industry’s solution, which the California gun lobby made sure was approved by the well-meaning legislature, was to install a recessed release button that could easily be pushed using……..wait for it…..the tip of a bullet. The gun industry is adept at addressing the letter of the law but certainly not its intent.
My initial blog received a handful of responses. If you want to read those, pull up the original titled “Gun Safety and Slippery Slopes,” July, 2012.
I wrote another gun safety piece after the Newtown Massacre just five months later. If you want to read that one, it’s titled “Small Fish in a Barrel”.
Probably to his great regret, the 13th Clown has decided to initiate a reasoned dialogue about guns vs. public safety. This is prompted by the latest slaughter of innocent Americans at a public gathering. To date, I have kept my own counsel in the on-going debate, a debate that seems driven mostly by emotion, paranoia, fantasy and ideology, none of which lend themselves to reasoned solutions.
My effort to create a dialogue has no specific rules. I do find, however, that facts and historical precedent are more compelling than unsupported opinion and supposition.
First, I need to provide some personal background which will give my comments context.
1. I support personal gun ownership. I have owned firearms of various types since before I was old enough to obtain a driver’s license.
2. I have been a hunter. I have shot and eaten more than a few delicious upland game birds and for that I have no regret.
3. During my three years of active duty in the Army I was introduced to and learned, with modest proficiency, to use military weapons of various types, sizes and functions, including pistols, M-14s, M-60s and 50 caliber machine guns, artillery pieces, the infamous M-16 infantry automatic rifle, grenades, tear gas canisters, Claymore anti-personnel mines and that silly putty beauty, C-4 explosives.
4. As I write this, there are in my home a 16 gauge pump shotgun, a .380 six-shot semi-automatic pistol and a high velocity single shot pellet gun, the bane of garden-destroying chipmunks and siding-boring woodpeckers.
5. In the extremely unlikely event of a home invasion, I doubt that I would hesitate to shoot at intruders threatening bodily harm to me or the current wife, given that I have the means, routinely practice close-range marksmanship and have a keen sense of self preservation. I sincerely hope that this opportunity never arises, however, for as the protagonist in the movie The Unforgiven said, “It’s a terrible thing to kill a man. You take away all he ever was and all he was ever going to be.” Even so, given the right circumstances, I would pull the trigger.
6. In short, I do not fit the popular profile of an anti-gun pacifist pantywaist.
Let me now drop the other large 13th Clown shoe. I believe, without reservation, that America has slowly drifted into the realm of madness as it relates to personal gun technology and public safety. Elected officials have been cowed into letting the status quo prevail. The slaughter of multiple innocents in single incident shootings has become numbingly routine.
Admittedly, those wishing to harm many innocents will find a way regardless of firearm restrictions (recall Timothy McVey). However, this dialogue is about public massacres by gunfire in a single incident.
There are heated arguments from both camps, and each side has legitimate points, many points that could, if reasonable people would listen and adapt, make a real difference.
Let’s start by reviewing what I believe to be true.
1. Taking all personal guns away from Americans is unrealistic, a bad idea and is never going to happen under our current form of democratic government.
2. Restricting ammunition sales doesn’t much help. One can own a whole garage-full of ammo but if it can’t be brought to bear at the point of attack, large stashes of ammo are just clutter.
3. Background checks are a good idea but porous. Gun shows and private sales completely thwart the effort. Keeping guns out of the hands of the mentally unstable or criminal is admirable and should be strengthened but the process will eventually fail often enough for many of these types to get firearms.
4. Armor-piercing ammo can be legally obtained but, let’s face it, poses only marginally more threat to unarmed civilians than regular “put a hole through you” bullets bought over the counter. Law Enforcement officers, however, have a legit complaint about military grade ammo in the hands of bad guys.
5. The general public is confused by the term “assault rifle”, many referring to and thinking that the macho-looking weapon of choice of our most recent mass murderers are the same weapons that the military issues to soldiers. In one deadly way, they are not. Guns that can be legally bought in gun shops, such as the AR 15, are merely gussied-up semi-automatic rifles that look “military” but work exactly the same way as a standard hunting rifle (semi-automatic means one shot per trigger pull with no manual cocking required between shots). Banning faux assault rifles likely makes no more public safety sense than banning hunting rifles.
[For clarity, a true military assault rifles i.e. AK-47, M-4, M-16 etc. can be fired as fully automatic. In this mode, the weapon is a small caliber machine gun. As long as the trigger is depressed and the supply of ammo remains, the bullets fly. Actual military assault rifles are already illegal if owned by a private citizen. It is also illegal for the public to own hand grenades, mortars, rocket launchers, C-4 explosives, stinger missiles, anti-personnel mines, bomb-making ingredients, artillery pieces, etc. These common-sense restrictions regarding deadly military hardware haven’t triggered Second Amendment paranoia among the sane. So far, even the NRA has not argued for the sale of military assault rifles to the public. But I wouldn’t bet that they won’t do so in the future.]
6. Speaking of the NRA, for an organization that represents only 12% of America’s gun-owning households (and that does not include me) and less than 4% of all American households, the NRA exerts unwarranted political influence and demonizes reasonable voices (as well as the unreasonable). Considering why the NRA was founded in the first place, its recent leadership has morphed it into something very different and not in a good way.
7. With the exception of Charles Whitman (Univ. of Texas, 1966), the “single-incident” mass killing of American innocents by gunfire in the past 50 or so years have one thing in common: the ability of a gunman to continue firing from an ammo magazine designed to hold many, sometimes dozens even hundreds, of bullets.
8. The high-capacity magazine was originally designed for military assault rifles (see above) thus giving soldiers the ability to click over to automatic fire (in 1969 we called it “rock and roll”). This creates a whole squad of men with small machine guns. The military began training recruits to use this tactic as an enemy fire suppression technique in the 1960s. The need for high-capacity magazines in these weapons is obvious. Fully automatic assault weapons use lots of bullets.
9. The death tolls at our most horrific gun massacres are a direct result of the perpetrator’s ability to continue firing without the necessity to reload or even change weapons. Even in the legal world of semi-automatic AR 15s, a shooter can easily fire at 60 targets per minute, especially in a target rich environment like a theater, food court or any other public gathering. If the magazine was, as is reported in the case in Colorado, a 100 round drum magazine, the killing can go on and on, seemingly for an eternity if you are a target. The result is many dead and many more wounded because at the point of attack the shooter has added a high-capacity magazine, initially designed for an automatic military assault rifle, onto a military-looking semi-automatic rifle. It’s not a machine gun but damned close.
10. Here are a few thoughts on high-capacity magazines. Hunters don’t need them. If a hunter misses on the first shot or two, Mr. Buck is long gone. I can’t speak to current hunting rules but back in the 50s and 60s, hunting game birds in Kansas with more than three rounds in the shotgun was unlawful; you know, to give the birds a chance. Target shooters don’t need them. At the skeet range, if you miss with the first two or three rounds, the clay target is already on the ground. Why, then, do individual citizens need a magazine that accommodates more than 10 rounds…..make that 6 in my case? Recreational shooters who attend events that provide the “machine gun experience” could be an exception but I would have little sympathy should this form of recreation be banned and these folks forced to find something else to thrill them. I can think of no other reasons for high-capacity magazines in the public realm that don’t involve (a) some paranoid scenarios that occur only in dystopian Hollywood fantasies or computer games (b) push-back from those who cite “home invasion by legions of thugs” and who clearly don’t know the facts about home invasions in the U.S. and (c) rejection by those who think that soon there will be another armed American revolution against the U.S. government and that high-capacity personal firepower is the only thing between freedom and the jackboots of our own (currently much beloved) military.
11. In combat, killing as many of the enemy as possible is the goal, ergo the automatic assault rifle and high-capacity magazines. At the neighborhood cinema, however, hardware designed for professional slaughter is more than inappropriate, yet we tolerate it in the name of Second Amendment rights and this defense always rests on the “slippery slope” argument. The gun control slippery slope always seems to lead to the total disarming of Americans.
A word about slippery slopes. I understand the metaphor and find it all too easy to accept as meaningful. But is it really? The argument assumes that once a limiting action is taken, the next limiting action is inevitable and then the next and the next and so on until some disastrous end-point is reached, regardless of majority resistance. As regards the basic freedoms established in the Constitution, I would be very interested in any example of where a limiting law then led to another and then to another until some basic freedom was completely stripped from the American public. (It certainly didn’t work efficiently nor for very long with prohibition). I’m curious if there is an actual slippery slope example that convincingly parallels the passage of reasonable gun safety restrictions that would then inevitably lead to the passage of unreasonable gun elimination laws. I cannot think of one.
Finally, here’s my partial solution for reducing the number of innocent deaths by gunfire per episode as well as the number of such episodes in the U.S. You will note that I said “reducing” not “eliminating”.
1. Except for military or law enforcement and (perhaps) tightly controlled recreational activity, ban the U.S. manufacture, importation, sale, purchase or ownership of firearm magazines that exceed a 10 round capacity. Infractions would be a felony and punished at the same level as selling or owning any other military grade weapons or bomb-making ingredients. Plea deals forbidden, jail time assured. During a reasonable amnesty period, high-capacity magazines currently owned by individuals could be turned in to local authorities in exchange for reasonable compensation.
2. Except for the military and law enforcement, ban the sale or possession of armor-piercing ammo. Amnesty and penalties for infractions as described in solution No. 1.
3. Close the gun show and private sale loopholes re: background checks and waiting periods.
4. (2016 addition) Magazine release and replacement be complicated and slow, not impossible but, at the very least, a small pain in the ass.
Your thoughts are welcome if they are civil and well-argued.
Observoid of the Day: In the confusion of a gunfight, every shooter is temporarily a perpetrator, regardless of intent.