Gun Safety and Slippery Slopes

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 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.

Your thoughts are welcome.

Observoid of the Day: In the confusion of a gunfight, every shooter is temporarily a perpetrator, regardless of intent.


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3 Responses to Gun Safety and Slippery Slopes

  1. Mac Bledsoe says:

    Trying to limit killing by limiting cartridge case size would worthless. It would only put 2-3 second spaces between bursts of ten shots! Let’s just issue guns to everyone purchasing tickets to movies so that they could return fire!

    Hell, if you want to save lives, let’s just ban automobiles… or better yet, let’s put food-intake-limiting masks on obese folks! We’d really save lots of lives that way!

    Or… hey, here is a revolutionary idea: let’s teach parenting skills so that the next generation of parents might teach their children to not fire on friendly targets!

  2. Dr David says:

    The 13th Clown is standing on solid ground in my opinion. There are reasonable options for reducing the carnage created by individuals who murder and injure dozens of people using a gun equipped with a large magazine clip.
    As you so cogently point out, your rationale for the limitations on the current market for–and the culture of–nearly unlimited weapons, is neither an affront nor an abridgement to our 2nd Amendment rights. Here is just a smattering of my answers to the objections we have heard ad nauseam from the far right-wing gun lobby:
    1. I can’t remember a single incident in a public venue in the past 20+ years where an armed civilian shot back at the shooter(s). I can understand that school students wouldn’t be armed. However, in a public setting, one would think that the odds should be someone would be present with a concealed gun permit who was armed and shot back at the killer. Nobody ever shoots back. Where are all these adamantly pro-gun people who declare everyone should be armed? Don’t they ever go to a movie, especially one with lots of “shoot-em up,” explosions, and the coolest superhero car on the planet?
    Let’s imagine the NRA’s dearest fantasy came true and a law was passed requiring all Americans to pack heat. What would happen in a theater (for purposes of discussion) when a gunman opened fire on the audience? How many people would die before someone, anyone, shot the shooter? It’s well documented that many of the killers expect to be fatally shot, themselves, as an act of suicide by proxy or end it by killing themselves at the end of the rampage. And with all those people in the theater shooting to protect themselves, how would they know who to shoot at? How many people would be injured or killed by friendly fire?
    The reality is, in an instant you have to go from sitting and watching a movie to reacting lightning-fast to a room filled with bullets and screaming people, all the while trying to prevent yourself from getting hit while you fumble to get your weapon out of the holster, click off the safety, cock it, and then spot where the shooter is. Then you have to decide whether or not you have it in you to pull the trigger and kill another person. All that, unless you are one of the first to be shot and killed. I contend that’s a scenario most people are not equipped to handle.
    2. Say some miracle occurs and the 13th Clown’s recommendations are adopted in toto and passed into law. No, that would not prevent all shootings. But the number of people “killable” would likely be reduced because the shooter would either have to pause to reload, or grab another gun*.
    3. Criminals would, indeed, still have guns. But when thinking about the mass shootings of the past couple of decades, how many of those were committed by convicted criminals? Gun-related deaths of criminals, I would be willing to bet one of the 13th Clown’s humongous silly-shoes on, is almost exclusively carried out by other criminals, as activities of organized crime and gangs. But I don’t remember any of the public mass shootings being carried out by a person or persons who fit that description.
    4. The gun-crime rate would not take a precipitous drop after gun-control legislation was passed. It is my opinion it would take a generation, maybe more for the culture of acceptable violence to change. If one looks around at the developed nations and their much-lower gun-related crime rates than the United States, it is an achievable goal. It just won’t happen overnight.
    5. I have a dog in this fight. I was in the emergency room (as a chaplain, not a MD) when the Thurston High School shooting in Springfield, Oregon, took place on May 21, 1998. Two students and the shooter’s parents were killed. Twenty other students were injured*. You cannot look into the eyes of a kid who was shot by a classmate in the high school cafeteria, supposedly one of the safest places on earth, and not believe that our current culture of violence, being stoked by those who have never seen that adolescent’s terror, doesn’t need changing.
    6. The 2nd Amendment does not protect you when you’ve been shot dead by a person, who, exercising his right to bear arms with 100 round clips, has decided for whatever reason to deprive you of life, itself.

    [*Sixteen year old, Kip Kinkel was eventually tackled by another student, who was also shot (but survived), an incredible act of heroism. Kinkel plead guilty to charges of murder and attempted murder. He is serving a 111 year prison sentence without the possibility of parole.]

  3. Barbara says:

    Hard to believe Bruce and I agree on something…but this is it. Banning high-capacity magazines to individual citizens could be enough to stop the insanity!

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