Guns: Responsible Regulations and Culture

Back in the early eighties, a group of us on our way to a local bar happened to pass a gun shop.  There in the window display was an AR-15, with a price tag of around $500.  It caught our eye, and the price attracted a lot of comment along the lines of “that much?”   Later on over drinks, the discussion wound around to why anyone would want to buy that rifle.  Various uses were brought up, but quickly dismissed.  Not so much because it couldn’t be used for those, but because another rifle or shotgun would do the job much better and cheaper.  The consensus was that it was a vanity purchase.   Were we “anti-gun fanatics?”  No, it was because we knew that rifle intimately.  We were all in the Army.

The AR-15 is the civilian version of what was the standard rifle for us:  The M16A1.  We’d had to memorize its specifications, we’d fired it numerous times (it’s a requirement), we’d taken it apart and put it back together.  Over and over again.    That’s why we knew all about it.   We were also from similar backgrounds.  We were all “country boys,” who had grown up around guns, and had done our share of hunting and shooting growing up.  Most of us still owned guns, and went hunting. That’s why none of us could come up with a realistic reason to own an AR-15.  Every potential use amounted to the equivalent of using a screwdriver as a chisel.  Yes, it can be done, but it doesn’t work as well as a chisel.

That’s still my opinion today.  There’s no good reason to own one or any other weapon like it, except for vanity.  Sure, it’s fun to go to a range and shoot it.  Heck, I liked it too, and I really liked firing automatic weapons.   But that isn’t enough to make me want to buy one.   You can think you’re “tough” and play soldier, which seems to be the core behind much of the “defend freedom!” group.  As Josh Marshall put it:

You could certainly make the argument that all sorts of awful things might have happened if we didn’t have hobbyists at gun shows buying military grade weapons and body armor and stuff. But that’s akin to magical thinking.

Maybe my mobile devices are keeping the government in bounds too. I might say water skiing or rock music have stemmed the tide against tyranny. But you’d probably say I was crazy.

It is a bizarre fantasy, I believe of comparatively new vintage, and one that holds pretty much the entire actual history of a free people in some combination of ignorance and contempt. It’s the crazy black helicopter nonsense from the 1990s just slightly updated.

He’s right, and it’s time to stop the bullshit.  Besides the fact that the few “insurrections” in American history have met with miserable failure, the various “militia groups” – who do not fall under the legal standard of what constitutes a militia – that have managed to get themselves to the point of breaking the law have been quickly rounded up and sent to jail. Usually after a good number of them try to run away from the police.  The idea that they’d stand up to the National Guard or the active military?  Laughable.

There is absolutely no good reason someone needs a rifle with a large capacity magazine which can fire rounds as fast as you can pull the trigger.   I had someone today try to tell me that they could be “used for hunting deer.”  Besides the fact that you can’t in this state,  a 30.06 or a 12 gauge shotgun with a slug or buckshot works better.  Not only that, but if you can’t hit it with your first shot, you’re not going to hit it with the next 20 or 30 rounds.  That’s always assuming that your state allows you to use it for hunting, and the odds are …  it doesn’t.  It turns out that many states have regulations stating what weapons can be used for what game, and generally the “assault rifles” don’t meet them.  “Varmint hunting?”  Seriously, a .22 is better at it, and cheaper.  Like the “deer” example, you’re still not going to need to rapidly throw 2o or 3o rounds at what you’re shooting at.  Every “example” I’ve heard falls into the “using a screwdriver as a chisel” category.

I haven’t addressed handguns, but many of the justifications fall under the same “serious bullshit” category, with healthy doses of wishful thinking and fantasy.   Everyone likes to think of themselves as that hero in the westerns, or Dirty Harry.  The guy who calmly, coolly assesses the situation, pulls his gun out and accurately takes out the armed bad guys, while not killing any innocent bystanders.  Real life isn’t like that.  People freeze, there’s an adrenaline rush, innocent bystanders tend to not get out of the way, and the bad guys aren’t always conveniently not shooting back or standing with nothing behind them.  Add more “armed civilians” to the mix?  Increase the likelihood of a truly impressive body count, most of whom will be the result of “friendly fire.”

Here’s the other thing:  Carrying a gun makes you more likely to see others as being armed.  Which can – and has – led to tragic consequences:

The man accused of shooting a 17-year-old Wolfson High School student to death Friday night at a gas station during an argument over loud music waived his first court appearance in Jacksonville Wednesday.

But while Michael David Dunn wasn’t in court, the 45-year-old Melbourne man’s attorneys were as he was officially charged with second-degree murder in the shooting death of Jordan Russell Davis.

Dunn’s attorney, Robin Lemonidis of Melbourne, stated her client “absolutely” saw someone with a shotgun in the red sport-utility vehicle next to his car at the convenience store that night.

They didn’t have one.   But he was armed, and had a permit.  So he assumed he saw a gun.  That’s a recent example, just last month.  It follows on another aspect of carrying a gun.  Having one escalates the situation, and makes you act differently.  You can end up in situations you wouldn’t have been in had you not been armed:

Yes, he was licensed to carry it, but rather than waiting for the police, he made a decision to confront a young man walking the streets.  In other words, he put himself into a situation where this could have ended up very badly for him.   Why?  Well, he had a gun, “just in case.”    Would he have made that decision if he hadn’t been carrying a gun?  Unlikely.

So what can we do about gun violence?  Laws banning certain types of weapons are a start, but they’ve had mixed results.  We need to change ourselves, the culture we live in.   To stress the responsibility of gun ownership, what used to be “the norm:

I grew up around guns. They were part of the culture. Almost every adult I knew had them, and used them. But you know what? Not a single one of them would have dreamed of bringing a gun to church, to public meetings, to schools, or to the local bars. It just wasn’t done. You didn’t bring a loaded weapon into the house, either. It was all common sense to them. Guns were tools they used, dangerous, and to be taken seriously.

That’s the cultural problem.  What used to be common sense isn’t anymore.  Too many people want “the right” but don’t want the responsibility.  They’re not taking them seriously.  It isn’t normal to need to carry a gun everywhere with you.  Unless you live in a crime-ridden lawless hellhole, in which case you really should be after your politicians to do something.   If you’re not in that place, then you need to get over your fear.  It shouldn’t be acceptable to bring a gun into churches, public meetings, schools, bars, courthouses, or other places like that.   We need to recognize that there are legitimate reasons to have guns, but we also need to recognize that there is a cultural responsibility that goes with ownership.  We don’t need to have every kind of gun in the world, and we need to make sure that the ones we do have are handled responsibly.  Most of all, we need to stop bullshitting ourselves about guns.

11 Comments

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11 responses to “Guns: Responsible Regulations and Culture

  1. Thank you, Norbrook. That’s the most intelligent assesment of this problem I’ve seen yet. Every person I’ve ever met that spent some time in the military 1) hates war and 2) either has guns and keeps them responsibly or refuses to own one. I think it’s because they’ve seen enough of the business end of guns to ever not take it seriously. It’s like I’ve been saying all weekend: Hunters aren’t the problem. Gun collectors aren’t the problem. Neither are former military personnel who keep their service weapons or have other guns. The problem is the civilians who have never been in the military and think that Hollywood’s bullshit Rambo narrative is reality. Those are the people who stockpile these military grade weapons that can kill lots of people. And those people are why we need a permanent assault weapons ban, or at least stringent restrictions on them.

    • Agreed, but we also need to return to (as the conservatives keep saying) “the good old days” ;-) of “it just isn’t done” when it comes to guns. None of my parents or grandparents – or of their generation – would have thought it was “acceptable” to walk around the streets armed, or carry weapons into public places. One of the other things that the gun nuts overlook is that unlike the movies, in reality the way the old-time western sheriffs brought order to their towns was to … implement strict gun control.

  2. Nicely said.

    There’s an editorial in the NY Times today that does a good job in my opinion of debunking the belief that arming everyone makes for a freer society.

    “This becomes clear if only you pry a little more deeply into the N.R.A.’s logic behind an armed society. An armed society is polite, by their thinking, precisely because guns would compel everyone to tamp down eccentric behavior, and refrain from actions that might seem threatening. The suggestion is that guns liberally interspersed throughout society would cause us all to walk gingerly — not make any sudden, unexpected moves — and watch what we say, how we act, whom we might offend.

    As our Constitution provides, however, liberty entails precisely the freedom to be reckless, within limits, also the freedom to insult and offend as the case may be. The Supreme Court has repeatedly upheld our right to experiment in offensive language and ideas, and in some cases, offensive action and speech. Such experimentation is inherent to our freedom as such. But guns by their nature do not mix with this experiment — they don’t mix with taking offense. They are combustible ingredients in assembly and speech.

    The very power and possibility of free speech and assembly rests on their non-violence. The power of the Occupy Wall Street movement, as well as the Arab Spring protests, stemmed precisely from their non-violent nature. This power was made evident by the ferocity of government response to the Occupy movement. Occupy protestors across the country were increasingly confronted by police in military style garb and affect.”

    • The idea that “armed citizens mean more politeness” comes from the notion that back in the day when you could be challenged to a duel, people were much more polite to each other. :roll: It just ignores that they weren’t using the same weaponry – more often swords – and there were a large number of customs and laws surrounding duels, and not too many of them ended with the death of the parties.

  3. Dancer

    Ranting here…but for some reason I have my tv tuned to Current TV and am listening to Cenk Unger AGAIN bash the president (much like Bloomsberg seemed to be doing) as weak on policy…which, for me, translates into “He doesn’t do everything the way I want WHEN I want”. PLEASE tell me what specifically the president can do with the Congress he has (thanks in part to progressive whining in 2010) and the divided citizenry he has had to deal with? From the beginning he asked for our help and with few exceptions he hasn’t had it, IMHO. If some of the senators and tv personalities (yes, Joe, I mean you) would have STOOD UP and said we’re with you…if Bloomsberg had taken his rich cronies to the WH and said HOW CAN WE HELP fight the NRA with you? But, NO…as if there has been nothing else on the plate to distract him or failing the magic wand they seem to expect him to wave to make this happen…there is no responsibility for ALL OF US to stand together and push legislators who (if I have this right actually MAKE THE LAWS) to get on board and do what is right not just profitable! WHEW…wish I felt better now!

    • Cenk is a ratfucker from way back. He’s also a bitter one, because his one shot at “the big time” went down in flames when it turned out that … no one was watching him, so MSNBC told him “good-bye.”

      Oh, and the best reply I’ve seen to the idiots suggesting that we arm teachers:

      So I’m a teacher. According to conservative orthodoxy, I’m a parasite on the public’s dime who is only interested in indoctrinating the precious children of America into communism or atheism or whatever. I can’t be trusted to have any control over the curriculum I teach. I can’t be trusted to fairly and impartially evaluate my students, let alone my colleagues. I can’t be trusted to have collective bargaining rights. I can’t be trusted to have an objective view of governmental policy when it comes to my own profession.

      But they’ll trust me to keep a gun in a room filled with children.

      Even the cynicism-producing neurons of my prefrontal cortex can’t wrap themselves around this kind of stupid bullshit.

      • Dancer

        Well said…I was a teacher too. Back when I started in ’61 most parents/people were respectful and thankful for what teachers worked hard to do for their children. Now every fool off the street believes they could walk into a classroom and do the job…and, apparently wouldn’t expect to be well paid for it AND could bring their gun! There was a brief period at the end of a long career in the late 90′s when I enjoyed an experience where opinions and input of teachers was actually encouraged and accepted. We’ve lost that ground in most places. Now it’s the mentality of TEXAS that is what far too many aspire to both in education and government and religion and guns…all the weeping of this past weekend wasn’t just for those who were KILLED…it was for America!

  4. see above

    The adults in my life also had guns and hunted except the ones who were military or ex-military they were more into fishing, a quiet sport. I never liked guns, still don’t, and expect I could not kill another human being unless it was to save my child’s life. Most of all I don’t understand the whole gun romance thing. Killing anything is difficult for me except maybe flies I have no guilt swatting them. I remember when my youngest son went on his first deer hunting trip. After he got home he came to me and told me there was a deer right in front of him but he just couldn’t kill it. I told him that was just fine use your gun for clay pigeons they aren’t living creatures. I also told him I was proud of him and loved him. Sometimes you find out you must have done something right.

    • I understand the “gun romance” but I long ago got over it. As I said, I really liked firing automatic weapons, particularly when you’re using tracer rounds. It’s the little boy in me. That said, I also recognize that outside of the military, it wasn’t very useful or necessary. I can’t use one to legally hunt anywhere in my state or the surrounding states, in terms of “personal protection” at home it’s not that great, and I happen to know most of the police officers in the region and that they’re much better shots and better prepared than I am in case I were to decide to “stand up to the tyranny.” :roll:

  5. At the root of it all is this “culture,” this love affair we Americans seem to have with violence and aggression, coupled with the notion that we’re still living in the Wild West where we as individuals should right the wrongs. What we can do now is to not let up. Demand real change – better mental health services, more accessible mental health services, and a myriad of restrictions to obtaining guns. The people who lost their lives, the people who lost someone in gun violence, deserve our best efforts to turn this nation around.

    • Even the notion of the Wild West is mostly myth, based on the writings of novelists trying to romanticize it back then. :roll: For example, Wyatt Earp wasn’t really a “gunslinger,” his preferred method of using a gun was to knock someone out with it by hitting them with the butt.