Tuesday, December 18, 2012
Too Many Senseless Shootings
We’re all pretty much on the same page, sad and angry about the senseless killing of 20 innocent little children along with a number of adults last week. What to do about it? Stricter gun control is the first thing that comes to most people’s minds, and the horror of this latest massacre may be enough to finally make that happen. But is more gun control the answer?
As with most other issues, I’ll take the middle ground here. On the one hand, I’ve been a member of the NRA (on and off) for over 30 years. The “on and off” part refers to times I’ve let my membership lapse, as I did earlier this year, out of frustration over the NRA’s intransigence when it comes to sensible gun control. So I guess that’s the other hand. I don’t like the fact that the NRA won’t even consider some of the more modest gun control proposals. Even worse, I hate the way they’re always crying wolf when it comes to having our guns taken away. They’re too paranoid about that possibility, in my opinion, and that drives much of their sometimes-irrational behavior.
Going back to that first hand though, it’s not true that “there is no reason to own an assault rifle in our country”, as many are saying. There are several reasons for doing so and they’re like this:
1) They’re a lot of fun to shoot for recreational purposes
2) They’re a decent long-term investment
3) They’re a good choice for certain types of hunting
4) They’re a good choice for self-defense, especially in case of some great social crisis
5) They provide a deterrent to the rise of a dictatorship or other unpalatable form of government at some future date
6) There’s evidence that gun control folks see the banning of assault rifles as just the first step in banning virtually all gun ownership in America
But the question should be: Are those good enough reasons, in light of all the deaths and damage they cause? Hmmm…. Let’s take a closer look first.
Reasons #1 and #2 are basically true and won’t generate much argument, but reasons #3 and #4 are less clear. As an avid hunter myself, I know that an AR-15 or similar rifle firing .223 caliber bullets is not a good choice for most hunting situations. The sporting magazines have featured ads and articles in recent months about hunting with these kinds of weapons, in an attempt to burnish their image – “see, hunters DO use these!” But I’m not buying it. Except for a rancher trying to protect his livestock from packs of coyotes, or farmers dealing with herds of wild pigs destroying their crops, there are better choices for hunters. And even in the coyote/pig scenarios, there are a number of other, non-assault rifle choices that would be just as effective.
If the Chinese finally succeed in bringing down our Internet and electrical grid, or some other mass disaster hits the U.S., then I guess owning an assault rifle with multiple 30-round clips might look like a good decision. But again, there are other options such as a Browning-BAR or, Ruger Mini-14 Ranch rifle, which perform much like assault rifles but lack the heinous appearance that drives all the loonies to choosing an AR-15. And then there are shotguns and other choices that would serve one well in times of social anarchy. But really – what are the chances of that anyway? So # 4 isn’t all that convincing either.
I think there’s some merit to # 5. Just because we’ve never been threatened by a dictatorship or been taken over by a foreign power doesn’t mean those things could never happen. As fighters in Syria and countless other places (Iraq?) have shown, even a bunch of guys with assault rifles can make a stand against a much more powerful military force, at least until heavier weaponry becomes available. That, of course, was the main reason for the Second Amendment (whether you believe that it meant guns for individuals, or guns for state militias). And you can’t really take away all the guns now because we’re not worried about such a scenario, and then 20 or 50 or 100 years later try to bring them back when circumstances change. That would almost certainly be too little, too late.
Similarly, I think there’s something to # 6. I haven’t kept up on this because I’m not one of those who’s freaked out about a conspiracy to take away all our guns. But I’ve read quotes from some gun control leaders over the years that are troubling. Some of those folks would prefer to make it illegal for anyone other than the cops and military to own just about any kind of firearm; they don't like guns of any type. They know that trying to take away uncle Joe’s deer rifle ain’t gonna fly in this country, at least not as an opening gambit. But they figure that if they can get the assault rifles first because everyone hates them, then it will be easier to go after the handguns next, and then the semi-auto rifles, then all rifles and shotguns.
Paranoid thinking on my part? Maybe. But still, a possibility. One of the related concerns here is that earlier definitions of “assault rifles” described features that were also found on a great many legitimate hunting rifles. That’s one of the reasons rational gun owners opposed those earlier assault rifle bans. And it would seem to be a slippery slope, from banning true assault rifles, to later banning rifles that have some of their features, to banning all rifles, and so on.
So now let’s go back to the big question: Are those good enough reasons? Mostly, I think not. We can stop selling AR-15s and 30-round clips without really taking away a meaningful degree of anybody’s freedom or rights. Any small damage to their 2nd Amendment rights are more than made up for by a likely gain in overall public safety.
But I don’t think we solve the problem that way, certainly not for many, many years. We already have something like 300 million guns in the hands of private citizens, millions of which are “assault rifles” stored with millions of 20- and 30-round magazines and probably billions of rounds of ammunition. How long will it take for those to wear out, break, be confiscated or otherwise be removed from the equation? Decades. It’s true that by stopping the sale and/or ownership of these items, we’ll at least be taking a first step in reversing the trend of horrible tragedies like Sandy Hook, but significant progress is unlikely to come quickly or easily.
Too many other factors are at play. The treasured American traditions of fierce independence and widespread gun ownership, absent in so many other countries. Our penchant for gratuitous violence, despite the experts telling us that hyper-violent movies and video games play “no role” in our society’s violent behavior. Selfishness and narcissism, where it’s all about me and my 15 minutes of fame; screw everyone else! Not to mention all the millions of Americans suffering from some form of mental illness, many of whom are unknown to us until something snaps inside them.
Stricter gun control isn’t the answer, but I think it’s got to be part of the answer. Maybe it can’t stop some sick young man in Connecticut from stealing his mom’s legally-acquired, safely-stored guns, but it might stop others. In light of the excessive cost of being the world’s most heavily-armed country, I think we can live with no more AR-15s being sold. No more rifle clips over 4 rounds (typically the max that’s legal for most hunting), no more pistol clips over the 7 rounds that was typical up until a couple of decades ago. More stringent and consistent background checks. And if these first steps lead to where some fear they might (attempts to take away all guns), then I guess we deal with that if and when it happens.
Meanwhile, pray for the little kids, their brothers and sisters, moms and dads, schoolmates and teachers. And pray we have fewer idiots pulling this kind of crap, rather than more idiots being inspired by it.