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Comments by YACCS
Thursday, December 25, 2003

A few words about gun control

A few words about gun control

Ever since 1968, the Democratic Party has pushed the idea of a national gun control policy which, more than race, sex or abortion, has closed off millions of voters to the party. It is time to realize that a uniform gun control policy is probably silly.

I was watching Ted Nugent shoot off his guns and bows today and I realized that if I lived in rural Michigan, I'd own a bunch of guns as well. I certainly wouldn't wait 45 minutes for my rural sheriff to show up to protect me. Part of the cost of living deep in the woods is not having the cops 5 minutes away.

The fact is that if someone is stupid enough to rob a rural home, you're going to probably have to blow them away because they're all wacked out on hillbilly heroin or crank to begin with. The negotiation room is going to be small.

But there is a vast difference between that and life in New York or Washington. There, guns aren't usually needed. New York has had gun control since 1910. The murder rate now is at it's lowest levels in decades, all due to energetic law enforcement of gun codes. There, most people no more need handguns than they need tigers in their apartments. One bullet, fired in an apartment, can travel a block away and in a city, that's a different world. Numerous stories about kids being shot by idiots living blocks away are common. Cities and guns really don't mix, despite what you see in the movies.

One policy, two nations

The problem is that people have been pushing for one policy, which is insane. I would say that people living in Alabama have a very different understanding of their need for guns than New Yorkers. Nugent, an NRA board member, made a cogent point: there are no gun accidents, only people who mishandle guns. All guns are always loaded, never point a gun at anything you aren't willing to destroy. Which makes sense to me, because it was what they taught me at Scout Camp.

What needs to change is the way we sell and and handle guns. It wouldn't take me three days to put together an arsenal to rival any paramilitary unit around. It's a bit hard to get a .50 cal these days, but short of that, a .308 can be bought at any decent gun store in America. Even without conversion kits, you can get enough firepower to stop police cold.

The core of this problem, as explained so clearly in Richard Slotkin's Gunfighter Nation, is that Americans believe things about guns which simply aren't true. Even most SWAT teams never fire a shot. The idea is to contain, intimidate, and shoot when there are no other options. The image of the West is one created for financial gain, not based in reality. Gun control came to the West with the law. Police forces soon followed. The idea of a landowner walking around with a gun was one that was feared, not cherished. The reason that the Army was shoved out of law enforcement was because they took the side of the rich and powerful too often.

Most cowboys, who were really ranch hands who tended cattle, rarely, if ever fired their guns, except to control herds or target shoot. Nor did they fight with their hands. Given the high proportion of veterans in their ranks, one third were black, another third, immigrants, killing to solve disputes was nothing that they usually wanted any part of. Even shaking hands was not routine, The idea of the bar brawl as sporting event is a movie fiction. Of all the places possible to have a fight, a bar ranks just below a gun shop as a danger zone. Glass, a usually armed bartender, drunk people, all lead to the kind of potential that most sane, rational people want to avoid.

Yet, these myths are so ingrained in the way that we see the west and our rolls of Americans, they have led to hundreds of thousands of deaths since the 19th century. Shootouts, showdowns, quick draw contests, all have led people to get killed against people armed and ready to fire. With a gun, it is always better to be on the offensive than the defensive.

Guns are a very, very emotional topic with a lot of people, but mostly because they embrace their inner paranoid. They think that the gun will protect them, when in reality, most people can't handle a gun under stress and may well get killed doing so.

The Democrats made a critical mistake in the late 1970's and it created a wedge which the GOP exploited. They and the NRA played on the fear of people about city liberals placing their lives in danger. It came from a basic misunderstanding of the role of police in most places outside major cities, in most cities, there is a wary relationship with the police, a combination of fear and a feeling of a lack of protection. Racial hostility places the police in a bind between mistrust and demands for better service. Yet, most urban residents want a largely gun free society patrolled by the police. Urban gun culture, for the most part has led only to death and misery. States with lax gun laws make it far more difficult for these cities to remain safe.

At the same time, urban demands for gun control offend many people who use guns responsibly. If guns were controlled as the way many liberals would like, their lives would literally be in danger. It's not widely acknowledged, but in many places, people still hunt for food. Venison may upset the PETA crowd, but that's hundreds of dollars of meat on someone's table and in a lot of places, well, that's money they may not have.

Yes, one can live in a city and be a responsible gun owner, but for many people, guns are just too dangerous in these confined spaces, one bullet can travel hundreds of feet and kill the innocent. As they say, if you around a city block, there is no place you can be safe from a .50 round. Well, in some cases, you aren't safe from a .25

The NRA

There are guns, NRA members, and then there is the NRA. Hell, I've been a member of the NRA. I fish and do not own guns. Michael Moore is a member of the NRA, has been since childhood, so is Howard Dean and millions of other target shooters and hunters who do not subscribe to the organization's political goals.

The NRA's basic safety courses are sound and they do provide many benefits of membership. The problem comes in with the management of the organization that is an annex of the far right. Between taunting liberals and encouraging the shooting of federal officers, this is an organization which has betrayed the core of its membership over and over. So exactly why do I need teflon bullets to kill deer or protect my home? Unless the police are storming through with vests, there is no need for them. But the NRA spent time and capital to keep these bullets legal. The ideology of the NRA is driven by a far right agenda only a little less loopy than the John Birch society. They've moved way beyond 2nd Amendment advocates into the Republican protection association of Washington.

The breakpoint with rationality came with Ruby Ridge and Waco. By any rational standard, Randy Weaver and David Koresh were cop-killing criminals who deserved to be in jail for decades. Would anyone not cloaking themselves in the mantle of white-wing Jesus not be gunned down like wild dogs if they shot a US marshal, raped little girls and had an armory large enough to equip a Ranger battalion. Nor would anyone have ever questioned the agents about their actions if they had been Puerto Ricans holed up in the Poconos with an armory. No one would have lost a second of sleep if they were all blown to hell. But instead, we have the NRA sponsoring a dog and pony show for their supporters, which include some of the biggest freaks this country has ever produced.

Here's a hint: no one is coming to take white people's rights away, much less their guns. Unless there's a fire or fishing, most people are happy to think about Idaho only when ski season rolls around. These people face no threats to their way of life as long as they obey the law. There is no ZOG, no Turner Diaries conspiracy of the Jews, no need to live in compounds. Yet, by tone and deed, the NRA panders to these wackos. They convince the others that the liberals want to take their guns. And a lot of liberals play right into that.

The reality is that there will probably be no uniform law to cover guns across the US. More importantly, there shouldn't be. Urban residents have the right to live with far greater gun controls than rural residents. The idea of walking around Detroit with concealed weapons is insane. At the same time, telling some guy who lives 45 minutes away from a county sheriff that he doesn't need a gun is insulting. All the cops are going to do is find a crime scene by the time they get there. Yet, both sides play the game as if the other side doesn't matter.

Anyone who says guns actually protect people need to spend a week in an ER and see all the stupid ways people handle guns. There may be no gun accidents, but there is a hell of a lot of gun negligence. More importantly, every time the NRA pumps up the fear of their members, some idiot thinks the feds are his enemy. Look, cops make mistakes, sometimes bad ones, but we don't have the RUC in this country. The police don't collaborate with terrorists to repress you.

More importantly, the way we deal with guns in this country is a national security crisis in the making. Air France had to cancel six flights to LA because they feared another showy Al Qaeda attack. One day, AQ or their follow on group is going to figure out John Muhammad had the right idea to spread terror and will send out hunter killer teams and use car bombs. They won't be breaking any laws as they collect sniper rifles, assault rifles and the technology used by special forces teams today. They're not going to play around with sniping, either. They're going to run a full assault on a US target and it will be hell to dislodge them. They're still in their statement phase, but that's going to end one day and when they figure out John Muhammad shut down DC in a way 9/11 didn't shut down New York, all hell will break lose. In private sales and with conversion kits, some poor local swat team is going to run into a commando assault team with weapons as good as theirs and better training.

The Hollywood shootout a couple of years back indicates exactly what kind of risk this could be. Two guys with AK's robbed a bank and when the cops showed up, they were little better than targets. It took hundreds of cops and begging the owner of a local gun store for enough weapons to hold these guys off. They had Kevlar and weapons and the cops were going to die in place. This wasn't a street gang, or sophisticated robbers, but two nuts with a lot of weapons, body armor and no fear of cops. There wasn't any place to hide, or any cover, and they were using regular AK rounds. No special bullets, nothing you couldn't get from a store.

Now, place that scenario in oh, the National Theater or National Gallery of Art. No subtlety, no finesse, just 30 guys showing up, loaded for bear and ready to die. Toss in a couple of car bombs around DC and you have a recipe for pure panic. The cops will be running around like headless chickens, chasing bombs and the jihad commandos show up and kill people for sport all with American made and sold weapons. We assume 9/11 was the worst thing possible, and it wasn't and you don't need nearly impossible to procure nukes or difficult to make chemical or bioweapons. Just blow up ten cars in any city at rush hour and you'll have more panic than you can imagine. Toss in shooters and you have utter chaos.

And why and how will they be able to do this? Because we have a wide open market for guns, no licensing for ownership, no uniform rules for private sales, laws which vary from state to state and lax enforcement. All dedicated terrorists have to do is use these laws to their advantaged the way right-wing kooks have done so far. The right to bear arms is not a suicide pact.

What to do?

First, pass uniform standards to ensure that every state has the same basic procedures on gun purchasing and residency. New laws are less important than enforcing the laws we have, but that's not enough. Encouraging people to take a realistic assessment of their need for gun ownership would also help. A lot of people have fantasies of gunning down home burglers when it is far more likely that they will kill their spouse. I feel for any woman who thinks a handgun in her purse will save her from a larger, more determined man. He is as likely t o take her gun as she is to fire it. The same with home protection, the number one thing burglars steal are handguns. It is amazing that people sleep with loaded guns under their pillows. Who are they going to shoot from a dead sleep? Their kids? . A robber is awake and ready to shoot and probably cranked up out of his mind.

Guns can and do save lives, in the hands of trained users who practice frequently. The FBI's hostage rescue team shoots 10,000 rounds of ammo a year. Delta Force as much or more. If you made gun ownership contingent on regular training alone, accidents would drop dramatically and people would be safer.

The fact is that the NRA, which takes extremist positions, and is now creating a blacklist, needs to be attacked for what it is, a den of reactionaries. Not the membership, who need alternatives to protect their rights, but the GOP owned leadership of the NRA. You can be pro-gun and pro-gun rights and against the NRA. They are, in many ways, emblematic of the GOP. They talk about rights, and then they promote an agenda that harms many of the people that support them. The way that they exploited Ruby Ridge and Waco and remained nearly silent about Oklahoma City shows you exactly where their hearts and heads are. They denigrated police officers killed in the line of duty, something a black activist would have been excoriated for from every newspaper in the United States. Yet, the NRA leadership allies in Congress dragged the agents up and smacked them around for sport, while Randy Weaver, wackjob who placed his family in danger and is responsible for the death of a US marshal, was treated with utmost courtesy. When blacks tried that in Philadelphia, the black mayor burnt down a third of West Philly. You could see the fires from U Penn.

Their power is acquired by their vast membership who is fed a diatribe of propaganda about their "rights" and is abetted by well-meaning, but ultimately wrong headed gun control advocates. The constitution is clear that some gun ownership is a basic right. The issue is how we negotiate that ownership between the rights of the gun owner and the safety of the general public. We aren't going to make real changes by altering cosmetics on weapons. An M-1 Carbine is still a very effective killer, so is an M-1 rifle. They may not be flashy, but they'll stop a home invasion cold. Nor are we going to make changes by encouraging more gun ownership.

Given a choice, I'd suggest more people own Airsoft guns and allowing them to use them in ranges. Most target shooting can be accomplished with non-lethal weapons. As far as home protection goes, alter the insurance codes to demand homes with guns have trained gun owners and offer discounts for those who engage in regular training. Underwrite the costs of the training as well. Institute product liability laws for guns to prevent cheap, poorly made weapons from flooding the market. Enforce the gun laws when applicable and sue store owners who permit shadow purchases as well as the people who perform them. Avoid national policies on guns when local policies may ultimately be more effective and allow localities like DC to protect themselves from Virginia's gun laws. Finally, make it far more difficult to sell guns privately. Controlling private gun sales and things like sales outside gun show sales can be controlled.

We need to make sure that there is a balance between the rights of gun owners and the right not to be shot by some idiot with a weapon.

posted by Steve @ 10:06:00 PM

10:06:00 PM

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