Smoking Gun

Especially after all the bloodshed that these things promote, it is inconceivable to me why anyone would want access to an assault rifle’s capability to kill so many people, so fast. This morning, I tried on a few reasons—and I warn you, it made me write a slightly-unshapely… accretion. I also warn you that my thinking has led me to a horribly unpleasant realization.

At first I wondered if an assault rifle would provide protection. But then I wondered about protection from whom. Are we talking about a home invader? I mean, wouldn’t a basic, BLAM-BLAM sort of gun do the job in that case? If you need an assault rifle, I need to ask exactly how many people you’ve pissed off. And besides all that, isn’t it true that family members have been injured when, say, even shotgun spray goes through a wall? It seems like an assault rifle would do much worse. 

So what about protection from a mass shooter—or a terrorist, even? Are we going to start carrying assault rifles to movies and nightclubs? Even parodies of the Wild West have the saloon guy saying that you have to check the guns at the door. But let’s say Mr. Blamo does come into your mall, or movie theater, or ice-skating rink, and you have a gun (of any kind). That’s happened before, of course. It happened in Aurora. But it turns out that the good guys don’t shoot, in this situation. Sometimes they can’t see; sometimes they don’t get a clear shot; sometimes they’re afraid that when the police come, they’ll shoot the guy who’s, uh, shooting. You have to give props to these responsible gun owners. All of that makes perfect sense. But it makes me wonder how irresponsible you’d have to be, even to shoot a pistol—let alone an assault rifle—into a panicked public.

Okay, so what about government take-over? If you press some gun owners hard enough, they’ll say that this is something to hedge against. Stepping aside from the debate over that suspicion, I’ve never had a better occasion to ask, “You and what army?” An assault rifle is a potent thing, but it’s got nothing on rocket launchers, helicopters, tanks, F-16s, and all manner of very disquieting warheads. A machine gun—even a battalion of people with machine guns—is not going to help you here. Weapons enthusiasts know this. And this makes me wonder where some of them really want to draw the line. Does the Second Amendment grant each citizen the right to build an of arsenal of any kind? Should Wall-Mart be allowed to sell rocket-launchers? What about that nice chemistry lab on University Ave? Should it be able to sell sarin gas? Our government has those things. In fact, so do our more present enemies. But by my lights, we’d only increase the terror if you, and I, and the guy on the bus had them too.

But let’s go back to the Second Amendment, because that seems to be the great scripture that gun people use to support their claims. And I use “scripture” advisedly, because the Second Amendment is prone to the same sort of out-of-context cherry-picking as a line from any sacred text. In full, the Second Amendment goes like this: “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” When it’s possible for suspected terrorists to buy an assault rifle, I see very little “security of a free state.” When the law requires gun owners to have less training than what you need to earn a driver’s license, I see very little “security of a free state.” And I certainly don’t see a well-regulated anything—let alone a “well-regulated militia,” which implies some kind of organization instead of a guy, a computer full of conspiracies and a head full of hate. 

And please, let’s not forget that in the 18th Century, the height of weapons technology was something that took, what? Three steps to fire? There’s pouring and tamping and cocking, and I don’t know what else. In any event, it’s not very Duke Nukem. This should be an old argument by now—but I feel that I have to repeat it: Today’s assault rifle has more destructive power than the Continental Army’s basic cannon. Treating it as what the Second Amendment allows is like saying the Founding Fathers wanted us all to have access to something they couldn’t even imagine. They hadn’t seen modern warfare. Heck. They’d developed an edge over the Brits by deciding it was better to skirmish than to shoot in a line. Some historians say it was actually the Civil War that gave the first glimpse of modern warfare. This saw the innovation of the faster-firing rifle, which had a range of 1000 yards instead of a musket’s 250. It saw the advent of the devastating repeater, which could fire seven bullets in a minute. And this was about 75 years after anybody penned the Second Amendment.

So, in light of all this, I’m really working to keep an open mind. I’m honestly looking for reasons why Citizens and Assault Rifles is a needful thing. The only time I’ve been somewhat accepting of an assault rifle is when it was in the hands of the National Guard, as they stood in the airports after 9/11. In other words, I accept assault rifles only when we’re under siege. So is that the difference? Do the pro-assault folks feel under siege? And if that’s the case, what so threatens them? Is it ISIS? ISIS is using the very weapons we want to protect us. ISIS recruits from within the United States, and says, “Hey. Go buy a gun. It doesn’t matter what list you’re on. They’ll let you.” And besides all that, a little digging shows that the NRA started to shift from pro-gun-control to anti-regulation way back in the 1970s—which, incidentally, was just before the time the US was supporting the porto-organizations that gave us ISIS. When the NRA was born after the horrors of the Civil War, its motto was: “Firearms Safety Education, Marksmanship Training, Shooting for Recreation.” Over the years, it stood behind gun-control measures that came about under FDR, for example, who wanted to keep guns out of the hands of gangsters. But then, in 1967, six Black Panthers, wearing three-piece suits, walked into the California State House, and declared that oppressed blacks would defend themselves. To this, Governor Ronald Reagan said, “There’s no reason why on the street today a citizen should be carrying a loaded weapon.” (This NRA stuff is all reported by Salon writer, Steven Rosenfeld.) After the Black Panther event—plus a post-Kennedy-assassination push for more gun control—the NRA started to split. There was a NRA faction that wanted to loosen gun control. And it was led by a guy named Harlan Carter, who’d been acquitted in Texas, for shooting a Mexican who’d come at him with a knife. His faction toppled the NRA’s old regime, and changed the NRA motto to the cherry-picked Second Amendment that goes like this: “The Rights of The People to Keep and Bear Arms Shall Not Be Infringed.” The change, by the way, brought the ire of Nixon-appointed Supreme Court Justice, Warren Burger, who said the NRA’s new view of the Second Amendment was “one of the greatest pieces of fraud—I repeat the word ‘fraud’—on the American public by special interest groups that I have ever seen in my lifetime.”

At best, then, the pro-assault siege mentality is a fabrication that’s been brought about, despite the protests of conservative icons. It’s run directly against the wisdom of the NRA itself. It’s run directly against the government’s wisdom that saw us through the rise of two Kennedy assassinations, plus Al Capone and his tommy guns. And the impetus from all this reversal comes, at least in part, from the appearance of the Black Panthers. You can say there were other factors; I’m sure that gun sellers make more profit when there are fewer regulations. (They also make much more profit, when there’s more fear.) You could also say that gun regulations infringe on the rural way of life, which includes, I guess, the right to defend one’s land. But then I refer both to my beginning point about protection and also the final point I make here: The question, again, is protection from whom? When I look at the siege mentality that persists after all logic breaks it down, I see that it isn’t the government that the pro-assault people fear. It isn’t anything so armed. It isn’t just ISIS; terrorists make up a minuscule portion of last year’s 60 mass shootings. Nor is it the gun-blasting crazy who goes berserk about un-Christian behavior, or bad lovers or bad grades. Otherwise, we’d be shoring up funding for mental health. (While in fact, in some places, such as Iowa, we’re defunding mental healthcare.) The siege mentality is about the Other. We have to kill the Other—the brown terrorist or the brown Mexican who creeps over the border with a knife. It is, in a sense, the same fear that drives the trope of the lone machine-gunner mowing down a horde of zombies. Zombies–who have so often stood for a society gone amok. At the heart of this siege mentality—at the heart of this fraud that has confounded the staunchest, old-guard conservatives—is racism.

(Originally posted June 26, 2016)

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