the back-and-forth on the gun debate

Back in the day. Qualified on M16, M60, M203. Go ahead--tell me I don't know what an 'assault weapon' is.

Back in the day. Qualified on M16A1, M60 Machine gun, M203 grenade launcher. Fired an M2 50 caliber a couple of times in training. Go ahead–tell me I don’t know what ‘assault weapon’ means.

A couple of weeks ago, I tried to line up the contradictions of the pro-gun lobby’s version of history. This was in reaction to two pro-gun guys being on WBCR Sex and Politics. Last night, we played host to another Second Amendment advocate, and I was able to bring out some of the more nuanced points of the Founders’ love for armed citizenry (long story short, the Congress that wrote the Constitution had been forced to call out the Continental Army on numerous occasions after the Revolution, and wanted the state militias to be the go-to-guys for dealing with revolts and slave rebellions–and the state militias were composed of all white men above a certain age, even though they couldn’t vote. Full voting rights did not come until 1850).

So here’s the second part of that post–the part of the gun debate we’re currently having.

To be fair, Mother Jones has a list of ten pro-gun myths that it dispatches fairly quickly. They did it better than I could. I’m not going to repeat all of them here (even though imitation is the sincerest form of plagiarism). I will note that that they make some arguments I would make–that per their stats, the presence of a firearm in the hands of someone who is defending themselves ups the chances that person will be killed. And armed security officers on-duty at schools where mass shootings occurred such as those at Columbine and Virginia Tech had zero impact on the slaughter.

I will add the following to a debate that we seem immune to having:

* There is something broken about American culture when our kids are playing the same ultra violent videogames that kids are playing worldwide but it’s only our kids who are acting out mass murder fantasies. Even Canada, which has a large proportion of private firearm ownership, doesn’t come anywhere close to our kill sprees.

* When you tally up all the deliberate shootings, accidental misfires, suicide attempts and other mayhem, gun culture takes about 85 American lives a day. Another 185 are hospitalized. Many are children who find Mommy’s protector and want to see what happens when they pull the trigger. No other country in the civilized world has that level of internal casualties. Driving in the US causes more deaths, but not by much (a debate for another time).

* The whole ‘assault rifle’ debate is something of a red herring. There’s a workable definition of assault rifles, and they’re different from a normal hunting rifle in some important ways. Assault rifles tend to be shorter and lighter than ordinary rifles, and they’re not designed to be effective at long distances. It’s also easier to reload an assault rifle than it is a hunting rifle, even one that has been set up for semi-automatic fire. My friends who hunt deer are trying to get off that one shot. That M16 was designed to put several shots in the same vicinity in a short time.

* I stumbled on this great quote on the gun debate from the late Molly Ivins. “I am not anti-gun. I’m pro-knife. Consider the merits of the knife. In the first place, you have to catch up with someone in order to stab him. A general substitution of knives for guns would promote physical fitness. We’d turn into a whole nation of great runners. Plus, knives don’t ricochet. And people are seldom killed while cleaning their knives“.

Other thoughts:

The fact that military style clips are made (and sold) for assault rifles and many pistols is also part of the problem. Yes, we’ve banned full-auto assault weapons like the AK 47 and M16. But if you’re changing clips every 30 shots, you can probably get off a lot of rounds in a minute or so. It’s one of the reasons people are arguing for limiting the size of the ammo magazine. It’s way easier to get the jump on an Adam Lanza or Jared Loughner if he’s got to change magazines every five or six rounds.

One more idea I’d like to dispatch. The ‘Tea Party Patriots’ and other pro-gun enthusiasts are very keen on the idea that having firearms is one way to keep tyranny at bay. But that argument falls on its face pretty quickly. Over the last decade, two presidents have worked to eviscerate the First Amendment, the Fourth Amendment, the Fifth Amendment and Habeas Corpus.  The Second Amendment doesn’t do much if (thanks to the NDAA) the government can lock people up in military detention indefinitely for reasons it alone can determine. If it came to rebellion, all those militia guys and their tricorn hats would be facing off against a military that’s armed to the teeth and equipped with all kinds of cool weapons. I especially like the ‘non-lethal’ crowd control weapons (if you’re facing a US government crowd control weapon, make sure you have a change of underwear or two in your backpack).

More to the point, the last half of the 20th century saw a number of very successful revolutions where the side doing the revolting decided for tactical or strategic reasons to not respond to state violence with violence of their own.  And one of the points David McReynolds (former president of War Resisters League) has made several times is that a non-violent revolution has the potential for involving the entire population–the rebels don’t have to be young men with arms. If every person (regardless of age or gender) is involved in active, non-violent resistance, the powers in charge have no choice but to call it a day. McReynolds points to this in his pamphlet “A Philosophy of Nonviolence“, which should be part of the library of every person contemplating resistance to a tyrant.  I would merely point out my favorite talking points on this matter; 1) how many guns did Gandhi need to kick the British Empire out of India?, 2) How many heavy weapons did Lech Walesa and Solidarity have on hand when they broke the back of the Polish Communist Party?

One essay does not solve this conundrum. I just wish there were a bit more empathy on the side of those who feel that firearms are the solution to a massive public health and social problem in the US. I for one am tired of resistance to the simplest demands from the rest of us (background checks, waiting periods, and limits on numbers of rounds in a magazine).

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