Saturday, December 22, 2012

Wayne LaPierre Got One Thing Right.

This is an open letter to “The Media.” You know who you are.

This is a semi-automatic squirt gun.
If you’ve read my earlier posts, you know that I favor greater restrictions on firearm ownership. As one of my gun-toting friends recently observed, I am a (expletive) liberal anti-Second Amendment commie dickwad—or words to that effect. I’ll own that. But when I listened to NRA spokesman Wayne LaPierre speak at the press conference yesterday, I had to agree with him on one point: The liberal media, as a class, is astonishingly, embarrassingly, unforgivably ignorant when it comes to guns.

Again and again, I read anti-gun articles written by people who know NOTHING about guns. They don’t know the difference between auto and semi-auto weapons. They don’t know what the word “caliber” means. They use and misuse buzzwords like, “assault weapon,” and “high power,” and “military grade.” They don’t know the difference between a shotgun and a rifle. They don’t understand the meaning of the words “cartridge” and “bullet” and “round” and “magazine.”

Just this morning on Gawker I read an article about a guy stealing a .50 caliber AR-15 from a gun shop. Seriously? That’s like saying a restaurant served you a five pound shrimp.

This is a full-auto Grokozoidian Skrink Blaster
Do these reporters know how to use Google? Have they ever heard of Wikipedia? Have they ever talked to someone who owns a firearm? Is anyone editing these articles?

Okay, I can hear some of you saying, “Guns kill. I don’t need to know every eldritch detail of their manufacture and deployment to speak out against them.” That’s fine. You don’t. Unless you are writing an opinion piece for the public. Or are reporting on an event for a news outlet. Or hoping influence a pro-gun reader to consider your views. Here’s why:

This stuff is important to gun people. When you argue for gun control (or anything else), and you call a shotgun a rifle, every reader who knows anything about guns immediately dismisses you as an ignorant moron, and anything you say after that is just noise.

If you want to argue that high-capacity, military-style weapons should be tightly regulated and have no place in the hands of civilians, I’m with you. But please, if you are writing for publication, if you are reading a news item for television or radio, if you want your words to have power, please do your homework. Don’t give the Wayne LaPierres of this world another reason to discredit you.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Why I Got Rid of My Handgun

This is a true story.

When I was in my twenties, I was living in on the second floor of a duplex in a not-nice part of Minneapolis. I owned a handgun, which I kept loaded in a drawer next to my bed. Having that gun made me feel powerful, and safe.

One night, after an evening of drinking too much scotch, I was awakened by someone pounding at the door. It was two o’clock in the morning. I got up and grabbed my revolver.

I was still quite drunk. Hey, I was in my twenties—these things happen.

Revolver in hand, I went to the door. Whoever was there was really banging hard—I could see the door panels flexing as he pounded on it, and he was shouting. It sounding like he was saying “Bam! Bam! Bam!”

“Who is it?” I yelled back.

He yelled something. His words were slurred, and I could hardly make sense of them. I thought he was saying, “You’re bad!”

Clearly, a maniac was trying to break into my home.

“Go away!” I shouted.

He started pounding again. “Brian!” he yelled. “Open the door, dammit!”

Brian? A moment of clarity penetrated my drunken thought processes, and I realized my visitor was at the wrong door. A young couple, Brian and Pam, lived on the floor above me. One month earlier, I had swapped apartments with Brian and Pam. The man hadn’t been yelling “Bam,” he’d been saying “Pam.”

“You have the wrong apartment!” I said. “Brian and Pam live upstairs now.”

I heard shuffling, a mumble that might have been an apology, then the sound of unsteady footsteps climbing the stairs. I went back to bed and, after about three hours of tossing and turning, slept.

The next day, I asked Pam about our visitor.

“Oh,” she said with an embarrassed laugh, “that was my dad. Sorry. He had a little too much to drink and he knew he couldn’t drive, so he walked here all the way from his office downtown. I’m amazed he even got here. He was pretty wasted.”

I realized then that when I had heard the man shout “You’re bad!” he had been trying to say, “Your dad!”

I went back to my bedroom and took the gun from my bedside table and unloaded it and sat staring at it, feeling nauseated.

Why was I feeling sick? Nothing bad had happened. It was kind of funny—two drunks trying to have a conversation through a locked door, arguing over a trivial misunderstanding. It would make for an amusing anecdote, and nobody got hurt.

I had been glad to have the gun in my hand when the drunken maniac was trying to break my door down. But I kept revisiting the event, and imagining possible scenarios. Suppose I had been twice as drunk? Suppose the man had punched his hand through the door panel? Suppose Pam had given her father a key for some reason—a key to her old apartment? Suppose he had let himself in and come stumbling into my bedroom?

I came up with about a dozen different ways the situation could have turned deadly, and it scared the shit out of me. A few weeks later I gave my gun to the police, who were having a “buy-back” program. They gave me fifty dollars. At that point, I would have given them fifty bucks to take it.

I don't drink like that anymore, but the episode taught me something, and that is that fear, human error, and unpredictable sets of circumstances are unavoidable, but there are things we can do to reduce the chances that an unfortunate situation might turn deadly. My personal choice, in this case, was to remove the loaded gun from the mix.

One more thing: While I was talking with Pam that next day, I found out that I knew her father! He was my uncle’s law partner, a good, smart, gentle man in his seventies who occasionally drank too much. A few months later I ran into him. He and I laughed over the incident.

I never told him about the gun.

Friday, December 14, 2012

After the Events at Sandy Hook Elementary...

...I find myself unable to think about anything else. Hence, this post.

I enjoy shooting guns. I have owned handguns, shotguns, and rifles. I know that most gun owners are good, responsible people. I believe that hunting wild animals for food is moral, so long as it is done safely and the animal population is not endangered. I believe that target shooting in its many fascinating variations is an honorable sport.

Furthermore, I’m certain I would enjoy firing a .50 caliber machine gun, a bazooka, an RPG, or a MAC-10. I would also enjoy driving a Bugatti Veyron 250 miles per hour down Interstate 94, and it would be a rare thrill to drive an M1 Abrams tank through, say, the wall of a K-Mart store. But these activities are illegal in our country, and nearly everyone thinks that’s a good thing.

Back in my Ayn Rand-tainted youth, I believed that individual freedom trumped all other concerns. I no longer believe this. I believe that the greater good can sometimes be achieved by curtailing the rights of individuals, and that our “rights” are not immutable. I do not trust individuals to wield great power wisely. This is why we thrive as a democracy, and why our politicians are subject to term limits. It is why monopolies are not tolerated, and why it is illegal for me to possess a nuclear weapon.

Fully automatic guns (“machine guns”) were outlawed in the U.S. back in 1934. An automatic weapon in the hands of an individual was deemed an unacceptable risk to the safety and well-being of our citizens and law enforcement personnel.

The relatively bulky and inaccurate Thompson submachine gun that triggered that 1934 legislation is, by today’s standards, no more dangerous than the smaller, lighter, faster, and more accurate semi-automatic weapons available over the counter—legally—at any gun shop today.

You and I cannot legally own or operate a functional machine gun. However, we can buy and fire semi-automatic rifles and handguns with large capacity magazines. The Glock and Sig Sauer handguns used by the Sandy Hook shooter are capable of firing 10 rounds per second, and will hold 17 and 15 rounds respectively. The .223 Bushmaster assault rifle will accept a sixty round clip. And all three of those weapons can be reloaded in seconds.

The NRA and its supporters want to keep such high-capacity semi-auto weapons legal. Their argument, based on the Second Amendment, is that Americans have the “right to bear arms.” But despite the Second Amendment, the NRA does not advocate for individual ownership of RPGs or tactical nukes, so I have to believe there is room for discussion.

In the U.S. there are hundreds of millions of guns in private hands. That will change slowly—but in what direction? But isn’t there a point at which the number of guns becomes excessive? And do we really need or want guns that have firepower far beyond what is required for hunting or personal defense? I don’t think so. We didn’t need them in 1791, and I don’t think need them now.

The shootings in Connecticut are the most recent in a long list of similar massacres. It seems clear that the shooter was deranged, and even if more restrictive gun laws had been in place, he might still have killed a number of innocent people.

But I bet it wouldn’t have been quite so many.