The cacophony of the gun debate has been escalating since Sandy Hook. This hit an apex with Alex Jones appearance on the Piers Morgan show on CNN. Jones acted like a rabid animal, screaming abuse and rage. This is a man owns fifty guns, but on that day what he really needed was a straitjacket.
Why does anyone need a military style assault rifle?
It is hard to conceive that a civilian needs a military style assault rifle under any normal circumstances. There is no need to pump thirty or even a hundred rounds into a deer. So why are these weapons so popular? I can come up with only two reasons to own an assault rifle: to deal with extreme situations of civil unrest, and to wage war on the government.
Let’s start with civil unrest. In 1992 during the Rodney King riots in Los Angeles, there were shopkeepers on the roofs of their shops with assault rifles to protect their property from rioters and looters. This was a seemingly defensive use of these weapons during a time when the police were powerless because of the state of civil unrest.
Widespread looting, assault, arson and murder occurred during the riots, and estimates of property damage topped one billion dollars. The rioting ended after soldiers from the California Army National Guard, along with U.S. Marines from Camp Pendleton were called in to stop the rioting. In total 53 people were killed during the riots and over two thousand people were injured.
“1992 Los Angeles Riots.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 01 Sept. 2013. Web. 09 Jan. 2013.
The problem with using assault rifles to defend private property is that it could lead to an escalating arms race. Instead of defending their shops against rioters throwing rocks and bottles, the shopkeepers could have faced rioters armed with assault weapons. Do we then need rocket-propelled grenades (RPG’s) to defend against assault rifles?
There are other times of extreme civil unrest where an assault rifle would come in handy. In the event of a major disaster people may need to seek survival shelters. Such a disaster could be anything from a nuclear blast to an asteroid impact.
Anyone with a survival shelter will need weapons to defend it from encroachment. Any survival shelter will have limited supplies of food, water, energy and other necessities. An influx of outsiders would metaphorically swamp the lifeboat. This again raises the threat of an arms race. If everyone owns assault rifles, then we could expect to see roving bands of heavily armed desperadoes who would stop at nothing to find shelter and supplies.
The second use of assault weapons would seem to be the ability to wage war on the government. Scratch a gun extremist and you are likely to find an anarchist under the skin. Much of the rhetoric of the extremist gun crowd seems to be about why we need guns to keep the government at bay.
These folks would like to return to the days of the old west, where disputes were settled by six shooters. If someone wrongs you; do not take him to court; just shoot him. And, if the sheriff shows up just shoot him too.
When you listen to the rhetoric of the extremists among the gun advocates, it is clear that they want their weapons in part to prevent any tyranny by the government. So, if the government passes any law, regulation or tax that these extremists do not support, they feel that they have the right to oppose the government by means of deadly force if necessary.
While American history is full of anarchical sentiments, the Second Amendment had a much different purpose.
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.
During the Revolutionary War, General Washington did not have a standing army to command, but only a collection of local militias. It was the legal obligation of every able-bodied man to own a rifle, and to use it in the defense of the nation. The country did not want to have a standing army due to the potential for tyranny that such a standing army could represent. Militias in the Eighteenth Century were the only way to provide for the common defense of the nation.
Thus, the purpose of the Second Amendment was not to arm civilians against the government, but rather, to arm citizens for the defense of the nation.
If we believe that citizens have the right to wage war against the government then we would have no government at all. We would become a failed state such as Somalia or Columbia wherein unelected warlords usurp the functions of government and enslave and tyranize the citizenry.
America’s Gun Violence
Let’s start with the fact that there are 300 million guns in the US, or almost one gun for every man, woman and child. There have been thirteen mass killings using guns in 2012, and the year is not even over yet.
UPDATE: There have now been FOURTEEN mass shootings in the US in 2012, and the year STILL is not over.
Even the NRA is now proposing “solutions” to this crisis and I am glad that they are! We need to come together in civil discourse to discuss solutions, welcoming all parties so that somehow we can get beyond the partisan bickering and break the impasse of gun violence.
This is a complex problem with many facets. There are no easy answers or bumper sticker solutions. Solving this problem will take a mutual effort and the willingness for everyone to give up their “talking points” for the broader public good.
Wayne LaPierre of the NRA has said that a good guy with a gun is the only way to stop a bad guy with a gun. If only the world were that cut-and-dried, with good guys wearing white hats and bad guys wearing black hats.
Think about the Trayvon Martin case. Here, the “good guy” is out on neighborhood watch, protecting his neighborhood from the “bad guys”, meaning African-American teen-aged boys. The tragic result of George Zimmerman’s vigilante justice was the death of a seventeen-year-old boy whose only crime was to go to the store to buy some Skittles while wearing a hoodie.
Zimmerman’s defense is now that Martin attacked him, and he shot Martin in self-defense. This is to suggest somehow that Martin had no right to defend himself from the gun-toting thug who was stalking him. Now, could someone please tell me who was the “good guy” and who was the “bad guy” and how are we supposed to tell the difference in a life-and-death situation?
Neighborhood Watch programs were designed to be extra eyes and ears for the Police Department. There is nothing in this program to justify gun-toting vigilantes. While some would argue that Zimmerman had the right to carry a gun on the street, no-one would suggest that he had any rights to make demands upon his victim, such as ordering him to halt. He had no right to accost him, to question him, or to engage him in any non-consensual manner. Is it any surprise, then, that Martin tried to fight him off? And did not Martin have the right to use any force to repel his attacker? What is clear to everyone is that if only Zimmerman had stayed in his truck, Martin would still be alive.
If we say that we want to be protected by gun-toting vigilantes, then how do we make sure that these people are qualified? Should we require that they undergo police academy style weapons training? Do we insist that they have continuous weapons training including target practice? Without such training it is easy to see that these people would be a menace to society, and not a source of protection.
There was a recent episode in New York City where the police showed up to deal with a shooting. The police ended up wounding nine innocent bystanders. If the police do this much collateral damage, then just think how much damage could be done by untrained, undisciplined, gun-toting vigilantes.
We can envision a lock-down incident in a school. The principal retrieves a gun from a locked cabinet in the school office. The principal breaks the shrink-wrap on the box, pulls the gun out and starts reading the instructions. The next step would be to find ammunition for the gun (stored in another locked cabinet for safety reasons). Then, the principal would try to figure out how to load and fire the weapon. When you think about it, this person is probably not the person that we want defending the school.
Now, imagine the situation at the Aurora Colorado shootings. The theater is dark except for the light from the screen. The movie soundtrack is full of gun shots and explosions. Then the gunman enters and throws smoke bombs. At first the audience thinks that the real violence is simply enhanced movie violence. A few pro-gun folks have told me that what was needed was a few dozen armed vigilantes in the theater to stop the killer. But it is hard for me to believe that this would actually be helpful. Given the smoke and the darkness and the violent movie setting, the thought of more guns joining in the mayhem would seem only to increase the death toll, not to limit it.
One solution that everyone seems to agree about is that we need to keep guns away from crazy people. No-one would disagree with that. The problem is, however, how to we decide who is too crazy to own or have access to a gun? Just like the “good guy” “bad guy” debate, it is not obvious at all who should be allowed access to guns.
The simple truth is that most of the recent shootings have been carried out by people with no criminal or psychiatric record that would preclude them from owning guns. But just because a person has not yet been convicted of a serious crime, or been confined to a mental hospital, does not mean that they are fit to own and handle guns.
There are countless people out there who are unstable, deranged, or otherwise mentally impaired. Some are psychologically withdrawn; others have violent tempers. There are racists, misogynists, homophobes, psychopaths, sociopaths, and a host of others who are a menace to society. There are criminals who have not yet been caught, and hence have no criminal records. There are terrorists motivated by politics, ideology, ethnicity, tribalism or other special group affiliations. Meth addicts or other types of drug abusers can create extreme mayhem without warning. We know that drunk drivers can wreak havoc on the roads. Imagine a drunk with a grudge and a handgun and the damage that she or he could do.
Even “good guys” can snap. They might be facing unbearable stress such as a loss of employment, or finding out that their partner is having an affair. Or perhaps they are having a reaction to their medications. Toxins, chemicals, allergic reactions, viruses, and some bacteria such as syphilis can affect the mental health of even the most stable of persons. Something as common as diabetes can cause severe mood swings, violent outbursts, and even a condition resembling a drunken stupor.
I am sure that most of us could find five or six of our friends to vouch for our character and mental stability, but that would not make us safe. The simple truth is that all of us are nuts, or at least all of us are vulnerable to going nuts.
In the Sandy Hook case, the shooter was using his mother’s weapons. So, even if the shooter could have been stopped from buying guns, there would be no way of stopping him from acquiring guns from friends or family members.
All of this is to suggest that there is no practical method of keeping guns out of the hands of crazy people.