The Newton Massacre has brought all the usual rhetorical suspects to our discussions on this subject over at MilPub and my friends' Jim and Lisa's blog Ranger Against War.
I've said quite a bit on the subject of the "right to keep and bear arms" against the right to not have some armed sonofabitch busting caps at you for no good reason at both places. But I wanted to take a moment here to clarify my position on this whole business.
There seems to be two main veins of argument against any sort of tightened regulation of firearms. Boiled down to their bones, they are 1) humans are awful and will do terrible things, so there's no point in trying to use firearms regulations to do anything about that, and 2) the "right to bear arms" is sacred and guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution and any attempt to mess with said right is to commit grievous harm to the liberties of American citizens.
Before I move on to my own points let me address both of these, which I consider largely canards and excuses not to do something that the speakers find either inconvenient to themselves or intellectual distasteful rather than actually critical to the issue of reducing the toll of dead Americans.
Regarding the first point, yes; humans are fucking awful. They are also miraculous, delightful, irritating, ridiculous, and bizarre. Man was born to trouble as the sparks fly upwards says the narrator in the Book of Job and what was true for the Hebrews of the Old Testament is certainly true today.
This human tendency towards fucktardry is one of the reasons that human societies devised things like laws and rules in the first place. We know that people will cheat each other if possible, so we institute things like certified weights and measures so that your butcher will not short-weight your beefsteak or financial regulations so that your bankster will not steal from your 401K. We know that people will rape other people, will drive too fast and do all sorts of other nasty, irritating business if not constrained by rules.
So it seems at best rather louche to pretend that this human bastardy is a reason against, rather than for, devising ways to decrease the mechanical advantage of firearms provided to people in general. I may feel perfectly capable of driving 120 in the interstate - and I may well BE capable of doing just that - but to allow that the state of Oregon would have to allow that fucking idiot in Clackastan driving the clapped-out beater of a Chevy K-car. That's a good reason for keeping the speed limit down to 65; the lower, the safer for all of us.
As for the second, well, the "right to bear arms" is only a part of the phrase "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." To understand this phrase is to delve into the minds of the Framers and understand the conditions of the United States at the time of this writing.
The men who wrote the Bill of Rights had had their belliesfull of goddamn regular soldiers. The British government had taxed the colonies to pay for the troops that had fought the French and Indian War and had forced the colonial gentlemen to house and feed those regular troops - you'll notice that the Bill of Rights contains another entire Amendment, the Third, that prohibits "quartering" of troops by fiat - and then used those regulars to try and suppress the colonists when they rebelled. So the idea of a standing force of regulars was a hissing and a byword amongst the lead men of this new nation.
The notion was that the United States would be defended by a hardy force of volunteer militamen arising from the armed populace; tens of thousands of Cincinnati rallying to the Colors when the nation was in danger, bearing the arms that they kept. This way the nation would be both free of the danger of Praetorian treason and the expense of paying for arms and equipment of a standing army - a win-win for the impoverished country!
So the Second Amendment is directed specifically at "providing for the common defense". The arms that the People are not to be infringed from keeping and bearing were for the security of the free state; target shooting for pleasure, home defense, fighting off the zombie apocalypse?
Not so much.
So; can we agree that, first, humans are shit and that's a reason FOR, not against, letting them have all the rounds they can shoot and, second, that the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution does NOT provide for unlimited private firearms possession but, rather, for the provision of an armed civilian military reserve with the implicit authority of the federal government to determine the nature of that armament in the same way it arms the regular military forces?
Well. Whether or not you agree I will continue.
So here's what I believe on this subject, and let me state for the record that this will be my final post on the subject; I will try and fully expound on what I believe here so we will not have reason to further address this here.
1. I don't think that there is ANY way to prevent people from killing other people. Homo homini lupus said Plautus in 195BC; "Man is a wolf to man". We are killers; with our native American genocide and the way we've applied - and are applying - our devastating military power overseas the United States certainly qualifies as one of the great killers of history. As individuals and collectively we have killed, and certainly will kill, our thousands and tens of thousands.
That, in my opinion, makes it a reason for, not argues against, making it more difficult for us to kill each other.
2. I believe that there are steps we should take on the social and medical fronts to make these massacres more difficult and less frequent. It should be simpler for troubled people to get serious mental health treatment. It should be simpler for people who know people who are troubled to get those people referred to treatment, and simpler for people who fall into the legal system and show signs of genuine mental trouble that looks dangerous to get treatment.
This will not prevent these nutter-shootings, but it might help.
3. But I also believe that we can take steps to prevent private individuals from turning up heavily armed in public spaces.
- Nobody needs to fire more than six rounds without reloading. Period. If you are a hunter and you cannot drop your buck in six rounds you are a sorry excuse for a hunter AND a menace to both wildlife and your fellow hunters.
This is a simple solution; starting tomorrow every magazine will be manufactured with a fixed six-round cutoff, and a program established to buy-back all unaltered magazines. Possession of an unaltered magazine will be a Class C felony punishable by a ginormous fine.
- Close the "gun-show" loophole, and stiffen background checks. Prohibit sales of firearms, ammunition, and magazines over the Internet. Period.
- If you purchase a firearm you will be required to purchase a locking safety device such as a gun safe and a trigger lock and required to use it when not actively firing.
- Purchase of a firearm will require successful completion of 8 hours of firearms training, to include safe storage, handling, and operation of your firearms, to include a practical exercise. If you cannot or will not successfully complete this training you cannot possess a firearm. This includes every individual who buys a new firearm. You say you're a fucking expert and know every facet and quirk of your weapon? Too fucking bad; age and knowledge are no guarantee that you won't walk around doing stupid shit like keeping a round under the hammer.
I would consider these a minimum.
I don't pretend that these measures will end nutter shootings. NOTHING will end the human delight in destroying other humans. But it will make it harder for the nutters.
The simple fact is that killing people with firearms is simple. A child can do it, and children have. And firearms that produce volumes of fire make this simplicity even simpler. Forcing the nutters to reload once or twice would at least give their victims a chance to escape, or to tackle the nutter.
I don't consider these regulations "infringing" on people's "rights". Financial regulations don't "infringe" on banker's rights to make bank and speed limits don't "infringe" on your right to drive. But they do put some sensible limits on the abilities of skeevy bastards to endanger your bank account and your car insurance premium and as such constitute a fairly sensible approach to limiting risk while still allowing human commerce and travel.
You could still "keep" and "bear" your arms. You'd just have to do it in a way that insures a bit more domestic tranquility and provides a touch more public safety.
And...in case you think I'm being drastic, you have no idea.
Frankly, I think that young American males are waaaaayyyy too groiny about autoloading weaponry and waaaayyyy to casual about the horrors of war. With the end of the draft there are far too many young men whose sole experience with soldiering and warfare is through the ridiculous lens of Call of Duty Black: Ops or some such video crap. As a society we have far too little understanding of the ugly realities of what weapons do and mean. I think that has a lot to do with the casual way we treat the secret wars we are fighting in Asia right now; we have no skin in the game.
If I had my way I'd draft every goddamn mother's son for a sixteen-week basic military training. And this would be as nasty as I could make it; grim, spartan, physically painful and stressful. The guys would fire and clean their weapons repeatedly under the nastiest conditions, fire them until they were sick of the sight of them, clean them until they hated the smell of Break-free. They would live in the mud and the cold, eat cold rations, and march until their legs came off. They would get as close to the worst conditions of soldiering that I could make them.
Because that was what cured me.
I went into the service like most other green kids, thinking that it would be cool to be the Lord of War. But spending hours with a green plastic issue toothbrush and a black bottle of Breakfree grinding carbon off the bolt after more hours hunkered down in a concrete culvert staring at plastic Russians in the misting rain and cursing the forward assist knocked the magic and the mystery out of semiautomatic fire.
Knowing how to handle a rifle safely and accurately is a skill, and one (in my estimation) worth knowing. But the grim reality that comes with that skill, and is implied every time you squeeze the trigger, is even more worth knowing, and I would gleefully beat that knowledge into the fat head of every wannabe Rambo that came through my BT company. I came by it the hard way. I would be happy to provide that wisdom free of the charge in blood and death.
And then...I'd send them on to two years of National Service.
Those who chose could go on to the uniformed services. The others could pick a sort of Civilian Conservation Corps, doing pick-and-shovel work on infrastructure projects, or a VISTA/Peace Corps sort of national or international assistance doing anything from teaching kids to read to drilling wells to deworming goats.
After two years of this hopefully that would return to American life a bit more experienced in the world, and a bit less eager to barge about knocking things over. Plus a bit more knowledgeable about the sort of other people out there, the ones that many young men never know about other than through the television news, as fables and nonsense, or...through the sights of a rifle.
But that's just my wild notion.
On the subject of firearms I have no hope that any of my ideas will get past the idle discussion stage. Whilst we have gleefully pissed away so many of our rights in the current nonsensical wars against "terror" and "drugs" we find a critical minority of our fellow citizens unwilling to even consider a check on our "right" to bear any sort and any number of firearms.
We torture and even kill our helpless prisoners, hide them in secret without even admitting their names, we consider secret snooping and spying normal and natural. We lionize those who send out our soldiers to invade nations that have no injured us while we prosecute those who reveal the crimes of those we have celebrated. We have given up huge portions of our rights to speedy and public trials, to freedom from imprisonment without due process of law, to a free press and free speech.
And yet, on the question of restricting the "right" of a lunatic to shoot more than six rounds at a go we are adamant; this shall not pass!
What the fuck are we thinking?
Update 12/23 p.m.: And just because people who are smarter and funnier than you are should always receive their due, I refer you to the blog Goblinbooks for the most incisive and funniest takedowns of the whole firearms-as-the-guarantee-of-liberty horsepuckey. Good stuff and you can say I said so.
Update 12/25: And here's Badtux the Firearms Penguin with a rather brilliant explanation of why removing the sort of handguns and rifles used in the Newton Massacre (and many of the other nutter-shootings) would have a vastly minimal effect on private possession and use of firearms. I have no doubt that this will have zero effect on the sort of person whose masturbatory fantasies "need" two or more AR-15 knockoffs. But I sure as hell wish that Congress would read it.