Woe be unto the innocent bystander, or even the less-than-innocent liberal wuss Salon columnist, if you raise your hand and say something . . . anything . . . about guns and gun ownership. Boy, are the gun nuts ever ready for you!
This article first appeared on Salon.
The first thing they accuse you of is wanting to ban guns, all guns. You want to take their guns away! Or the government does. Or somebody does. I mean, look at the reaction of the NRA to something as sane as the recent ban on bump stocks, which take an “ordinary” (if such a thing can be called ordinary) semiautomatic assault rifle and turn it into a fully-automatic weapon. You’d think they were coming to take guns away from gun owners, when in fact, it’s an utterly defensible ban on a device that converts a legal gun into an illegal weapon of mass destruction. The shooter in Las Vegas had bump stocks on nearly all of the 24 guns that were found in his room at the Mandalay Bay hotel after he killed 58 concert-goers and wounded over 400. Bump stocks are what enabled him to fire more than 1,000 rounds down on the crowd across the street from his hotel room. If you listen to the NRA, you would think that banning bump-stocks is the first step on a slippery slope to disarming America.
It’s bullshit, of course, as are many of the so-called “arguments” you get from gun nuts. I heard from one lunatic last week who used the old automobile straw man: cars kill, so what are you saying, we should ban cars, too? Wow. You got me there.
Then they go after you for mis-using, or mis-interpreting gun language. Define an “assault weapon!” AR-15 style rifles aren’t “assault weapons” because they don’t have “select fire.” On and on they go, down the rabbit hole of military-macho-gun-speak. One recent “review” in Tactical Life Magazine of something called the CMMG MkG Banshee AR Pistol described it as having such features as “Radial-Delayed blowback operating system . . . ambidextrous charging handles, sling plates and safeties as well as Tailhook Mod 2 arm braces from Gear Head Works . . . a five-inch, 4140 chrome-moly barrel with .578×28-tpi muzzle threading for devices like suppressors, and a knurled thread protector . . . a full-length top rail, M-LOK slots on the sides and a hand stop on the bottom.” My goodness! You would think that would be enough stuff for any self-respecting assault weapon! But no! There is more! “CMMG then installs a mil-spec-style single-stage trigger as well as a Magpul MOE pistol grip.”
Whew. I wouldn’t have an assault weapon with anything less. Have a look at this thing. I’m sure the gun nuts will weigh in, assuring us that this is a fine weapon for hunting small game, or self-defense, or target shooting or whatever. But really…this?
I don't care what they say. That's not a civilian weapon. That's a weapon designed for use by the military to kill human beings. The thing costs $1,249.95. It is, of course, sold on the open market to any civilian who walks in with the scratch to buy one. The people who buy weapons like this are, strictly speaking, gun nuts.
Their sense of embarrassment when the way gun nuts talk about these things in gun magazines and on-line forums is obvious to all outsiders, though. All that worshiping at the altar of descriptions of killing power. Car nuts use similar language in car magazines when they talk about the capabilities of sports cars, talking about limited slip differentials and how many G's it pulled on the skid pad. It's vaguely adolescent and a little embarrassing when it's pulled out of context, and I read the car magazines and love cars and I've indulged in that stuff since, yes, I was an adolescent . . . and I still do.
But car nuts aren't gushing over a machine designed for killing. Gun nuts are. And that's the essential difference, isn't it? To talk about the efficacy of guns is to talk about how good they are at killing. That's what they’re doing when they advertise the things and review them in gun magazines. They're essentially bragging about what wonderful killing machines they are. In the context of the military, that's a useful thing to know. If you're in the military, and you’re going to use a gun like the MkG Banshee AR Pistol, or any of the other assault weapons for that matter, you should care about how good they do their job, because you're going to use them in situations where someone may be shooting at you, and you want to shoot back as efficiently and accurately as you can so you don't get killed.
But less than one percent of our population is in the military. The rest of us are civilians, and these things are being marketed and sold to civilians. They use of the term "tactical" to yank at the heartstrings of arm-chair warriors, to make them feel like they're buying something big and powerful. "Tactical" is a purely macho word. It’s used to appeal to gun nuts. Sadly, it seems to be working.
The simple fact about people who buy and own guns is that they are buying a device that can be used to project power at a significant distance away from themselves. That's what guns do. Even a pistol can be used to hit something or someone across a room, or across a street, or outside of your house when you're inside.
They talk all the time about the "stopping power" of guns. And that's it in a nutshell. A gun stops things. It can be used to stop an intruder from entering your house. Unfortunately, guns are used every day not only to stop burglaries or other kinds of crimes, they are used to stop arguments, or marriages, or in the cases of Parkland and Las Vegas and New Zealand and Sandy Hook and Pittsburgh and so many other places, guns are used to stop the lives of people the shooters simply don't like, or to make "political" statements, or to satisfy some dark unknowable craving.
The purpose of a gun is not to craft a clever rebuttal to win an argument. It's to end that argument right now and for good. A gun isn't designed to achieve the divorce a court can grant to end a marriage. A gun can be used to end that marriage right this minute by killing a spouse, and guns are used for that purpose all the time. Guns can be fired at paper targets on a shooting range, of course, but they are designed to kill, and they do just that more than 30,000 times a year in homicides and suicides and mass shootings and accidents every single year.
Of course, gun nuts scream and yell all the time that they need their guns for “self-defense.” That's the argument the Supreme Court bought in District of Columbia v. Heller, which specifically allowed guns to be kept loaded and ready for use in people's homes. The pro-gun lobby made the argument that you need a loaded, unlocked gun to defend yourself, and the Supreme Court agreed and located that right in the Second Amendment to the Constitution when for more than 200 years, that right had not been recognized in that manner before.
According to an analysis of figures from the National Crime Victimization Survey quoted by NPR, Americans protected themselves with a gun during the commission of a crime 0.9 percent of crimes from 2007 to 2011. So there is evidence that guns have been used by gun owners to defend themselves and their property. But it’s not the reason so many people in this country own guns.
There are an estimated 393 million guns in the United States, according to the Washington Post. There are more guns than people in this country.
I am a gun owner. My guns are locked away in a storage locker right now. I own a 12 gauge Remington pump-action shotgun, a .32 revolver, a .38 revolver, a .22 bolt action rifle I inherited from my grandmother, and a .177 bolt action rifle my brother gave me. I’ve never owned a semiautomatic weapon. Not even one. The last one I shot was an M-14 in the Army in 1965.
I come from a military family. You would think a family of Army officers would have owned a lot of guns. You’d be wrong. My father owned the 12 gauge pump-action shotgun I inherited from him and the .45 caliber Army-issue Colt pistol he inherited from his father. My grandfather, a four-star general, owned two guns: the .45 pistol he gave to my father in 1951 when he left for the war in Korea, and the German Luger taken from Field Marshal Albert Kesslering, commander of Nazi forces against whom grandpa had campaigned the Fifth Army in Italy.
I was raised to understand that guns are designed and manufactured to kill. I was trained in the Army on multiple guns, and I was trained to use them to kill. That’s what they are for. Killing. Guns like the assault rifles used by the Las Vegas shooter, or the shooter in Parkland, or Sandy Hook, or Pittsburgh, or New Zealand, are civilian guns that are designed to kill more people faster. That’s what the gun nuts don’t want to admit. These military-style weapons may be legal, but they are high powered, rapid-firing, efficient killing machines. If you want to own one of these things, you’re a gun nut, not a gun owner. There’s a difference.