Friday, December 21st, 2012
35

Friends Can't Let Friends Shoot People

This morning, the NRA demanded that Congress place "armed police officers in every school," to create a "shield emergency response" around schools. "If we truly cherish our kids, more than our money, more than our celebrities, more than our sport stadiums, we must give them the greatest level of protection possible," NRA honcho Wayne LaPierre said, in a very long and strange speech. (A PDF of the prepared remarks is here.) The NRA's solution? "Properly trained armed good guys."

Gun bans "perpetuate the dangerous notion that one more gun ban—or one more law imposed on peaceful, lawful people—will protect us where 20,000 others have failed," LaPierre said. This is the NRA's response to the professional opinion-holding class, who have all presented banning proposals over this last week: Increase waiting periods. Ban guns. Ban assault rifles1. All agree it's time to "do something."

In an op-ed by Drew Magary headlined "Down with Big Gun," Gawker and Deadspin's self-described dick-joke purveyor suggested a four-point plan to attack "Big Gun." The author put forth what's become a popular reaction: "OCCUPY GUN STREET."

"Down with Big Gun" came four months after the same author's post-Colorado movie-theater-shooting opinion piece that never mentioned targeting CEOs, businesses or gun brands—but did call guns "fun" and promoted the virtues of going to the gun range "while shitfaced" to fire a Desert Eagle.

A celebrated early victory of this approach was Wall Street's fire sale of gun conglomerate Freedom Group.

But in reality, the pro-gun community welcomed the breakup of "Big Gun" with open arms. Consolidation of gun-makers under Wall Street private equity resulted in junk guns. Throughout 2012, Freedom Group has been the butt of the quality control joke within a shooting community with a bad sense of humor. So while "occupy gun street" proponents saw the sale of Freedom Group as a victory, so did pro-gun people. But by all means, occupy "Gun Street."

Others have argued that now is the time to "politicize the shit out of this shooting."

Be careful what you wish for. Legislation, born from politicization, has actually gone backwards for decades. After the 1991 Luby's massacre in Texas, concealed carry laws boomed. And the recently opened "gun dorms" at the University of Colorado are a direct response to the 2007 Virginia Tech shootings, the massacre that replaced Luby's as the nation's most deadly.

As conceal carry laws expand, campuses in general have followed suit. While not as loud as the call for gun control after Newtown2, legislators in Virginia, Iowa and South Dakota proposed allowing trained educators to carry concealed handguns at school.

An armed campus—the NRA's "new plan" in action—does not work. As I discovered while profiling the 2010 Marinette, Wisconsin, classroom shooting, at the time shots were fired in the school, even as a 15-year-old held a class at gunpoint, an on-duty police officer in the school got in her cruiser and returned to the station.

But, sure: maybe now is the legislative turnaround? Maybe. Maybe not3.

Gabrielle Giffords was shot in the face two years ago. Even since then, laws on gun ownership and gun use have become more permissive. Illinois is now the only state without a conceal carry law—but it will next year. Since the Congresswoman was shot in the head, silencers ("suppressors") have become legitimate hunting accessories in numerous states.

If Congress cannot act when one of its own is shot, can we reasonably expect them to act out of character when some unknown-to-them moviegoers, shoppers or schoolchildren unluckily wander into the working end of the Second Amendment?

By all means, try to ban "assault rifles." The popularity of Colt-trademarked AR-15 knockoffs is a result of too many gun owners with sexual fantasies about invasion, who want to be part of Seal Team Six but don’t have the dedication, or, frankly, the fitness. A "well regulated" Militia includes well regulated physical ability. Make the Marine Corps' minimum Initial Strength Test requirement of two "dead-hang" pullups the condition for purchasing an assault rifle. Sales will plummet.

Sure, try to ban high capacity magazines4. Institute better background checks to identify gun buyers who have domestic abuse arrests and/or mental illness histories. Although, the ability to reasonably defend the need for a high capacity magazine could suggest just such a mental illness. (Also, surely there's nothing better for America than the government deciding who's sane and who isn't.)

Good luck pushing for greater safety standards on the guns themselves. James Bond may get a Walther PPK that fires only with his "biometric palm print" but it won't be a Glock feature anytime soon5. The technology has been developed for more than a decade—but the NRA and most gun owners fiercely oppose it.

In the end, real gun "control" can only be achieved within the gun owning community itself. In this regard, there must be a move that mirrors the "friends don't let friends drive drunk" campaign.

Gun owners know other gun owners. (We take our conceal carry classes together, for one thing.) This is a community strength. It's a strength that can be harnessed if the NRA, and similar groups, would promote a "see something, say something," "friends don't let friends" approach to gun safety. (Clearly, they have no such plans.)

Gun owners prepare for—and too many fantasize about—being the hero, using their training to save the day. With the help of the NRA and the gun companies, a new kind of Second Amendment hero could have been formulated. A hero who saves lives in his community through the very thing that all conceal-carry owners proselytize about: situational alertness.

Sure, be ready to shoot the "bad guy," in the NRA formulation. But this "bad guy" is always a stranger. Gun training should stress stopping the bad guy in one's own family or circle.

Almost all post-Newtown "do something" arguments—apart from the NRA's—arise from a prohibitory, confrontational position. Ban this, ban that, legislate the problem away, "occupy" something. Very few argue for making the problem that of the gun owners and Second Amendment groups themselves. We now know that the four states that passed gay marriage laws this last election did so because of individual people's impact on other people, not lobbying or legislation. That approach was based on similar tactics to the campaign to not let friends drive drunk, which has been meaningfully successful6. Guilt and person-to-person contact works—and it can work with guns.




1 One reason America struggles to have the same conversation every time this happens is that it speaks different gun languages. "Assault weapon" is a meaningless, cosmetic term, like "rap music." "Machine gun" is an ignorant one (also like "rap music"). The problem with this inability to speak the other side's language is consequential; the "assault weapons ban" of 1994 was in place when the Columbine shootings occurred.

2 It was not mentioned much by the national media and by approximately zero pundits writing op-eds, but exactly one month before the Newtown, Connecticut shootings, three children and one adult were shot to death in New Town, North Dakota.

3 That same year, when Texas Governor Rick Perry shot a coyote while jogging, Ruger issued a limited edition .380 "True Texan Coyote Special" in his honor. The most recent Las Vegas SHOT (Shooting, Hunting and Outdoor Trade) Show had a record-setting 61,000 attendees. Compare that to the much heralded Consumer Electronics Association (CES) Show's 153,000 (which was also a record).

4 I believe a "high capacity magazine" ban will be the NRA's sacrifice, giving both sides of a gummed up Congress a midterm "protecting our children" moment without ever really upsetting the balance. It’s worth mentioning that 3D printers are already capable of making AR-15 magazines.

5 Accuse me of being in bed with Tipper Gore, but while everyone complains about Heineken in the latest James Bond film, Hollywood "artists" are quietly doing the gun industry's marketing. A common feature in many of the numerous gun magazines is a layout of the latest onscreen gun models. Gunmakers rely on Hollywood for advertising, with the prop masters placing their weapons in the hands of the silver screen's favorite heroes. For example, the Tactical Edge Group, licensed Hollywood weapons prop masters, offer product placement services as "the exclusive representation" of the semi-automatic, 16 shot 12 ga. shotgun to the entertainment industry. Magnum Research, maker of the Desert Eagle, a hand cannon that has no reasonable justification for existing but is fun to fire "while shitfaced," maintains a website dedicated to its Hollywood roles. A portion of the NRA’s website is dedicated to “Hollywood Guns.” The Internet Movie Firearms Database is a thing.

6 "In 1998, America experienced its lowest number of alcohol-related fatalities since the U.S. DOT began keeping records and at one point, more than 68% of Americans exposed to the advertising had taken action to prevent someone from driving drunk."






Abe Sauer is the author of How to be: NORTH DAKOTA.

35 Comments / Post A Comment

deepomega (#1,720)

Abe, how exactly do you define an assault rifle? Every definition I've seen leans on burst and auto fire, which is effectively illegal. (Illegal enough, anyway, that crimes aren't committed with legally owned automatic weapons.)

@deepomega : Ugh, it's a morass of terminology. Assault rifles are by definition fully automatic and, as you point out, effectively illegal (or very very difficult to obtain) for individuals.

What most commentators are talking about banning (whether they know it or not) are not assault rifles, but "assault weapons." Under US statute (the now-lapsed Federal Assault Weapons Ban), an assault weapon was defined as : 1. any of a number of semiautomatic firearms specifically identified by name (eg, the TEC-9) and or 2. any semiautomatic firearm possessing a minimum number of cosmetic features usually seen in fully-automatic weapons : http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Federal_Assault_Weapons_Ban#Criteria_of_an_assault_weapon

Note the "cosmetic" qualifier, there. There's a pretty good argument to be made that whether something is an "assault weapon" or not depends on how scary-looking it is. In fact, while the Federal Assault Weapons Ban was in effect, many manufacturers removed the infringing cosmetic features from the newly-illegal models and retooled them as perfectly legal models with virtually the same functionality.

deepomega (#1,720)

@Gef the Talking Mongoose A very good argument, I'd say. "Assault weapons" are scary looking guns, full stop. The only thing separating a hunting rifle from an "assault weapon" seems to be "does it look like a soldier might hold it."

@deepomega : Admittedly, I did elide the magazine-capacity limit which the Federal Assault Weapons Ban also contained. During the ban's lifetime, it was illegal to manufacture for private use any magazine which could hold more than 10 rounds. So there's that.

deepomega (#1,720)

@Gef the Talking Mongoose Fair – although I'm very skeptical of the magazine size limit's life-saving abilities, I also don't really think it matters. Criminals who want them will get them, and mass murderers will just carry more magazine, a la Columbine.

@deepomega I don't doubt the difficulty in nailing down a legal definition and even more difficulty in enforcing it. But the term isn't a media invention.
In the military context an assault rifle trades a heavier cartridge to reduce recoil for rapid aim and fire, and the AR-15 and its ammo were designed to that spec. One can quibble whether rapid must mean burst or auto (note the existence of squad automatic weapons), but an M-4 still selects for semi-auto. In my book that's still pretty gaddam fast and furious for a varmint rifle.

deepomega (#1,720)

@gnarlytrombone Are you saying that semi-auto is still too rapid fire for civilian use? My read of Heller is that a ban on semi-auto would be unconstitutional – so if you want to ban semi-auto you'll need an amendment.

@deepomega That's pretty much what the Australians concluded. What I'm trying to argue is that the AR-15 in particular isn't merely a gelded military weapon, and it's purchasers damn well know that. It's designed to send a buttload of military-grade ammo fast.

deepomega (#1,720)

@gnarlytrombone Let me put it this way – if I were drafting a law to ban "assault weapons", it would have nothing to do with bayonet lugs or barrel shrouds. It'd be about muzzle energy per minute – how many rounds it can fire off multiplied by the foot-pound force of each shot. That'd at least be approximating a "deadliness" metric, as opposed to a "scariness" metric.

Re: Semi-autos – not sure how reasonable or practical that is. We'd need to round up all of the semi-autos currently legally owned. And we have 15x the population of Australia. (And THAT'S assuming we get the amendment passed.)

brad (#1,678)

@deepomega – the only legal guns…single action revolvers under cal .22 short.

@gnarlytrombone : There's no difficulty in nailing down a legal definition; "assault weapons" were legally defined in very specific language by the Federal Assault Weapons Ban of 1994. The fact that the legal definition of "assault weapon" trades heavily on cosmetic features doesn't make it any less of a legal definition.

There are two non-overlapping legal definitions here : assault weapons and automatic firearms. If your firearm is capable of automatic fire (eg, more than one round per trigger pull), it continues to be regulated by the National Firearms Act of 1934. By definition, assault rifles are capable of either full-auto (on a single trigger pull, fire continuously) or burst fire (each trigger pull fires a fixed number of rounds > 1). Your M-4 can fire 3-round bursts or semi-auto; the 3-round burst capability places it in the more restrictive category of "automatic weapons" even though it has a semiautomatic capability.

The Federal Assault Weapons Ban applied strictly to semiautomatic firearms (one round per trigger pull) and defined a subcategory of semiautomatic firearms as "assault weapons" because they shared certain characteristics with assault rifles. By definition, the characteristic shared was not the automatic firing. A firearm capable of automatic fire (full or burst) is not an assault weapon.

So, anyway, what's the big deal? Well, I haven't seen a single media outlet that hasn't conflated assault weapons with assault rifles. This leads to well-meaning people saying that renewing the ban on assault weapons would keep fully-automatic firearms off the streets, which simply doesn't make any sense.

@deepomega Yes, legally it's chasing bubbles around the waterbed. But let's not pretend the AR-15 and its cousins are simply scary looking. The whole philosophy of an assault rifle is that lethality isn't necessarily defined in caliber and foot-pounds. This puts it well, I think:

"He'd fired an AK-47. 'It was exactly like playing Duck Hunt. It didn't move, no kickback. It was this bizarre combination of being the deadliest thing I've ever held, and it also being the most similar to holding a plastic video game gun. It was easy to totally divorce myself from that gun; you can't do that with something like a shotgun. It requires too much physical interaction on your part.'"

http://www.xojane.com/issues/on-black-holes-patience-and-what-i-know-to-be-true

@Gef the Talking Mongoose : God, I really do not know all this off the top of my head. It's the Tasteful and Expensive Education's heavy emphasis on poli-sci papers talking, here.

Full disclosure : I own a single firearm, and it's an old-ass Remington 1100. It's always clay-pigeon season.

@Gef the Talking Mongoose The difficulty is that a legal definition, by definition, has to be specific and the ways to cheat a definition in this case approach the infinite. That's what the Aussies chose to stop playing the game, and the Norwegians are seriously considering the same route.

@Gef the Talking Mongoose Given how much of this state of affairs (the mass-killings and the defensiveness of the mass of legal owners) is rooted in the roiling unconsciousness of [mostly] men, and I'm just riffing here, is it not possible there is something to be said for an aesthetic component to a solution? That is, not simply a specific Ugly Gun ban but perhaps something more comprehensive. I don't know what exactly, make all guns pink or something. I mean, surely there is something in both the casual owner and the killer that makes them desire the most "bad-ass" gun (for many the one that _looks_ the most like what the military use) and this can be an entrepot for short-circuiting the worst of it. It is, admittedly, much like your proposal, something that does not necessarily produce the tangible sense of accomplishment that a "ban" would but, since the problem here is as much mental as physical, might produce satisfactory results in the long run.

Ham Snadwich (#11,842)

@gnarlytrombone – That XO article is deeply suspect. I just don't see any way you'd feel like the AK-47 was a toy. It has a pretty hefty kick and it's loud as all hell.

@Ham Snadwich Hmm. Hefty. The weapon of choice for 9-year-old soldiers around the world?

Guilt and person-to-person contact works—and it can work with guns.

Responsible gun owners can also pressure eachother not to even write about shooting firearms "while shitfaced". Seriously. Don't shoot while drunk, don't handle firearms while drunk, and maybe don't even joke about it.

Mr. B (#10,093)

I don't understand what Columbine has to do with the '90s assault weapons ban, since the killers didn't use assault weapons under anyone's definition. They each had a 9mm pistol, a 12-gauge shotgun and a whole lot of homemade bombs.

deepomega (#1,720)

@Mr. B Given that one of the guns they used was designed to avoid the ban, I think it's pretty relevant.

Mr. B (#10,093)

@deepomega Damn it — my comment fact-checker left early for Xmas break. Sorry.

laurel (#4,035)

Adam Lanza had a "responsible" gun owner in his life. He lived with her. She taught him to shoot. She was aware of his mental health issues. None of that helped in this case. But a limit on semi-automatics and large capacity magazines might have reduced the death toll.

Niko Bellic (#1,312)

@laurel It's the ultimate "small government" security system: everyone should profile, stop-and-frisk, and finally shoot their own family members. See, no need for your Nazi "laws" and "police"!

julebsorry (#5,783)

@Niko Bellic I'm doing my part by having several family members imprisoned in the basement as we speak…

laurel (#4,035)

@Niko Bellic: Ah yes, the inevitable DIY locavore artisaning of gun culture.

Yeah, gun culture should be made DIY locavore artisanal. Guns shouldn't be manufactured by big capitalist companies. They should be made like shoes at an old shoemakers shop. Every town should have a dude who makes your gun for you personally. It should be expensive and take a while, and be a very transparent process. Whenever you buy a gun it should be noted in the local tabloid along with drunken driving arrests. The gun guy should be an old, slightly intimidating guy. He should have to make the gun only with hand tools. Also he should make the bullets by himself. The culture of capitalism and mass production is ultimately responsible for this crime.

rrot (#7,827)

"We should let the NRA fix itself, that's the ticket!"

Fine sentiment, stupid prescription.

Matt (#26)

Why I Gave Up Burn Notice

I grew up in a state with a very strong Burn Notice culture. Lots of the people in my family were also very into USA action dramas — just occasionally, or as a real passion. Some were recappers, owning a half-dozen or even more Bruce Campbell gif Tumblrs, some original Airwolf scripts and customized TiVos they were really proud of. A few of them even went to Baywatch Nights conventions regularly and traded MacGuyver dubs with other collectors.

So as a teenager, it was only natural for me to watch Burn Notice with my friends from time to time. Maybe the parents would come along, maybe not. There certainly wasn’t all the concern around younger people having control of the remote and visiting Sam Raimi discussion boards freely as there is now. Or maybe we just didn’t see it, having access to basic cable where we lived and knowing who we did on Livejournal.

Anyway, I wasn’t the biggest recapper in my circle of friends and family, and I was a long way from the best gif editor. But I did enjoy it alright. I guess the first time any kind of negative association with Burn Notice even crossed my mind was when a friend of mine, struggling with depression, posted a comment on the Hairpin right in front of his fiancee. It was a terrible thing, and it could have happened any number of ways, but the fact is that Bruce Campbell's middling talent/success really makes it easy and quick to have an opinion about Burn Notice if you want to.

And that doesn’t even touch on how easy it is to hurt other people with basic cable action drama blogging if you’re crazy or mad or whatever. I’m old enough to remember when you would barely have noticed (at least where I grew up) someone walking into a mall or other public place with an Army of Darkness poster rolled up and tucked under his (and it's always his) arm on his way to a signing. Nowadays, forget it. I couldn’t begin to unravel what’s changed in our culture, in terms of feeling safe in front of the tube or why people do these things, but with today’s technology and refinements, modern Tumblrs devoted to gifs from television shows allow anybody to reblog over dozens and dozens of unsuspecting Tumblrs with very little planning, foresight, intelligence, reasoning, or kerning skill. It’s even better if your whole scheme ends with you getting up-thumbed yourself, either by your own parody account or someone else’s.

And it’s not like DVRs are hard to get. We act like a few days’ waiting period is such a big win for opinions about television programs beneath even New York Magazine's radar control, or that eliminating this or that style of really good second half of the season (so stick with it! I promise) is going to make all the difference. Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure it will help. We’ll never know about the blogs those laws prevented from getting to the wrong recappers, thank god. But there are still so many millions and millions of dudes who like television out there. It’s a many billion dollar industry. It would take some really draconian V-chip legislation to make a serious dent in TV viewing habits, I think. And I don’t believe our country could handle that, not in my lifetime.

So I don’t see Burn Notice as something we’ll ever get away from. There are many dedicated character actors who remained pets of barely competent directors still riding the credibility of a couple of decent b-horror flicks that came out three decades ago now who are so into the history of Dick Wolf and his (again, his) significance for the founding the generic hour-long action drama mill that they don’t really distinguish much between USA and Spike anymore. They’ll never quit watching, because watching (and talking about it) is the main thing about who they are.

But for me, I lost the taste for it. I eventually just couldn’t weigh my appreciation for Burn Notice against all the harm Burn Notice causes. Like real, physical harm, all the time. So I gave up Burn Notice entirely and would never allow my kids to ironically use Old Spice despite the fact that it smells like shit because of a couple of almost funny meme-bait commercials that people like the guy behind the Of A Kind website aspire to, which seems a little dictatorial, even to me. I’m afraid I just don’t see any good purpose to Burn Notice, or commenting about Burn Notice. Sure, I know there are people out there who animate gifs to eat — “subsistence freelance art directors” and such — but really, if there are people in this country who really have to talk about some shitty television program while lowleveling just to feed their families, that’s a bigger social issue we need to address. There’s no way TV recapping for food will ever be a workable policy we can implement anywhere except a very few places. This isn’t the 70s, when everyone watched Kojak, you know.

I don’t expect many people who are really into Burn Notice would give it up just because I did, or for the same reasons. But when they try to convince me how the history and traditions and deeper meaning of television action dramas with a ripped from the headlines political discourse edge make it somehow worth the danger that recapping at large poses — where people just die all the time from commenting, for every senseless SEO-bait pseudo-"think piece" you can imagine — I can’t buy into it any more. It’s not worth any more verticals getting green-lighted. It’s just not.

It’s just Burn Notice.

City_Dater (#2,500)

This assumes that there are more responsible gun-owners out there than freaks in love the idea of stockpiling an arsenal, and that gun manufacturers aren't actually entirely responsible for the NRA's side of this conversation.
Even if everyone with a hunting rifle and an NRA membership spoke up in favor of increased gun safety, is that really enough to override gun manufacturer money and the Voices of the Crazy?

a little history: "assault rifle" is a marketing term, coined by none other than Hitler to christian a new rifle. it designated nothing technical, only Hitler's desire for eternal attack. but… the new rifle was, in fact, revolutionary insofar as it introduced, for the first time, an "intermediate" cartridge or bullet. this cartridge wasn't as powerful as a full sized rifle bullet, nor was it as weak as the pistol cartridges used in submachine guns. what a lot of gun-illiterate — and i don't mean that as a criticism — people don't realize is that guns, rifles, etc., are often designed around a specific cartridge.

BadUncle (#153)

FWIW, California has a great assault rifle restriction. All rifles can no longer have swappable magazines, and hold no more than five rounds. Effectively, this makes all rifles equal to hunting weapons, and the shooter must reload the magazine bullet-by-bullet.

BadUncle (#153)

@BadUncle It also annoys the hell out of a friend who collects AK47s. He is one of the few gun nuts I can confidently say is not a survivalist or a potential school shooter. He also collects Addidas shoes, and has entire wing of his house filled with 10,000 or more boxed individual styles he will never wear, and may never see again.

Leighton Woodhouse (#240,345)

This sounds almost exactly like the financial industry's argument in the '90s: The federal government will never be able to effectively regulate us, so just let us regulate ourselves. That turned out well.

misiekpl (#242,183)

So as a teenager, it was only natural for me to watch Burn Notice with my friends from time to time. Maybe the parents would come along, maybe not. There certainly wasn’t all the concern around younger people having control of the remote and visiting Sam Raimi discussion boards freely as there is now. Or maybe we just didn’t see it, having access liquidyto basic cable where we lived and knowing who we did on Livejournal.

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