Hype and Hysteria

28 01 2013

I’ve been quiet for a while now, trying very hard to stay out of the storm of nonsense in the media about gun control. For reasons that presumably make sense to the media, only the most strident, idiotic, and unpleasant people on either side of the argument are permitted any airtime. This leaves the average citizen convinced that anyone discussing the issue is a rabid fanatic. Part of the problem is the fact that the two factions trying to discuss gun control aren’t speaking the same language. The lack of understanding by both sides tends to convince each group that the other is dealing dishonestly. Accordingly, I will begin with a basic glossary.

Automatic Weapon– Any weapon which fires continuously as long as the trigger is pulled.

Semi-Automatic Weapon– Also known as an “auto-loading weapon”, this weapon only fires once with each pull of the trigger. The recoil (or expanding gases from the cartridge discharging) ejects the casing of the cartridge which just fired. A spring forces the bolt back into position, loading another cartridge into the firing chamber in the process.

Magazine– The device which holds cartridges in the weapon. A detachable magazine is a magazine which can be removed from the weapon.

Clip– A device used to group cartridges together until inserted into a weapon’s magazine. Several common firearms use clips to load cartridges into non-detachable magazines, including the SKS and M-1 Garand.

Cartridges– Also called “rounds”, this is the most common type of ammunition in use. A metal cylinder holds a primer and a chemical propellant sealed behind a projectile called a “bullet”.

Assault Rifle– Contrary to popular opinion, there is a precise definition for this term. An Assault Rifle is a fully-automatic weapon which fires a light or medium-caliber cartridge and has a detachable magazine.

Battle Rifle– A large-caliber rifle which may be designed to accept either magazines or clips.

Caliber– The designation of the weapon’s bore diameter in either fractions of an inch (.223, .308. .45, etc) or in millimeters (5.56 mm, 7.62 mm, 9 mm, etc). Note that many firearms share the same bore diameter, but the cartridge casing may be much longer. Hence the intermediate cartridge 7.62 x 39 mm (commonly used in many rifles, including the AK-47) is not the same as the large cartridge 7.62 x 51 mm (also known as the .308, and commonly used in many rifles- including battle rifles and hunting rifles).

Assault Weapon– An artificial term for any semi-automatic firearm which superficially resembles a military firearm. This term is easy to confuse with Assault Rifle, despite their differences. To qualify as an “assault weapon”, various cosmetic accessories are all that are required to convert a “normal” firearm into an “assault weapon”.

Gun Show Loophole– A misnomer describing a design flaw in the national instant background check system. Any private citizen may sell a firearm to any other private citizen without requiring a background check (which is required whenever a firearm is purchased from a licensed firearms dealer). This was due to the way the instant background check system was set up, and private citizens were deliberately excluded from using the system by design.

High-Capacity Magazine– Another made-up term whose meaning depends on which side you ask. For firearms owners and enthusiasts, high-capacity magazines are those which hold cartridges in excess of the magazine the weapon was designed for. For those opposed to civilian firearms ownership, high-capacity means any magazine which holds more than some arbitrary number of cartridges ranging from 3 to 10.

Concealed Carry– In most states, citizens who wish to carry a concealed weapon must apply for a license to do so. Details vary by jurisdiction, but an extensive criminal and mental background investigation is common. Applicants are often required to take mandatory training in firearms safety before being issued a license.

Open Carry– The opposite of concealed carry. Wearing a firearm openly, for all to see. This is legal in some states, although a license may be required.

All clear now? Everybody speaking the same language at last? Now, let us discuss gun control.

The sheer hysteria generated whenever the words “gun control” are uttered is almost staggering. Those in favor of unrestricted firearms ownership immediately begin snarling nonsense about “cold dead fingers”, while those in favor of complete civilian disarmament start referring to the size of gun owners’ genitalia. There could be a middle ground, but the extremists on either side are drowning out everyone who might be willing to find one. People on one side are shrieking that “we have to do something!” while people on the other side feel like they’re being punished when they haven’t done anything wrong.

Let us start with some facts. There are roughly 300 million firearms owned by civilians in this country. The number of civilians owning firearms is estimated to be roughly 60 million, indicating that each firearms owner owns an average of five weapons (this is far from the case, but the minority who own dozens of firearms skew the average number high). There are approximately 10 million civilians licensed to carry concealed firearms in the US (note that some states have no licensing requirement for concealed carry, and this may skew the average low). In 2010, there were approximately 8,000 murders committed using firearms (roughly 6,000 by pistol, 350 by rifle, and 1,900 by “unreported type”). Two-thirds of all deaths caused by firearms (approximately 20,000 per year) are suicides. The FBI data shows that citizens with concealed carry licenses are less likely to commit a crime than almost any other group in the country- specifically including police officers.

If we’re going to talk about gun control, where do we start? By far the most common firearm used to commit murder is the pistol. Should we make all pistols illegal? Should we, the People, prohibit the manufacture, sale, and distribution of a product involved in the deaths of 6,000 people a year? If you answer “YES” to that question, does this answer hold for any such product, or are firearms somehow a special case? If pistols are the type of firearm used in most murders, why is the loudest hue and cry about so-called “assault weapons”?

Speaking of “assault weapons”, why is this firearm okay:


but this firearm:

Evil Mini-14

a tool of the devil?

For those of you playing at home, they are the same rifle. The first one is the standard Ruger Mini-14 Ranch Rifle. It is a semi-automatic rifle with a detachable magazine. The second image is also a Ruger Mini-14 Ranch Rifle, but it has a bunch of accessories that make it look scary. Those accessories have no effect on how the weapon operates or how deadly it is, no matter what Senator Feinstein’s opinion may be. The pistol grip and collapsible stock make the weapon more comfortable to hold, and the attachment points on the fore-end are to enable easy attachment of accessories like a scope or light.

Here’s another pop quiz. Which of the following firearms is the most powerful?

AR15 Garand

They are both semi-automatic rifles, by the way. Far too many people have been nattering away about how the scary “assault weapon” (the first picture, obviously- the evil AR-15) is just too powerful to be owned by civilians. The AR-15 fires a .223 caliber cartridge. The “normal” appearing rifle beneath it is the M-1 Garand, which fires a 30-06 cartridge. For those of you unfamiliar with firearms, the Garand has more than twice the energy per shot than the AR-15. No one is talking about banning the M-1 Garand. In fact, the US Government has a long-standing program wherein the Government will provide ordinary citizens with a Garand if they join the Civilian Marksmanship Program.

Okay, fine. You must talk about dealing with the scourge of “assault weapons”. I have a couple of suggestions for gun control measures.

Suggestion 1– Since everyone seems to be terrified of the scary black guns, why not make ’em pink? Start a government program to prohibit the sale of any civilian version of military weapons unless the weapon is permanently neon pink. Anyone who so desires may trade in their existing scary black gun for a brand new neon pink one. The government would have to subsidize the trade-ins, of course, similar to the “cash for clunkers” program for old cars. The manufacturer could either destroy the traded-in scary black guns in return for tax credits, make them permanently pink to comply with the law and re-sell ’em, or ship them overseas.

The beauty of this scheme is the fact that everyone wins, and everyone will hate it. The folks opposed to civilian firearms ownership will be happier because there will be fewer scary black guns on the streets, but they won’t like the fact that there will still be firearms in civilian hands. Rational firearms enthusiasts won’t care much about the color if the weapons still function properly, so they can still enjoy their shooting sports. The pin-heads who seem to think they need a gun to be macho won’t touch a pink gun, so there will be even fewer of them in circulation (and the ones in circulation won’t be in the hands of weak-minded idiots). We could stimulate manufacturing and possibly ease the unemployment rate with one program.

Suggestion 2– Citizens can only own firearms equivalent to what law enforcement is permitted. Any weapon the cops can have, ordinary citizens can have. I’ve written before about the increasing militarization of civilian law enforcement. Get fully-automatic weapons out of the hands of civilian law enforcement- they have no need for them. The military needs full-auto weapons, because their job is supporting the government’s decision by force. This frequently involves full-scale combat against unfriendly strangers armed with automatic weapons. The police are supposed to enforce the law. Period. 40% of police vehicles in the US are supposedly equipped with AR-15 rifles. If true, removing identical weapons from ordinary civilians means the police aren’t being held to the same standards. This tends to encourage abuses of authority, and we already have too much of that.

Suggestion 3– Make the instant background check system as close to free as possible and require all firearms purchases to go through the check -even for private parties. Require a nation-wide 3-day waiting period before taking possession of a handgun, with the exception of those with concealed weapons licenses. Require all states to meet minimum standards for issuing concealed weapons licenses, and make every state treat a concealed carry license with the same deference accorded to driver’s licenses.

There you have it. Three solid suggestions for reducing the odds of another spree killing, while still allowing citizens to own and bear arms. Any one of the suggestions should also work whether or not any other is also implemented, and they should all pass Constitutional muster with the Nine Worthies.

Current status: Irked

Current Music: Fame by David Bowie