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I served three years in the U.S. Army. I've fired bigger guns than the gun fetishists would ever dream of firing—from a .45, to an M-16, to an M-60, to an M-203 grenade launcher, to a .50 caliber, to ... one of these:
Down in Kuwait, those on guard duty were given live ammo, but even then safety barriers were erected to prevent accidental shootings, as former cavalry soldier John Cole recounts:
[I]n the middle of one of the most dangerous regions in the world, even with clear Rules of Engagement, every time I went on gate duty, there was a piece of tape over my ammo clip on my M-16 and M1911 .45. Why? Because the most heavily armed military in the world did not want accidental shootings. If a situation arose, I would have to eject my ammo clip, remove the tape, and reinsert and work the action before I could fire.And that's the crux of it—a bunch of civilian gun fetishists who fashion themselves the front lines in the defense of freedom from tyranny of something or other. Black helicopters? The U.N.? Barney Frank?
This was in a combat zone. Yet I have spent the last two fucking days dealing with armchair commandos telling me they need unlimited firepower to be safe in… Connecticut.
The “tactical” turn is what I want to flag here. It has what I take to be a very specific use-case, but it’s used - liberally - by gun owners outside of the military, outside of law enforcement, outside (if you’ll indulge me) of any conceivable reality-based community: these folks talk in terms of “tactical” weapons, “tactical” scenarios, “tactical applications,” and so on. It’s the lingua franca of gun shops, gun ranges, gun forums, and gun-oriented Youtube videos. (My god, you should see what’s out there on You Tube!) Which begs my question: in precisely which “tactical” scenarios do all of these lunatics imagine that they’re going to use their matte-black, suppressor-fitted, flashlight-ready tactical weapons?People don't really buy assault rifles to hunt. If you can't take down that deer with a single shot, then you have no business hunting. Learn how to fucking aim.
Of course, we can sit here and lambast this new "tactical" culture all we want, but what can be done about it?
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Both England and Australia enacted bans of varying levels after their own spate of gun massacres, and those efforts have paid off. People aren't getting mass murdered in schools and malls anymore. But those two nations didn't have anything akin the Second Amendment putting a break on controlling access to weaponry. We, on the other hand, have a culture that fetishizes guns, a gun lobby that has effectively neutered any effort at sensible gun laws, and a Supreme Court that has encroached on the right of cities and states to regulate gun access by ignoring the "well regulated" part of the Second Amendment.
But all the past massacres had a fraction of the impact of Friday's. There's is something so viscerally sickening about young children being harmed in any way, that it can't help but be different. There's a coming debate, and it's not going to be good for the gun absolutists. That doesn't mean they'll lose. The gun lobby is strong, and they're about to mount the mother of all defenses. But it means that they'll be put on the spot in a way that they haven't been in ... forever.
Part of it is their own short-sighted greed. If they were an organization truly focused on self-defense and hunting, there'd be no need to fight tooth-and-nail for high-capacity magazines, or for armor-piercing bullets, or for assault rifle ownership. Let people own their hunting rifles and revolvers. People somehow made do with those for several centuries. But there's no need for a weapon with a magazine.
Adam Lanza used an assault rifle to shoot his way past a locked door. He then moved quickly to neutralize the administration office before doing his horrible deeds in two classrooms. He only stopped and turned a gun on himself when police arrived. Take away that rifle, and shooting his way past the front door would've required a reload. Attacking the administration would require a reload. Attacking the two classrooms would require multiple reloads. Those reloads would've been chances for people to try and take him down, or for people to escape. The time he would've spent reloading would've slowed him down, shortening the number of victims in the attack before first-responders arrived on scene.
[Clarification: Lanza clearly had to reload during his attack. I meant the difference between swapping out a 20-30-round magazine, to reloading individual bullets into a revolver or cartridges in a rifle.]
But no, his idiot "survivalist" mother (how'd that work out for her?) had to purchase her small arsenal, to protect herself against phantom threats on her "freedoms"—urged on by Fox News and Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck and the gun manufacturers. And instead, she ensured her own untimely doom and that of too many innocents.
So yeah, if I were the benevolent dictator of this country, I'd simply outlaw guns with magazines. That would leave plenty of guns for people to hunt with and defend their homes. As for government tyranny, good luck fighting off government drones with your assault rifle. It hasn't gone so well for Al Qaida, I hear. Might as well stick to the ballot box. I'd also spend a crap-ton of cash on mental health services. But you'll never get rid of dangerously crazy people. You can get rid of ways they can inflict the most harm.
Of course, you have a conservative movement and its NRA friends who think that 20 dead kindergarteners is an acceptable price to pay for their "freedom" to own weapons better suited for highly trained security forces. You have have a conservative movement that would fight to its last breath for those 20 when they were fetuses, but can't bring itself to get outraged once they were born. You have a conservative movement that will now scream about liberals "politicizing a tragedy" to take away their guns—validating every Obama conspiracy theory they've held since Day One of his presidency. As if we'd give a shit about their stupid guns if innocents weren't regularly dying because of them.
The gun lobby may yet win this battle, but I don't think it's as forgone a conclusion as in the past. There has been a palpable change in the public mood on the issue. And as the political world learned last year—Democrats can win without the gun-fetishists, while Republicans can't afford to cede more ground in white suburbia—where pro-gun control sentiment runs strong. The NRA can't wield the electoral card as strongly as it once did.
And note, every person who comes out in favor of the status quo, who fights sensible regulation, will be fighting for a status quo that gave us the Sandy Hook massacre. There are gun laws that could've prevented or mitigated the damage done. Let them say that the deaths of those children—and the adults who died trying to save them—was an acceptable price to pay for their supposed "freedoms" to wield whatever arsenal they see fit. There are 20 sets of presents in a small Connecticut town that won't be opened this Christmas. Let the NRA and their friends shrug that off.
This time, it won't be the popular—or politically expedient—position to hold.