There is a common saying; there are two sides to every story. I disagree with that saying. I say there are usually at least two sides. Events last month in Newtown, Connecticut, the brutal slaying of six adults and twenty first-graders by Adam Lanza has resulted in an explosion of discussion on gun violence in this country. The two sides most often represented are the Anti-2nd Amendment cohorts and the NRA crowd. However, there is a third side to this debate,, a side that is often ignored by the main-stream press as it does not represent the extremes that sell papers and draw viewers. It is a side that firmly believes in the right of the responsible, law-abiding and capable American citizen to bear arms. At the same time, it is a side that firmly believes that it is our duty, as responsible, law-abiding and capable American citizens to come up with solutions to the problem of criminals possessing firearms.
Now, for the purpose of clarity and full disclosure, I have to identify myself. With the exception of eight years during which I served in the US Navy and Merchant Marines, I have carried a firearm pretty much all my adult life. I joined the U.S. Army Reserves at the age of 17 and joined a military police unit with the 304th Army Security Agency. After a year and half in the reserves, I was offered the opportunity to transfer from the Army Reserves to active duty Navy and I took it – there was a promotion involved. Then, after my eight years service in the Navy and Merchant Fleet, I carried a handgun as a Texas concealed handgun licensee.
I have never, in my civilian life been forced to use my weapon. I have, on two occasions, threatened deadly force. On both those occasions, the mere threat defused the situation – it also helps that I am, quite simply, physically intimidating when I want to be. I count myself fortunate that as a civilian, I have never had to take a life or even seriously injure someone defending myself or others. However, I count myself fortunate that I am able, as a responsible, law-abiding and capable American citizen to use a firearm as a tool, should I find it necessary.
I am a life-member of the NRA; I am also an NRA certified instructor and am awaiting my Range Safety Officer certification. No one in his or her right mind would ever accuse me of being anti-2nd Amendment. But do not let that fool you; I am not an NRA zealot. I think that often, the NRA is just as wrong as those who would support “gun control.” I believe that the political wing of the NRA has done, and has been doing for quite a while now a disservice to responsible, law-abiding and capable American firearms owners, whether they are members of the organization or not. I also believe it is a given that those of us who support the 2nd Amendment will never agree with those who believe that they should restrict the rights of responsible, law-abiding American citizens In lieu of punishing criminals. I have said this throughout this debate; the problem does not lie in the hardware – i.e. the firearm itself. The problem lies in the software – that is, the person with the gun. I have even seen articles blaming the military style video games that Lanza apparently enjoyed for the violence…folks, this was not caused by a video game, this, and the incidents like it, are caused by mental illness.
As long as we are making, or discussing laws related to the hardware, or to video games, or to violent TV shows we are ignoring the real issue. The real issue is not firearms, the real issue is mental health and the fact that American society discounts the value of mental health to the extent that we are willing to allow the mentally unstable to be in possession of items that have the potential to kill, maim and cause grievous bodily harm. The real issue is how a small percentage, a very small percentage of people, who are mentally unstable are able to gain access, or purchase firearms to commit their crimes.
The Right to Bear Clause
Pro gun enthusiasts love to focus on their “right to bear arms.” That is fine, but it seems to ignore the fact that the 2nd has TWO, not one clause. Let’s review;
Amendment II. 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.
The right to bear clause isn’t even the first part of the statement. There has been …who knows…hundreds of thousands if not millions of words used to analyze this part of our Bill of Rights, so I am not going to get too much into it here.
My purpose in mentioning it is simply to remind my brothers in arms that there is more to the argument than simply your right to own any firearm.
The Well Regulated Clause
Well, that’s pretty much what the rest of this article is about. The NRA’s problem is that they resist any and all regulation and recommend ridiculous solutions to complex problems. The problem with the various anti-gun groups is that when they say “regulation” they mean “elimination.” Those two things are NOT synonymous for the vast majority of people. Somewhere between Dodge City and Japan (a notoriously anti-gun nation) lies a “Well Regulated Militia.”
One argument I cannot agree with is the concept that the “well-regulated militia” refers not to the individual citizen, but to some sort of government run civilian militia akin to the National Guard or Army Reserves. I won’t go into why I don’t think that argument holds water, I’ll save that for another time, but sorry, that dog won’t hunt.
The NRA’s Response to Newtown
Let me get this out of the way right off the bat. The NRA’s response to Newtown is typical and disappointing. Once again, they are trying to solve the wrong problem. The main problem is not security of our schools; overall, our schools are very secure places where the vast majority of children are safe. The main problem is sociopaths getting their hands on any weapon and sneaking or shooting their way into places to kill and maim. While placing a police officer in every school is not a bad idea, it does not address the main problem nor does it have a basis in our current fiscal reality. According to the Institute for Education Sciences, there are 98,817 public schools in the United States.[i] The median wage for a patrol officer in the United States is $54,230.[ii] That means the median cost, for the salary alone to implement this plan would be $5,358,845,910.00.
How does a nation, already in an economic crisis, pay for this? Well, for one, you could put a tax on firearms and ammunition. You could, but that plan would fail. In spite of what people think, the domestic firearms industry does not bring in massive amounts of money. In fact, the pizza industry in 2010 brought in three times as much.
I do not completely disagree with the statement; “the only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.” This is especially true when the bad guy has decided that he will either kill himself or commit suicide by cop. Nevertheless, that statement only exists in a situation where in a bad guy – or a crazy person – can gain access to a firearm! We, as responsible gun owners must recognize the fact that there are people out there who should never be allowed access to a gun.
The NRA spent $13 million to defeat President Obama in this last election cycle. Imagine how many lives could have been saved, how many massacres could have been avoided, if only the focus of the NRA was away from party politics and towards really supporting the 2nd Amendment community. The real irony is that the NRA endorsed Mitt Romney, a man whose history simply proves that he is not a 2nd Amendment advocate and in fact, is more anti-gun than President Obama has ever been.
I firmly believe that the stance of the NRA and organizations like it – organizations that have become effectively right-wing mouthpieces – that will lead to more and more restrictive regulation than if we take a sane, moderate approach towards gun ownership in this country.
“Gun Free Zones” = “Free Shooting Galleries”
However, I firmly believe that places in which firearms, held by responsible law-abiding citizens are disallowed is a tacit approval for criminals, who do not give a damned about “gun free zones” to make victims of the people who are in those places. Two types of businesses and government entities do this. Businesses and government entities that are legally required to disallow the lawful carry of firearms on their premises are one thing. Businesses that voluntarily disallow are another. I generally do not do business with places that voluntarily refuse to allow responsible law-abiding citizens to carry on their premises. Someone will want to argue that these businesses and organizations have the right to do so. I do not disagree, they do. Just as I have the right to not give them my business. To be honest, I have never understood why any business would not want a well-vetted, law abiding, responsible armed citizen on their premises except out of ignorance and fear.
Perhaps the largest classification of “gun free” zones is schools. We declare schools gun free zones, but provide minimal security. A locked glass door and maybe a secretary at a sign in desk? I have yet to figure out how this will prevent a gunman, intent on doing harm, from doing harm when the police are minutes away. Churches, also areas where generally firearms are disallowed, are even worse and usually have no security whatsoever – excepting the mega-churches out there, but they are the exception. We also declare courtrooms gun free zones and what do they have? Metal detectors, cops and security at the door, cops on every floor, cops and bailiffs in the courtroom. Is it any wonder one does not hear about mass killings at the courthouse? Actually, it does happen, on March 14, 2012 the Jefferson County Courthouse in Beaumont, Texas became the scene where Bartholomew Granger, 41, on trial for sexual assault of a child, shot four people and killed one of them. His victims included his ex-wife and daughter, whom he shot; he also ran over his daughter with a truck. In the end, his own hostages disarmed him.
The next courthouse shooting I can find was in 2005 in Tyler, Texas. David Arroyo shot and killed his ex-wife and wounded his son with an AK style rifle.
However, NEITHER of these were the “active shooter” scenario that we see in schools and churches. Are they? These were both shooters with specific targets and not psychotics with intent to randomly kill people. Nor do they breach the agreed upon requirement for a mass shooting, or rampage killing which currently stands at four victims in a single incident. There may be some out there, but the difference is obvious. A school is a soft target; a courtroom most certainly is not.
In Defense of Self and Others.
Americans use firearms to defend themselves from crime between 1 million and 2.5 million times a year, again, depending on whom you ask. That means that every day, somewhere between 2700 – 6000 people defend themselves, their families, and yes, even strangers with firearms. Approximately 8% of those result in the actual firing of the weapon. Interviews of gun defenders in the National Self Defense Survey by Florida State University indicates that about 15% of these events could have resulted in serious bodily harm or the death of the defender or the people they were defending had they not been armed and capable. That means that every day something between 400 – 900 people save their own lives or the lives of others with a firearm. There is a new argument out which says that no one really knows if these numbers are accurate or not – this is after all just statistics, not an actual accounting and one can always find fault with statistics.
Media Coverage has turned this “activity” into a sporting event for psychopaths. The sad, pathetic individuals look for soft targets to get a higher body count than the guy before and the U.S. Media merely encourages that behavior with their sensationalist coverage of the event. Is it any wonder that copycats are on the rise?
The Media Lies About the Hardware.
Never mind that the agenda driven media has been spreading false information about the weapons involved in shootings for years. They try to claim that the .223 round, the most common AR-15 round is amazingly powerful. Then they turn around and say it is not powerful enough for sporting purposes, contradicting themselves and hoping no one notices. Truthfully, while the .223 round is powerful enough to kill a person, it is far from the most powerful round out there. In fact, it is on the low end of the power scale.
Let us be clear. What the media and the anti-2nd Amend crowd call “assault weapons” are NOTHING OF THE SORT. The term “assault weapon” came into being with the Clinton Assault Weapon Ban and is a legal fiction. I refuse to use it. There are assault rifles, like the M-16, M-4, Military AK-47 and their kin. Then there are “assault STYLE weapons” such as the AR-15 and civilianized AK-47. The difference between an assault rifles, (i.e. military issued M-4s) and an assault style weapon (i.e. a civilian owned AR-15) lies in its capability to sustain what is called “automatic fire” – the firing of more than a single round with a single pull of the trigger. This creates in a standard M-4 a rate of fire of 700-950 rounds per minute. A Bushmaster AR-15 has a maximum rate of fire of 45-90 rounds per minute, or at a best about 1/10th that of a true military assault rifle.
Again, the PROPER term for a civilianized AR-15 is “Assault STYLE Weapon.” I have heard the term “modern sporting rifle” bandied about, and I think that is a cop out. My AR-15 LOOKS LIKE an M-4 But has nowhere near the firepower capacity. On an operational note, if you are firing even that 45 rounds per minute, the lower maximum rate of fire for an AR-15, you A: just spraying lead, and B: very likely to experience a jam. A more REASONABLE rate of fire- one which allows a modicum of control and prevents jamming- is 12-15 rounds per minute (and that is for a M16-A2 that is capable of 800-900 rpm in full-auto). That is comparable to a Remington Model 7400 Semi-Automatic Hunting rifle. A rifle that can come in much more powerful calibers than .223. The designation of any semi-automatic rifles as an assault rifle is simply a legal fiction. There has NEVER been a mass killing with an actual assault rifle.
Colt started marketing the AR-15 for the civilian market in 1963. The AR-15 designation, after the military re-designated the rifle the M-16 –and its various analogues – has come to refer to a civilianized SEMI-AUTOMATIC rifle. NOT the fully automatic or three round burst M-16s and M-4s of the military. The NRA estimates that there are about 3 million AR-15s owned by citizens.[iii] However, I would not be surprised to find that number is actually low.
Let’s talk about semi-auto for just a little bit. Some think that a semi-automatic firearm is so much more deadly than anything else is. They are quite wrong. On August 1, 1966, Charles Whitman took the elevator to the top of the Clock Tower at the University of Texas. He had with him an arsenal of weapons. A sawed off 12-guage, a 9mm Luger, a .25 caliber pistol, a .357 revolver, a .30 caliber carbine, a .35 caliber pump action rifle, and two 6mm Bolt action hunting rifles. Ultimately, 16 people died in the tower shooting, 31 were wounded and Whitman murdered six people before the sniper attack. I cannot find a list of who was shot with what, but only one of the weapons was anything we would consider an assault style weapon, the M1. For which Whitman had two 30 round clips and one 15 round clip – all still full according to the Austin Police Dept. inventory. It is safe to assume that Whitman’s primary weapons were the two hunting rifles.
The NEED Argument
I do not, and will not accept the argument that a RESPONSIBLE, Law abiding, American citizen should not own a firearm of this – or any – nature. People who say firearms have one purpose, killing other people, are either ignorant, often willfully so, or they have an agenda. I use both my AR-15’s for hunting and I used my Bushmaster for target shooting and in a pinch home defense (though it is not my first choice). While I personally do not compete in marksmanship competitions, many do, and many use the AR-15 for that purpose.
The need argument goes something like; “The 2nd Amendment doesn’t say you can have any gun you want.” This is usually stated as a precursor for arguing for restrictions on what equipment should be available. The problem with this is that we live in a positivist legal society. One in which that which is not specifically restricted by common or statutory law, is implicitly allowed. Therefore, those who make this argument completely ignore the entire legal structure the United States. Do they do so out of ignorance? Or do they hope that who they are arguing against is ignorant? I do not know. Nevertheless, the need argument is ridiculous. If we do not have a law saying it is restricted, then it is allowed. That is the foundation of law in the United States. As the 2nd Amendment wisely does not address particular types of arms, then it becomes up to the common and statutory law to define that which is legal.
The Ammo Argument
As to the ammo argument, I have six 30 round magazines, loaded and in the safe with the Bushmaster. I have another 500 rounds loose. I have another four magazines, three 10 round, and one 5round of .50 Beowulf loaded and ready to go. Why? Am I expecting the Zombie Apocalypse? No (but if it did happen, my house WOULD BE the place to be). Am I planning a violent revolt against the government? No. Revolution is a young man’s game and I hate living in tents. Am I planning on someone kicking in my door to rob, kill, rape, etc. the wife and I? Well…maybe…but the AR is pretty far down my “Home Defense” weapon list. That’s not to say I won’t use it as such, but I’ll go for my handgun first, the shotgun next. Moreover, I’d never use the Beowulf (the other AR-15 system) for home defense unless the home was attacked by wild hogs, or … elephants…. (it’s a .50 caliber rifle).
THAT SAID. I keep that much ammo for those weapons because I will USE that much ammo when we go to the range. The last big redneck date[iv] we had, we expended over 1000 rounds of ammo with 5 weapons. I drop 200 rounds every single time I go the range – which hasn’t been as often as it should be of late. We don’t get to do that much these days because of the cost of ammo caused by the panicky red-neck morons who think Obama’s gonna take their guns away. .223 is ALREADY hard to find. I WISH I had bought another half-case before November.
So exactly why do I buy ammo in bulk if I am not a “prepper nutjob?” It is a helluva lot cheaper, that’s why. For .223 right now, it is a difference between .28 cents a round and .19 cents a round – and I’ve seen as low as .13 cents a round! When one shoots as much as I do, that is significant.
Though not right now. Right now, people are panicking and buying up all the ammo because they think the guv’ment is gonna take away their guns. Last time I was at the gun shop it looked like the Jung Horde had come through for both ammo and firearms.
The Responsibility Lies…
With us. The RESPONSIBLE, REASONABLE and WELL-EDUCATED American gun owner. It cannot lie with the Feinstein’s of the world, nor can it lie with the rabidly pro-gun advocates. Buddhists believe in a “middle way,” so do I.
However, we as responsible gun owners also must take the lead to ensure that the emotional reaction to this sad and disgusting event does not lead to a gutting of the rights of all responsible citizens to keep and bear arms. As responsible firearms owners, we clearly cannot rely on the NRA to take the lead here. They have allowed the dogma of firearms and the extreme right to take control of their organization and are seemingly incapable of responsible and reasonable thought.
It is possible, even likely that we, as gun owners will need to take on more responsibility. That may mean that you, as a gun owner, will need to incur the additional expense of purchasing a gun safe. Or, paying a sur-charge or tax to ensure that the background check system can locate and deny access to people with psychological issues. Or finding appropriate training for the firearm you wish to own. It may mean some inconvenience for you as a gun owner, to hopefully seriously inconvenience a criminal from committing yet another heinous act.
In the end, whether we go through yet another banning and prohibition cycle is up to us. We can do nothing and hope things work out, or we can present real, workable ideas to tighten our firearm security in this country.
Here are my recommendations:
There are a few things we can do right away, a few things that will take more time, and a few things that are unlikely to ever happen. These are just a few of my recommendations and do not represent all that I think could be done, merely, those things that I think could be done fairly easily and be effective;
- All firearms transfers should be subject to a background check. All transfers are to be done through a FFL who is allowed to make a reasonable charge for this service.
- A gun safe, locking cabinet or locking armory room is required if you own a firearm. Some way of securing the firearm outside a simple trigger lock is necessary.
- Persons who are disqualified from firearms ownership may not reside in a home in which there are firearms available, even if there are safeguards. Firearms in that home must be stored outside that home in a secure location in which disqualified person do not have access. Alternatively, the firearms may be permanently or temporarily transferred to an eligible person. Said transfer to be performed under the supervision of a local BATFE agent or law enforcement officer. Honestly, this law already exists at a federal level; it just needs to be enforced!
- Mandatory Training – It seems a bit self-serving of me, being an NRA instructor to say that training should be mandatory. However, I won’t not say it just because some people may accuse me of having my own agenda. The NRA already has a structure in place to teach people how to own and use firearms safely and proficiently. Additionally all children should be instructed, on at least a yearly basis on what to do should the come across a firearm. This training, which is training for safety and not for firearm use, starts with simply; “tell an adult!” should be universal. That leads us into …
- Universal Licensing – I know there are arguments against universal licensing, mostly from the pro-gun side of the street, and I don’t get it. Universal licensing ensures that the gun owner is qualified to own the firearm – i.e., they are “well-regulated” – and does away with concerns that the guv’ment is trackin’ our guns. Honestly I haven’t developed the details as of yet, but there should be a system, wherein, after the children are taught basic safety, the child at a certain age can actually be taught to safely use a firearm. Some people will be shocked at this idea, which I don’t get. What is better? Someone who is taught the proper respect for firearms through a formal training program? Or someone who is taught about firearms through TV and video games because the parents are too busy, too scared, or too ignorant to teach. Look, I started shooting young, was part of a formal shooting team at the age of 13 through my NJROTC unit at school.
- Explore the NRA’s proposition of increasing a police presence in our schools. While I personally do not think the idea is fiscally practical, maybe there is something we can do along those lines. How about a civilian marshal program? Something in which legal concealed handgun owners are trained to respond to active shooting situations and then volunteer as security in schools. There is even one school district in Texas, Harold ISD that since 2008 has allowed teachers with concealed handgun licenses and additional training carry on campus. I personally do not think that will work with all districts, but for a small rural district, it may be a good fix. But then again, it may be just the thing to harden schools as target…after all, if a shooter is given the choice of targets, one in which he knows that someone may have a firearm, and one in which he knows they do not…which one do you think he’s likely to choose?
[iv] A Redneck Date is what we call it when we all get together at the range. We jokingly call it “drinkin’ and shootin’”, but no drinking EVER goes on.