Friday, December 21, 2012

An Assault on Intelligence

By now you’ve weathered the global wire’s blast furnace regarding the shooting that took place last week at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut.  The news media have covered it relentlessly, it has been the forefront topic of table conversation everywhere you dined, and it’s likely you can’t open any of your social network interfaces (or is it interfeces?!) without someone’s soapboxed opinion repeated ad nauseum via one of those passé clipart memes.  Suffice to say I’m still shocked, troubled, angry, sad, and a host of other emotions that we all likely share.  I am also something else—curious.

The media would have you believe school shootings are a new phenomena, or at least, something that has escalated in the past dozen or so years.  By appearances alone this is somewhat truthful.  In fact, school shootings and other acts of terrorism by mentally compromised gunmen have been ongoing since guns became readily available.  Just as those victims in the 2011 Norway attacks, Virginia Tech Massacre in 2007, Columbine, and going back further to the 1966 University of Texas tower sniper, met their fate, so did others much longer ago.  Researching these cases, just about every firearm category was utilized, some more effectively than others.  Clearly, however, if someone wants to cause harm, there is no shortage of ways to do so.  Easily one could conclude that banning one of the more efficient types (assault rifles) would greatly reduce body counts.  I’m not so sure.

“If guns are outlawed…”

Hand’s up—who has a friend on Facebook or Twitter who is right now preaching woe if assault rifles are banned?  I have several.  Good people too, and I fully appreciate their passion and enthusiasm in defense of…defense.  Yet, some of them may be slightly too feverish in their solutions, or so it would seem.

“Put four fully armed marines in every school.”
“We armed the pilots; arm the teachers!”
“Arm everybody!”
“Forks made me fat!”

…and the other side screams:

“Ban all guns!”
“Weapons of war have no place in the home.”
“Look at Europe’s gun death rate!”
“Do something!  Do anything!”

Such extremes.  Yet, some teachers are already armed in some Texas schools.  Texas!  Does that surprise anyone?  Maybe they’re on to something, but let’s hop into Baumgartner's handy helium balloon and ascend to the 128,000ft view.  Are we paying way too much attention to violent death and its media sensationalism in the first place?  I mean, let’s have a frank and honest perspective here:  We’re talking about 26 people that were senselessly killed by a senseless maniac.  Okay, now add all those other “notable shootings” listed above and you might achieve a toll of 100.  Around 100 fatalities and countless thousands are maimed on a daily basis driving on America’s roads.  A large percentage of those are done in by maniacs of the drunk persuasion.  How about preventable medical errors?  Now we’re talking about hundreds of thousands each year.  Pharmageddon has been around for quite some time, yet no public outcry, no visits from the President, no round-the-clock journalism, and not even a faint yawn or byline in the local obituaries.  Well, that’s another gripe entirely, so let’s get back to guns…because guns are a cool topic.  Yeah – guns!  (because I don’t see a ban on cars coming anytime soon, or doctors for that matter)

It’s every law-abiding American’s right by the Second Amendment to keep and bear arms.  Now what did our founding fathers mean by “arms” exactly?  Oh, well, let’s not lift Pandora’s box lid, shall we?  Instead let’s limit the discussion to the commonly defined (hear the angels hark) “assault rifle”.  What is that, exactly?

Hold it!

Evidently, there is some ambiguity with the term “assault weapon” that many news organizations regularly interchange with “assault rifle”.  While assault rifles are military-looking weapons, they are not necessarily military-grade firearms until they fire military-grade ammunition.  For the sake of saving another essay on that topic, let’s classify assault rifles as those typically designed for military use, and not for hunting or classic home defense.  M-16, AK-47, and MP5, for example, are classic assault rifles used by the world’s military and law enforcement.  Make them semi-automatic (fires one round per trigger actuation) with lower-grade ammo, and you have a devastating weapon legal for civilian purchase.  The real question is, are these weapons truly necessary or practical for personal defense or hunting.

Let’s be honest here; who goes hunting with an assault rifle?  My father is an avid outdoorsman, with countless writing credits in shooting sports.  His hands have been wrapped around an untold variety of firearms for nearly seven decades.  I’ve listened intently at another incalculable number of hunting anecdotes, and never once was an assault rifle mentioned in the same paragraph with hunting.  Yet, I have no doubt that someone somewhere is hunting with an AR-15 just to make a point.  But is it practical?  I’d enjoy some debate on this topic.  I think it would be rather entertaining!

My take is this:  For hunting in general, the traditional tools do the job much more effectively than those meant for the battleground.  If you need a 30-round clip to bring down your trophy buck, you’re doing it wrong.  I don’t think a Barrett M107 .50cal sniper rifle is the best choice for ducks either, although one might enjoy the entertainment in the process.  Oh, that’s a visual to cleanse!  What about defending the home?  Granted, some assault would be quite punitive for an intruder, or a dozen of them for that matter.  But tell me, just how accessible is your presumably loaded assault rifle from any point in the house?  Hopefully you’ll have the time to grab it and aim in tight quarters.  Doesn’t a handgun make more sense?  What about nifty 12 gauge shotgun with a short barrel?  Yes, tell me what you think works best in every situation, including those if you’re running about in public.       

“T, you’re missing the point.  This is about our freedom.”

Freedom, yes.  Freedom to own, freedom of choice, and the pursuit to maintain freedom.  Why do we—American civilians, that is—feel like we need weapons of war in our possession in the first place?  Some of you will automatically spew coffee at that question.  “Don’t forget how this country came to existence!”  Ah, militia.  The answer, or rather, deterrent to a totalitarian government.  We must be armed—well armed—to prevent a corrupt regime from using the military against its citizens.  Likewise, should our military fail in war, would-be invaders must know the hell that awaits—every citizen with a gun pointed at you, including our children.  Sorry, no.  This is utter fantasy.

Reality Check: We’re not living in the times of the musket or Minié ball.  There is so much disparity between consumer firearms and military hardware today, any civilian resistance in a total war scenario equals a speedy extermination.  If their conventional weaponry wasn’t enough, the government has chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons at its disposal.  Yeah, good luck with your badass rifle, kid.  Red Dawn won’t play like the movie.  Your only realistic chance is diplomacy, and, if I may paraphrase an old golf adage, “Wars must first be fought in the mind.”   
Society’s to blame!

That sounds very much like a line in an old Monty Python skit, only I’m not laughing.  President Obama has a new mission, you know.  Although he hasn’t quite delineated his exact plan, the word on the street says he’s pushing a new ban on assault weapons…er…rifles.  Or was it weapons?  We may never know, actually, since we’re all dead according to some Myan calendar sots—or perhaps it’s that Joe Biden has been assigned to front Obama’s gun control policy.  Yep, society failed those poor kids at Sandy Hook.  It’s our fault and we could have done something about it.  Maybe.  Never mind the lunatic who actually pulled the trigger repeatedly.

Okay, I admit it; I admire Ronald Reagan’s ability to put things in perspective.

“We must reject the idea that every time a law's broken, society is guilty rather than the lawbreaker.  It is time to restore the American precept that each individual is accountable for his actions.”

Accountable, yes.  Accounted?  That’s debatable.  Blame the guns first, then another extroverted reason; medications, substance abuse, psychological condition, etc.  Whatever; just don’t blame the actual killer.  It’s not their fault!

Sarcasm aside, obviously the reason for anyone embarking on a shooting rampage is much more complex than any one factor.  60 Minutes mentioned a “path to violence” this past Sunday in a piece on Sandy Hook.  They referenced that same phrase on a show that aired January 16, 2011 discussing commonalities with 83 actual and would-be assassins.  It’s never one factor alone.  Firearms are but one facet of a complex explanation.  For politicians however, gun legislation offers the best bang for the public appeasement buck, and contains the least path of resistance.  That is, compared to the other elephants in the room.

“Why no discussion on family values?”

I overheard that question this past weekend.  The person exasperated at the knee-jerk demand for new assault rifle bans.  And, there is an ocean of truth in that question, but the answer is simple.  Per above, it’s political quicksand.  Think of it as attempting to instruct another parent on how best they should raise their children.  Again, fantasyland.

Medication issues?  Maybe.  Tough lobby to crack.  Substance abuse?  Rare.  What about early detection and constant vigilance?  Please, let’s not highlight the obvious!  What about exposure to violence at an improper age?  Are we creating murderers from our youth via violent video games and graphic television?  Is this part of the “path to violence?”  Wait.  Before I get thrown into any group, I don’t believe for one moment that violent games compel little Timmy to pilfer his father’s gun cabinet and massacre an entire church.  I do, however, believe that graphically violent games desensitize players somewhat.  Look, a dead body!  Big deal, I create those by the hundreds every five minutes, and mine are much more gruesome.  Yours smells though.  Points for that.


Getting back to the heart of this discussion, with regard to assault rifle ownership, how do you see their future?

Realistically, Congress will seek pacifying legislation for gun control, and if that bill is reasonable, it will pass.  “Reasonable”, to me, means no outright ban on assault weapons/rifles, but loophole closures, tougher ownership barriers, including increased regulation and taxation, and the creation of a special research task force on prevention.  The politicians get their win, and so do the majority of assault rifle enthusiasts who won’t lose their weapons.

Will that prevent another shooting spree?  Of course not.  It only has to prevent one.  The others must be prevented by culture migration.  That job, in my opinion, must begin with conscious, responsible journalism.

“..first won in the mind."    


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T. Nelson Taylor | Official Site | DusT | Bolita