I may be called a hypocrite by some for this, but that’s OK. I’d rather be a hypocrite who’s willing to change than a stubborn jackass who’s not.
In short, my views on gun control have been evolving. Like a lot of people (not to justify it) I had an emotional, knee-jerk reaction to the shooting at Newtown, and in the month or two after, had a lot to say about gun control. With some time to reflect on that and do some more reading, I thought that my position had changed considerably, but after re-reading some posts—like this one and this one and then I read a book—I’m not sure I’ve changed my position as much as I thought I had. Granted, much of what I wrote at the time was in Facebook arguments that I don’t care to drag up again, but still.
Since then, as I said, I’ve done some reading and reflecting, and I’ve been to shooting ranges four different times. I suspect that will come as a surprise to some people with whom I’ve discussed gun control, because it often seems that people hear what they want: it seems to be a common belief that people who support some measure of gun control simply haven’t had the chance to become familiar with firearms and learn how to use them safely (and for some people, that is absolutely the case).
But, I’ve had the chance. As I’ve said before, I grew up in a family of hunters. My dad taught me to shoot his .22 rifle when I was 11 or 12, then the .22 pistol, and later a 12 gauge shotgun and .44 magnum revolver. More recently, I’ve rented a couple 9mm and .40SW pistols at the range, along with an M&P 15 (an AR-15, for the unfamiliar), and my Dad’s .30-30.
I feel like I need to preface anything I say about guns with all of this information: I have some idea what I’m talking about. Not as much as other people I know, but certainly more than the many people who have never shot.
Anyway: I’ve continued mulling things over since the post-Newtown debate flurry. I still believe that guns should be harder to get than they are. I checked with the shop above the range where I shoot, and they confirmed that the wait for a background check is only a couple minutes, so I could show up with a sweaty handful of cash and walk out with an AR-15 or a Glock, which is a bit unsettling. I still believe there are deeper societal ills that need to be addressed to bring down gun violence (I touched on that briefly in my last post: I don’t have any answers, but it seems like closing the wealth gap would go a long way to reducing violent crime).
I have come around on a few other things, though. For instance, assault rifles are used in a very low percentage of shootings; it makes no sense to spend time trying to ban assault weapons (and by the way, a bayonet lug is one of the criteria for an assault weapon. When was the last time someone was attacked with a freakin’ bayonet?) I debated the magazine capacity limit issue back and forth months ago, but have since been convinced that such limits won’t do anything to prevent mass shootings, since changing clips takes but a moment (hell, shooters at VA Tech and Columbine had backpacks full of low-capacity magazines, and it didn’t seem to stop them). That doesn’t mean I see either as necessary or appropriate: the hypothetical situations I’ve heard proposed as justifying either an AR-15 or a large-capacity clip have been decidedly convoluted. For example: “I want a clip that holds more than 10 rounds because if three or more people attack me at once, I’m likely to miss several shots in the confusion.” This argument tends to come shortly after the “larger magazines don’t matter because people can reload quickly” argument, which makes me wonder why you need a large magazine if it’s so easy to swap in a new one.
But, the size of the magazine isn’t the point. The point is that the size of the magazine is easy to debate, and easy for politicians to get their head around, and easy to propose legislation about. The impact on crime will be minimal at best, but more likely non-existent. Hell, here in Colorado, we can buy as many magazines as we want until July 1, when the 15-round limit goes into effect for any manufactured or sold magazines. The old ones that hold 30 or more rounds? Grandfathered in. How does that prevent crime? We’ve just spent a lot of time and money and energy to propose and attack and defend and debate these restrictions that ultimately won’t do anything, instead of spending that time and money and energy pursuing legislation or programs or something that could actually have a positive impact.
There are other areas where my opinion hasn’t changed. I don’t see any reason that background checks should not be required for every gun purchase. I don’t see any reason that gun owners shouldn’t be penalized in some way if they fail to properly secure their weapon, and it’s stolen and used in a crime. When I was a teenager, I had to take a ten-hour sportsman safety course before I could get a hunting license. The course covered basics of hunting—where to aim on the animal, how to field dress a deer, and so on—but also the more important aspects of basic gun safety and hunting and shooting laws that applied in the state and county. To get a driver’s license, I had to pass a written test, drive on a learner permit for six months, then past a practical test. I don’t think it’s unreasonable to require something similar before someone can purchase products that are, by design, the deadliest things one can buy.
I’m beginning to think that our problem is one with software, not hardware. In this metaphor, the guns are (of course) the hardware. Society is the software. Just as software runs on hardware, our society seems to run on weapons. We spend more more on our military than the next THIRTEEN countries, combined. Globally speaking, China is the #2 spender on their military: they have four times as many citizens and spend 1/6 what we do. Our police departments are becoming increasingly militarized, making use of SWAT teams more and more, and becoming better equipped by picking up armored vehicles that have been retired by the military. The percentage of US households with guns steadily declined from the 60’s until they started sharply rising a few years ago. The most popular weapon in the US is the AR-15, an assault rifle whether you like the name or not: regardless of its merits, it was originally designed for battle.
None of this is new information, but all of it indicates that we are, to a greater extent than I would like, a militarized society. I can’t help but wonder how much of it is just a feedback loop: the news gives us more sensationalized accounts of break-ins and armed robberies (giving the illusion that they happen far more often than they do), so more people buy guns to arm themselves. More guns in the wild result in more accidents, and make it easier for people like the kid in Newtown to get their hands on some and kill a bunch of people, so politicians try to limit gun ownership to reduce crime. People get worried about gun-grabbing lefties, so they go out and buy more weapons, or their first. This turns into a feedback loop of its own, as stores sell out of ammunition and people start buying as much as they can when they have the option…leading to more empty shelves, and thus more frantic buying, and so on and so on and so on.
I’m basically saying “guns don’t kill people, people kill people,” but in a much larger sense. It’s not just that a gun lacks the agency of a human shooter; it’s that people, collectively and repeatedly, kill people, and push other people to arm themselves in defense of a perceived threat. Personally, if my concern were defending myself, I wouldn’t buy a gun to protect my family from burglars; I’d buy it to protect myself from the other people buying guns to defend themselves. My biggest fear is that people who see gun control as an assault on their liberties will take matter in their own hands. Again, another feedback loop: I posted on Facebook a little while ago speculating that the rumored ammunition order placed by the Department of Homeland Security may have been in case of armed uprising. Maybe it’s just my perception, but it seems more and more people are getting pissed at the government—almost violently so—and I don’t much want to see where that road leads (though lately, I’ve seen more recall petitions of pro-gun-control legislators than I’ve seen “We didn’t come armed this time” protests).
I would like to buy a couple guns. Does that stand in direct opposition to other things I’ve said? Maybe. Going to the range again, I remember how much I loved target shooting as a kid. More recently, I’ve learned about sports like 3-gun, which sounds like a hell of a lot of fun. And, to a very minor extent, I am interested in self defense. The rate of violent crime may have fallen over the past thirty years, but changing gun laws mean more people are carrying concealed, more people support things like “stand your ground” laws (and remember, people are bastards, still), and more people are going to get shot…and I don’t want to be one of those people. My interest in arming myself is not based in fear, but in being prepared and ready for the worst (we can talk more about preppers later: that’s something else I’ve been reading a lot about), but also based in a desire to engage in a hobby that’s not on the computer (again: that’s another post altogether).