Good Guns….Bad Guns….

Most ­­­of you know, by now, that I don’t like to clog up this blog with too much political banter or opinion.  I’m no political scientist who can offer relatively-educated insight into such matters.  And I’m certainly no historian who can offer historical context and precedence to the issues.

Except of course that I’m both.  Completely.

Today a friend of mine asked me what the whole deal is with gun owners and their defensive stance against gun regulation.  In order to avoid confusion, let me include his exact quote:

“So why do gun dudes get crazy about banning guns that are meant for battle fields?”

This, of course, sprung forth from a question raised at the Presidential debate last night.  The question last night was phrased so as to elicit a response as to what either candidate would do to limit access to what the questioner referred to as “assault weapons.”  In order to attempt to address this issue, I’m going to break it into a few smaller issues and hope that I can answer my friend’s question.

First, let me address exactly what an “assault weapon” is:

1) It is redundant, in that any weapon is, by definition, designed for assault.  Examples of “assault weapons” include, but are not limited to: high-powered rifles, shoulder launched missiles, nuclear submarines, slingshots and hurled rocks.

2) It is a political construct.  An “assault weapon,” as is likely referred to by this question, is probably actually a rifle, we’ll say an AR-15 variant (for reference only).  This rifle uses a 30 round, detachable magazine, which means it holds 30 bullets and can kill people. Meanwhile, a Remington 700 hunting rifle holds six bullets and can kill people.  But only one of these is considered an assault rifle/weapon.  (note: the AR does not stand for Assault Rifle, as some would have you believe.  It is a reference to the gun’s original manufacturer, ARmalite.)

However, for me at least, the issue of attempting to ban assault weapons doesn’t boil down to high-capacity magazines or full-automatic machine guns or anything like that.  I prefer to look at this as a purely constitutional issue.  The Second Amendment protects out right to keep and bear arms.  The bit about a “well-regulated militia being necessary” does not imply that only such militias have the right to possess firearms.  To limit this Constitutional right based on one group’s definition of a certain type of firearm is tantamount to protecting one’s right to be Catholic, but banning them from reading the Old Testament (it’s all war and sex and that’s bad for society).

Many people consider the First Amendment to protect the most sacred of our rights: freedom of speech.  The amendment is trotted out every time someone tries to ban a book or protest rally or “hate speech” or pornography (I know it when I see it) or anything that might offend a segment of the population.  Fine, I’m good with that.  My query is: how is defending the First Amendment so much more vital and accepted than defending the Second?  Do you defend the First but only insomuch as it doesn’t protect books like Catcher in the Rye or the Turner Diaries, both of which have been cited as inspiring acts of violence?  Defenders can say that books are only books and it is up to the reader to make the horrible next step towards violence.

But therein lies the problem.  Is that not a double standard?  You defend a book or writing as just a thing that is open to interpretation and not necessarily a tool of violence.  While at the same time declaring that the only reason a person might want an “assault weapon” is to carry out a massacre somewhere. I’m not a religious person, but I’m sure I own a Bible somewhere, and I assure you it is not preparing me to wage war against Egypt or kill the first born sons of Israel.  I also own a rifle, but I assure you it is not preparing me to shoot at anybody.

I will say, though, that I don’t necessarily think everyone should own tons of guns and buy guns just for the sake of buying them.  I also don’t think the KKK should run their mouths about why they hate everybody.  But that doesn’t mean that they shouldn’t have the right to do so.

I own two guns currently which I use on a semi-regular basis for competition shooting.  I go out every so often and put holes in cardboard cut outs and knock over steel plates.  I’ve never hunted a living thing in my life, and I don’t really have any intention of starting.  It’s just not my thing.  If a bad guy attacks me or my family or my friends or even a complete stranger though, I hope I have the awareness and strength to use my weapon in their defense.  And I won’t hesitate to do so.

Let’s also keep in mind that a number of gun controls and regulations already exist in a number of states.  California has some of the strictest controls on firearms of any state in the Union, including bans on high-capacity magazines and the requirement for what is called a “bullet button” on rifles.  Yet in 2010, California had nearly 50% MORE homicides by firearm than Texas (1,257 vs. 805).  Arizona, with some of the loosest gun laws in the U.S. recorded 232 firearm deaths in 2010.  Per 100,000 population, Washington, DC had the highest firearm murder rate in the country…in a city where private ownership of firearms was legislatively outlawed until recently.  As of Oct. 2, Chicago (insanely strict gun laws) has recorded 400 murders this year.  After the 2008 Heller v. D.C. case (which loosened gun ownership laws in D.C.) the firearm crime rate in the city fell two-and-a-half times faster than the national average.  I know, I know, correlation does not equal causation.

Before turning this piece into an insane research paper fifty pages long, let me just close with this little bit: gun control and regulation just plain aren’t popular.  Gallup polls over the past decade have shown support for stricter laws fall from around 80% in the mid-90s to less than 50% in the late 2000’s.  It is the hottest of political hot button issues.  That said, strict regulations and “assault weapon” bans have absolutely zero possibility of being passed in a split legislature and very few members of Congress would risk their political futures to push the issue with much aplomb.

So really, the entire argument is moot.  But I went there anyway.  Hope this helps, Spike.