On the Saturday before Christmas I had the misfortune to overhear a loud conversation in one of my little mountain town's two pawn shops. Several men were discussing the availability of Bushmaster AR-15 rifles, the type used in most of the recent massacres. Apparently, sales have increased so much that the weapons are available only at three times the price, if at all. This was a source of great consternation and woe for the pawn shop men, but for me the conversation was nauseating. Twenty babies -- 6 to 8 year olds -- were executed using exactly this type of weapon, and the only thing that mattered was how soon and at what price it could be bought.
As a hunter since the age of 8, I have used and owned several rifles designed to harvest deer and elk and various birds. Never once did I need or even desire a 100 round magazine or a rapid-fire semi-automatic assault weapon to do so, nor does any other hunter I know. There is no legitimate argument from hunting here.
So why the intense desire for such guns, and the equally intense fear of their loss? Basically it can be boiled down to two rationales: the love of guns, and fear of the government, with the two often overlapping.
Weapons like the AR-15 have a "coolness factor" designed to specifically reference military technology. As engineered machines designed to deliver rounds quickly and accurately, they are impressive. Think lethal iPhones. Or Iron Man. These products are deftly made to spark just such fascination. And it works. U.S. weapons manufacturers boast annual sales of over $6 billion a year in a tightly concentrated industry.
The idea of caching weapons to form an anti-goverment militia is deeply disturbing. Beside encouraging a hatred and fear of ourselves that divides us even further, it fuels a paranoia that gun manufacturers and talk show hosts are only too willing to exploit, as it makes them lots of money. True believers often cite historical precedents for disastrous gun control, but such notions are overblown fantasies, fanned by ideologues to further their own ends. The Third Reich, for example, actually deregulated gun ownership. Claims of the U.S. following that slippery slope are quite overblown.
The idea I've sketched above would allow weapons more than sufficient for hunting anything you'd want to hunt, and for effectively defending yourself in your home -- in my book the only reasons anyone should need a gun, besides as sentimental keepsakes or legitimate collector's items with real historical value.
Limiting handguns to revolvers only would solve two issues -- high-capacity magazines such as are used in Glocks and the like, and reloading time. Nobody (outside of a tiny few professionals) reloads a revolver as fast as you can a magazined pistol (which, btw, can be modified to full automatic pretty easily.)
The bottom line -- guns are very useful, efficient tools for food gathering and defense, and the vast majority of folks who own them are responsible people who are just as horrified as any of us over these mass killings. But the saturation of our culture with what really amounts to nothing more than lethal toys has become too great a weight to bear.
My proposal, or any of the ideas floated by the president, are certainly not foolproof, and enactment of them alone won't stop another massacre. But it will, over time, make it much more difficult for guys like Lanza to get their hands on weapons. Gun regulation is only one part of a comprehensive solution that includes mental health reform and enforcement of the many gun laws already on the books currently gutted by NRA-inspired legislation.
The right to own firearms, like the right to free speech, is not absolute. There are limits well-defined by law for the first, and we have now reached a point in our history where we need to rethink the second. We need to police ourselves more strictly.
Sacrifice for the common good, not paranoid fear of oppression, is what marks us as Americans and patriots. We don't need powerfully lethal security blankets like AR-15s. They corrode our self-worth by replacing courage with firepower, and encouraging fearfulness. That's not us. As Murrow said, "if we look deep into our history and our doctrine, [we will] remember that we are not descended from fearful men."
Let's prove him right.
UPDATE: Apparently the "automatic Glock"Youtube video I posted earlier was not that of a fully automatic pistol, but one demonstrative a techniques called "bump firing." While I fully admit I was not aware of this technique, I have to say it's pretty scary that it does work, even if inaccurate, and is even more reason to ban these types of handguns.
As we go forward debating this issue, it's important for those of us who really know these weapons inside and out to help the rest of us understand their potential. Thank you.
For the record, here is a video of a fully automatic Glock.