Arguing about assault weapons

Jeffrey Denny

(Note: As I was drafting this yesterday, a gunman with a semi-automatic rifle was rampaging a quiet Northern California community, shooting randomly, killing four and wounding several more. Only quick thinking by staff preventing the shooter from entering an elementary school and slaying countless children. I updated the 2017 mass shooting numbers below. The story is still unfolding. This is just too much. — JD)

I might be a stupid liberal snowflake, but I don’t blame conservative Christian NRA members for the Texas shooting.

I blame the NRA, millionaire gun executives from Colt, Smith & Wesson, Sturm Ruger, etc., and their bought sock puppets in Congress.

I blame them for flooding the civilian market with military-grade weapons designed for mass killing— an estimated nearly one million sold per year — making these weapons way too easy for insane, angry and otherwise disturbed men to obtain, stockpile and slaughter peaceful innocent families and children in a volley of bullets.

All because gun enthusiasts don’t want their sporty fun spoiled, amateur Second Amendment scholars declare their unfettered gun rights are more important than public safety, and paranoid Tea Party/Freedom Caucus whack-jobs, Breitbart/Bannon suckers and Roy Moore apologists believe citizens need to be armed against government tyranny and the Antifa anti-fascist apocalypse.

With each mass-shooting tragedy, gun defenders blame everything but the weapons, blather thoughts and prayers, and claim it’s not time, if ever, to discuss gun policy.

If you dare suggest reviving the 1994 federal assault weapons ban that expired in 2004, gun defenders quibble over terminology, scoff at gun laws, and call anyone who disagrees or errs in any way a stupid liberal snowflake.

The minds of gun defenders are made up, cast in stone. I should give up.

Arguing gun policy is pointless, frustrating and ultimately exhausting, like an atheist trying to convince Jerry Falwell, Jr., to sermonize at the Liberty University Sunday worship services that, sorry, my bad, there is no God.

But: The line I’d like engraved on my tombstone would borrow from Boswell’s quote of Samuel Johnson: “Here lies a triumph of hope over experience.”

Johnson was quipping about a man who remarried soon after the death of his wife to whom he’d been unhappily married.

To me it means that no matter how bad my tennis, or writing, or relationship, professional or other life experiences —although all told they’ve been pretty pretty pretty good — I’m driven to keep beating my boat against the current because the will to try is its own achievement.

By the way, full disclosure, I had to train to carry and use loaded guns and did during my four-year Navy enlistment long ago, so maybe I’m not your average stupid liberal anti-gun snowflake. I’m not anti-gun. If you feel comforted to carry a pistol to protect yourself, family and home, fine. If you’re a sportsman that likes to hunt or shoot, no problem, though I find killing innocent animals horrible.

Better if your sport is golf and your lethal weapon is, say, a 7-iron. Worst case, you bean other golfers with a banana slice, embarrass yourself and your foursome, and get maybe even get kicked out of the country club. But you can’t use a Callaway Steelhead to kill 58, wound 489 and terrorize 22,000 at a country music concert. Or blow away children in church or at school.

With all that, I feel the need to respond to the three biggest claims against a reasonable discussion about assault weapons restrictions:

1. They’re not really “assault weapons”

PHONE MAN: All right, Miss Benes, all finished. Here’s your new number.

ELAINE: Ahem. 646? What is this?

PHONE MAN: That’s your new area code.

ELAINE: I thought 646 was just for new numbers.

PHONE MAN: This is a new number.

ELAINE: No, no, no, no. It’s not a new number. It’s — it’s it’s — it’s just a changed number. See? It’s not different. It’s the same, just…changed.

PHONE MAN: Look, I work for the phone company. I’ve had a lot of experience with semantics, so don’t try to lure me into some maze of circular logic.

— Seinfeld, The Maid, Season 9, Episode 175

Staunch gun defenders say the AR-15 and other civilian versions of military-grade battlefield rifles that can be rigged to assault and kill many people rapidly aren’t really assault weapons until someone assaults and kills people with them. Until then, they’re just innocent objects. Like trucks.

I haven’t struggled with that kind of circular logic since sophomore philosophy.

Here NRA types become Jacques Derrida, father of deconstructionism, beloved by reviled liberal academics, which posits that words are squishy, merely semantic Silly Putty, lacking true meaning, since “meanings, metaphysical constructs, and hierarchical oppositions … are always rendered unstable by their dependence on ultimately arbitrary signifiers,” as Merriam-Webster describes it.

Like Bill Clinton’s infamous, “It depends on what the meaning of ‘is’ is.”

Michel Clasquin-Johnson, a religious studies professor, once wrote, “Clinton, who had studied philosophy at Oxford and law at Yale, was trying to get his audience to abandon a common-sense understanding of a word and make the argument devolve into an endless discussion of a technicality. Standard lawyerese, really. Get the case bogged down and people forget what it was about in the first place.”

So I get the political strategy of semantic quibbling about assault weapons. Getting bogged down in words and logic makes developing reasonable policy like the proverbial nailing Jello to a wall.

Gun defenders also love to ridicule folks who don’t know the gun lingo.

For instance, the difference between “assault weapons,” “assault rifles” and “hunting rifles, or “automatic” versus “semiautomatic” weapons.

Also, it’s hard to “spray” bullets when the weapons shoot only one round per trigger pull, you idiot, unless of course you use a bump or slide fire or attachable crank that turns your AR-15 into a machine gun, allowing you to spray the 60–100 rounds in your high-capacity magazine.

This is like your auto mechanic mocking you for asking about your carburetor when your engine is fuel-injected.

If you think East Coast liberal elites are condescending, try arguing gun policy with a gun lover.

That said,

If gun defenders wanted to curb the flood of mass-killing weapons that make it easy for the mentally deranged to obtain them, maybe they could put their smarts and expertise to helping us dummkopfs figure this out.

How about:

· Start with the weapons used in the 11 mass shootings this year — as of November 15— that killed 116 adults and children and wounded 541.

· Blow the dust off the Federal Assault Weapons ban that expired in 2004 and the original Justice Department definition when it was enacted: “In general, assault weapons are semiautomatic firearms with a large magazine of ammunition that were designed and configured for rapid fire and combat use.” The law worked, mass shootings subsided or at least didn’t increase, and government tyranny didn’t happen. Revise/update the law as needed.

· Also, ask the opinion of people who witnessed the terror and carnage of the mass killings, saw people next to them die or be maimed, and narrowly escaped, though the emotional wound may never heal.

· Don’t forget to ask the people who lost loved ones what they think.

Like Tamar King, my friend, former spouse, and one of the loveliest most endearing souls I’ve been blessed to know on Earth.

Tamar’s sweet, funny, loving mother, Bobbie King, at 72 was among the 13 killed in the 2009 mass shooting at the Binghamton, NY, American Civic Association.

Roberta King teaching at the American Civic Association in 2008, Binghamton Press & Sun-Bulletin

After raising 10 kids and welcoming countless more to her home over the years, Bobbie volunteered as an ESL teacher at local schools and was substituting for a vacationing teacher when she was killed.

Nitpick that, assault-weapon defenders. (“Well, the assailant was using a Baretta 9mm to shoot 88 rounds and .45 Baretta to shoot 11, but they weren’t technically assault weapons….”)

Or ask President Trump what he meant when he said, “I generally oppose gun control, but I support the ban on assault weapons….” That was in 2000, before he pandered to gun-loving Trump Country for his 2016 election.

Or ask Dean Winslow, Trump’s appointee for Pentagon Undersecretary of Health Affairs, what he meant in his Senate confirmation testimony when he said before being cut off, “I’d also like to, and I may get in trouble with other members of the committee, just say how insane it is that in the United States of America a civilian can go out and buy a semiautomatic assault rifle like an AR-15.”

Dr. Winslow is no anti-gun snowflake liberal. He’s a retired Air Force colonel with several distinguished military decorations who deployed twice to Afghanistan and four times to Iraq as a flight surgeon supporting combat operations.

I’ll bet he knows more about assault weapons than Trump or most other non-military personnel or veterans with strong opinions.

But gun defenders should go ahead and slam Winslow for not singing from the hymnal.

2. More laws won’t stop mass killing

Murder has been illegal for centuries — yet murder continues, so we revise, modernize and expand laws as needed.

Seat belts didn’t prevent enough traffic deaths, so we now have air bags, crumple zones and other auto safety protections.

In response to citizen demand, Congress and state and local legislatures strengthen laws every day to protect the public.

What is it about gun laws make them so impervious to improvement?

Have we somehow achieved legislative perfection, so more gun laws aren’t necessary?

Is it really so hard for people who call me stupid to draw a bright line between legitimate pistols, skeet-shooting guns and hunting rifles, and military-style weapons that can be modified to spray bullets and kill multitudes?

Why is it more important to protect what essentially are testosterone toys for adult boys — with little practical use — than to protect actual children from being gunned down in a school or church?

Conversely, if gun laws don’t work, why not sunset them all and let people own machine guns, howitzers and shoulder-mounted missiles?

Gun advocates argue that those advocating renewal of the federal assault weapons ban are overreacting.

The chance of dying in a mass shooting is minuscule, they say, akin to being struck by lightning.

Meanwhile genome scientists are working every day, costing billions of dollars, to identify and address rare diseases, some plaguing just a few children. When it comes to a loved one, statistical probability is meaningless.

In good conscience, is happiness from a warm AR-15 really worth the risk, however small, that someone’s loved ones will be slaughtered at the hands of a madman?

Does philosophical opposition to gun rules ever run into moral or practical considerations?

Are the 2,400 killed or wounded since 2004 when the assault weapons ban ended not enough to at least talk about a new curb?

Don’t all lives matter?

3. We need to arm against government tyranny

This one really bugs me. Three reasons:

1. Claiming untrained, unorganized, undisciplined civilians need military-style weapons to arm and protect us would be funny if it weren’t so so frightening.

Do we really want a clown rodeo of self-appointed, play-acting militia dudes, possibly weekend Civil War reenactors on the vengeful rebel side, roaring around in oversized Ram 3500 pickups and camo garb from the discount Army-Navy store, toting assault weapons, overcompensating for their male insecurities arising from women taking their jobs, pay and patriarchal rights?

Do we want these dudes seizing control of communities and appointing themselves leaders, and deciding what constitutes tyranny and which government officials to shoot first? And acting out their resentment at government when it was technological and economic change that affected their jobs and futures? Do we trust the borderline psychotic neighbor with the AR-15 and bump stock who mutters anti-government invective to save us and our nation? Or the drunk yahoo who picks bar fights?

Do we want these guys storming government buildings? And rounding up “government sympathizers” (starting with liberals of course)?

And if they defeat tyranny with their assault weapons, what then? Do they have a better plan to win, lead and run the country? I’d love to see it.

Maybe not. Don’t we see armed mobs storming capitals in civil war zones all over the world and thank God that’s not us?

I worry more about Roy Moore fans with assault weapons than I do about the government. The government I know does not exhibit what’s called a “bias for action.”

I say, let assault weapon-obsessed dudes with action movie or video-gaming fantasies act out their stuff at paintball camp, and leave society at peace.

2. Why do Second Amendment originalists ignore the “well-regulated” part of the armed militia the Founders protected?

We have a well-regulated militia. It’s called the National Guard.

The last thing the Guard and state, county and local law enforcement personnel that sign up, train and get paid too little to risk their lives to protect and serve us should worry about is amateurs with assault weapons interfering and causing more mayhem and deaths.

If you think Blue Lives Matter, then why make their lives harder?

3. Is the remote chance that a Hitler could rise to power worth the very real domestic terrorism and deaths from the flood of assault weapons?

I’m not saying tyranny is impossible in the United States. But after 12 presidents over 60 years of my life, the chances have seemed pretty slim that a president would ever do tyrant things like:

· Take office despite losing the democratic popular vote and then claim the vote was rigged

· Ignore the separation of powers and fire or threaten top federal law enforcement officials who investigate the legitimacy and legality of his election and actions

· Brag about his greatness and the size of his crowds and manliness

· Incite angry mobs of supporters to call for investigating and jailing his political opponent

· Use his elected office to enrich himself

· Offer aid and comfort to ethnic purists marching with torches chanting the Nazi “blood and soil” slogan

· Pander to nativist and economic resentment by demonizing ethnic minorities and immigrants

· Bully and insult people who question or disagree with him

· Threaten the First Amendment freedom of the press because he doesn’t like being criticized, while praising the official state press that defends him

I’m not mentioning any names here. But in the present case, gun defenders have nothing to worry about.

With our rule of law, system of checks and balances, electoral process, civilian control of the military and other hallmarks of a healthy, stable democracy, tyranny is hard to do in America.

The Founders set things up that way. They worried about tyranny, but they also worried about angry mobs taking over with guns and torches.

Fortunately, their system has worked pretty well for over 240 years, and it’s still a model for the world.

So call me stupid, but I don’t feel the need for an assault weapon. I fear people with assault weapons. Assault weapons don’t make America great. Not embracing or needing them does.

Jeffrey Denny is a Washington writer



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Jeffrey Denny

Jeffrey Denny

A Pullet Surprise-winning writer who always appreciates free chicken.