Defending The Indefensible

I wasn’t going to do this one, but the level of rhetoric about guns has become so strident, so hysterical, that I just had to do something to try and inject a little reality back into the dialogue. We have the White House right now saying that anything that saves even one life is worthwhile, which sounds nice but as a guideline for public policy in a nation of over 300 million people is madness. Then we have Robert Reich saying that the very nation is in jeopardy of “succumbing to mass violence.” The actual existence of the United States is at stake! We are all on the verge of utter destruction because of gun violence! Or perhaps the air is simply getting a little bit thin up here.

Among other things, I will look at the scale of gun violence, and I’m going to answer that perennial question, “Why do you need an assault rifle?” The answer isn’t what you think.

Before I get to it, let me say a few words about my background and point of view, so that the people who leap to incorrect conclusions about my motives, parentage, humanity, and political orientation can do so in full confidence that they are entirely divorced from the facts, just the way they like it.

First, you’re wrong about me. I’m a political independent from Massachusetts, have voted Democratic more often than Republican, believe in gay marriage and socialized health care. I’m also an atheist (or, if you prefer, a classical Epicurian.) I support all civil liberties, for everyone, which puts me at odds with both political parties. I’m a historian by training, which strongly colors my view of any public policy issue. To me, fifty years ago is the recent past, and fifty years from now is the near future. I take a longer view than pretty much any politician, or analyst for that matter, that you’re likely to see. I don’t believe in broad conspiracy theories, but I do believe that governments, like any other large organization, act in their own best interest and often for reasons other than what they say. That’s not paranoia or conspiracy theories; that’s looking at the record. Most of all, most importantly, I’m a dad. I do a lot of thinking about what kind of country my son is going to inherit, and how I’ll explain to him what we let happen to it.

Okay. Down to the serious business of offending everyone.

By The Numbers

We need to start by gaining an understanding of the scale of the problem that we face. The impression one gets from the news media is that guns are tearing a swath of destruction across our nation on an unprecedented scale, with every one of us (And our kids! Think of the children!) at immediate risk of being massacred. In fact, sources say that you’ve probably been shot and killed already.

This isn’t, in fact, true. Nor is this hysteria, as some would have it, a conspiracy on the part of the ‘left-wing liberal media.’ It’s simply the way our news industry works. They do their best to scare the shit out of us with practically every story that comes along. Gun violence has actually been on the decline since the mid–1990s, probably as part of a general decline in crime that may be environmentally related.

How bad is our level of gun violence in the United States? Well, it’s bad. I won’t try to deny that; this is a violent country. It’s worse than most of the civilized countries of the world. But, to look at it another way, if you subtract out the murders committed with guns, our homicide rate still exceeds that of many other countries. The problem is the violence, not the tool. Here are some numbers, to put things in perspective. Warning: This is grim. I’m going to concentrate on children, since that’s where most of the attention has been focused in the wake of the Newtown, CT killings, and to focus as closely as possible on innocent victims.

FBI’s Supplementary Homicide Reports

Table: Year of incident by Weapon used for United States

Age of victim = 0 to 11 years

Year Personal Other/Unknown Firearm Blunt Object Knife Total
1980 291 264 129 46 60 790
1981 291 257 118 71 57 794
1982 334 253 143 71 56 858
1983 318 235 110 55 56 773
1984 310 190 130 62 67 758
1985 294 220 130 47 82 772
1986 370 269 123 54 57 872
1987 308 262 116 53 65 803
1988 352 272 162 61 55 902
1989 332 289 176 45 71 914
1990 375 252 147 49 55 877
1991 397 316 154 51 62 979
1992 371 251 160 69 40 891
1993 415 289 195 69 53 1,020
1994 429 286 149 46 48 958
1995 390 274 153 49 28 894
1996 445 266 148 53 44 956
1997 377 259 139 49 30 854
1998 361 277 130 56 44 868
1999 311 262 128 67 35 803
2000 333 207 101 65 44 750
2001 360 257 125 46 39 827
2002 321 235 134 39 42 771
2003 344 239 98 54 35 771
2004 307 218 95 54 49 723
2005 314 234 91 53 41 732
2006 304 245 115 55 37 756
2007 334 240 118 53 39 784
2008 321 249 122 67 36 795
2009 288 196 123 72 31 710
2010 283 213 97 56 47 697
Total 10,580 7,776 4,058 1,735 1,504 25,654

Source: http://www.ojjdp.gov/ojstatbb/ezashr/asp/vic_selection.asp

The numbers are depressing to look at, especially the terrible weight of thirty one years of child murders. Every one of those deaths is a tragedy, and I’m sure every family was devastated. We can easily see that guns have taken a terrible toll on our children over the last generation. Nearly 16% of all those homicides are known to have been committed with guns.

(Yes, the cause of death in 7,776 cases is unknown, and some of those were probably committed with firearms, but I think the distribution is proportional between the categories of weapon, with firearms probably making up a slightly smaller proportion, relatively, of those ‘unknown’ causes. Bullet holes are distinctive and usually easily identified.)

The most common weapon used to kill children is ‘personal.’ That is, hands and feet. Most murder victims under 12 years of age were strangled or beaten to death.

It gets worse.

That’s what the kids were killed with. Here’s who killed them.

FBI’s Supplementary Homicide Reports

Table: Year of incident by Relationship for United States

Age of victim = 0 to 11 years

Year Family Acquaintance Stranger Unknown Total
1980 395 149 35 211 790
1981 417 190 26 162 794
1982 454 164 31 209 858
1983 419 165 34 155 773
1984 374 174 35 175 758
1985 429 170 31 142 772
1986 460 193 16 203 872
1987 424 190 25 164 803
1988 442 229 30 201 902
1989 474 185 33 222 914
1990 427 209 28 214 877
1991 501 223 48 206 979
1992 450 195 47 200 891
1993 461 252 49 258 1,020
1994 471 220 46 221 958
1995 463 194 45 191 894
1996 467 261 28 201 956
1997 467 176 29 183 854
1998 444 201 23 201 868
1999 440 154 17 192 803
2000 403 165 16 166 750
2001 433 191 31 172 827
2002 381 180 38 173 771
2003 433 151 21 167 771
2004 381 172 12 158 723
2005 391 166 23 151 732
2006 393 165 23 174 756
2007 416 192 20 157 784
2008 427 182 20 166 795
2009 378 160 21 150 710
2010 410 145 16 126 697
Total 13,326 5,762 894 5,672 25,654

Source: http://www.ojjdp.gov/ojstatbb/ezashr/asp/vic_selection.asp

Again, we have a significant number of unknowns (which, in this case, means a depressing number of unsolved cases, which probably overlap with the ‘unknown’ weapon used above) which, again, can probably be assigned more or less proportionally between the other categories.

We can clearly see who the greatest danger to your child is.

You.

More than half of the murdered children were killed by family members, and another huge block by ‘acquaintances.’ Strangers only account for about 3.5% of the cases.

Combining these two sets of statistics we can see that, relative to the number of children murdered, very, very few are shot by strangers. Most are beaten to death or strangled by family members or other people known to them.

Okay, so strangers with guns may not be a prevalent danger to your children, but what about firearm accidents? Considering how many guns there are littering the countryside, there are doubtless terrible numbers of children getting their hands on them, with tragic results.

Accidental Deaths of Children 0–11 Years Old
Year Mot. Vehicle Drowning Fire Falls Poison Firearm
1999 1,961 812 566 103 66 39
2000 1,912 833 555 68 71 55
2001 1,783 769 480 98 74 40
2002 1,662 730 457 82 79 32
2003 1,691 684 423 92 98 28
2004 1,705 656 450 89 52 37
2005 1,614 719 417 69 60 47
2006 1,544 686 372 85 66 35
2007 1,385 673 409 80 74 47
2008 1,164 661 326 81 68 42
2009 1,175 637 308 84 78 34
2010 1,067 638 279 50 60 41
Total 18,663 8,498 5,042 981 846 477

The motor vehicle category includes pedestrians struck by motor vehicles.

Source: http://wonder.cdc.gov/ucd-icd10.html
(Sorry; the CDC’s data doesn’t go back as far as the FBI’s.)

About 40 children die every year in firearms accidents. I honestly expected the number to be higher than that, but I checked it three times and there it is. Half-again as many children under 12 die of accidental poisoning as firearm accidents. A child is 26 times as likely to be killed by a car, 15.5 times as likely to drown.

(We’re making progress, at least; the road, drowning, fire, and falling accidents have been coming down. Poison and firearms have stayed steadier, though smaller numbers are more subject to statistical variation, and harder to reduce. Also, the number of deaths has stayed pretty constant, even as the number of children and guns have increased, meaning that the rate of firearm accidents has gone down. Similar with poisons; the number of deaths has remained steady while the number of children has increased. Signs of hope.)

If 150 or so young children killed by firearms every year (accidents and homicides) is a tragedy–and don’t misunderstand me; it is–what should we make of the 1,100 or more killed on the roads every year, or the 640 who drown? Or the 350 beaten to death?

* * *

I haven’t dragged you through all these numbers simply to depress you (though frankly, it has depressed me, and I’m going to give my little boy an extra-big hug in the morning), or to try and make light of the children who’ve died. The number of children killed by guns every year is tragic, and we should do better. My aim is to try and gain perspective. We often act as if only the gun deaths are worth doing anything about, but what does that say about the thousands killed in car accidents, drownings, and fires? Why do we treat one death as a tragedy, but another as an acceptable price to pay for swimming pools and convenient motoring?

As a parent, you worry about your kid, and do everything you can to keep him or her safe. My boy just turned seven years old and I have never once worried about him being shot by a stranger (or anyone else, for that matter). I’ve worried myself half-sick at times, though, about cars and swimming pools. I grew up around guns, but never came close to being injured by one. I nearly died in a couple of car accidents, though, and a few near-drownings.

Looking at all ages, in 2011 there were 8,583 people murdered with firearms (about 2/3 of the total murdered). In the same year, 32,367 people died in motor vehicle accidents and 599,413 of heart disease.

The first step to reducing risks is a realistic appraisal of what the risks are.

What Are ‘Assault Weapons’ Good For?

“After a shooting spree, they always want to take the guns away from the people who didn’t do it.” — William S. Burroughs

There is a massive push on right now to ban ‘assault weapons.’ These are defined as scary-looking (bayonet lugs!) semi-automatic (one shot per pull of the trigger) rifles of modest caliber, typically with a magazine capacity of 20 or 30 rounds. The curious thing is that these rifles are used in very, very few crimes.

In 2011 there were 323 murders committed with rifles of all description, out of 12,664 total murders. Compare to 496 murders with blunt instruments, 728 with bare hands, and 1,694 with knives. Yes, knives were really used in more than five times (524%) as many murders as rifles. Handguns, of course, are the big killer, claiming 6,220.

If these weapons are used in so few crimes, why the big push to ban them?

Partly, of course, it’s because when they are used, the crime is often a high-profile one, with lots of media attention and demands that Something Must Be Done. Plus, they look scary. James Holmes seems to have done most, if not all, of his shooting in Aurora with an ordinary shotgun (his ‘assault weapon’ jammed), but people still immediately called for a ban on ‘assault weapons’ after his shooting spree, presumably because an AR–15 looks a lot scarier than a shotgun. (No, it’s not the magazine capacity; a 12-gauge shotgun can easily hold sixty .36-caliber projectiles, compared to the thirty .223-caliber projectiles in a standard AR–15 magazine.)

And partly it’s … well, many people like to go on about how AR–15s are ‘military’ weapons, weapons of war, only good for slaughtering large number of people, etc., etc. They’re wrong; the mechanical differences between military assault rifles and the civilian look-alikes are significant. But it’s the closest thing to a military weapon that civilians can actually buy and they do share one advantage with their military cousins that other common civilian guns such as shotguns and pistols lack.

Range.

Rifles are poor implements for committing (or defending against) most crimes, as is borne out by the statistics. They’re bulky, expensive, and at the bad-breath distances where most criminal assaults take place, they don’t offer much, if any, advantage in firepower. When you can reach out and touch someone, you don’t need a rifle; a pistol will kill them just as dead. A shotgun more so.

Move further out, though, and the rifle comes into its own. At a range of dozens, or a hundred yards, the rifle is still accurate and deadly while the handgun and shotgun become almost ineffective. Common criminal activity almost never happens at these distances, though, making rifles largely irrelevant both for criminals and for citizens using guns in self-defense. There are some very uncommon cases where rifles can be useful, which I’ll discuss in the next section.

(I’m not going to discuss hunting here. People do use AR type rifles to hunt, and a few people do have a legitimate need to hunt to put food on their table or protect their livestock, but in most cases I consider shooting harmless animals to be less morally defensible than shooting a criminal who is threatening your, or someone else’s, life. I’m baffled by the constant references to usefulness for hunting as the gold standard for justifying the ownership of a gun.)

Assault rifles, and their civilian cousins, have one advantage over bigger, more powerful rifles; less range. Yes, less range. The rifles that armies used before the assault rifle could hit a target 1,000 yards away or more. Most fighting, though, occurred at ranges of at most a few hundred yards. Giving up that extra range made almost no difference in the soldier’s combat effectiveness, but the weaker cartridge used in assault rifles was smaller and lighter than a full-powered cartridge, allowing the soldier to shoot faster and carry more ammunition. That’s why less powerful rifles have almost entirely displaced the more powerful ones in military use.

It’s only at ranges of about 30–300 yards that the civilian assault rifle look-alikes are more effective than other commonly-available guns (shotguns and pistols at shorter ranges, full-powered rifles at longer). It’s a very narrow window, that only matters in a very narrow, very rare, set of circumstances.

Remember that ‘militia’ clause in the 2nd Amendment? Well, ‘assault weapons’ are exactly the sort of weapons that a ‘militia’ would have. Despite all the talk about “You don’t need a 30-round magazine to hunt ducks,” ‘assault weapons’ have a better claim to 2nd Amendment protection than expensive fowling pieces.

I think it’s curious that the government is most interested in taking away the class of gun that is used in the fewest crimes, but comes closest to being an actual military weapon. The kind of gun, in other words, least dangerous to people in the normal course of events, but most dangerous to governments in an abnormal course of events.

If reducing crime were your goal, wouldn’t you ban the guns actually used in the most crimes? It’s an anomaly, and it brings us to our next section.

Why Do You Need An Assault Weapon?

It seems as if this question has been asked lately in every media outlet in the country, and by every gun control advocate, at least once a day. There are two main answers. The first, and most important, is the same one you give the government when they ask you why you need anything.

Why do you need a swimming pool?

Why do you need a huge, gas-guzzling SUV?

Why do you need a motorcycle?

Why do you need to eat hamburgers?

Why do you need a car with that much horsepower?

Why do you need alcoholic beverages?

Why do you need to smoke that?

Why do you need to play that game?

Why do you need pornography?

Why do you need contraception?

Why do you need to dress like that?

Why do you need to read that book?

Etc.

Do we really want the government deciding for us what we need to have? Only allowing us to keep those things we can prove a ‘legitimate’ need for?

“Why do you need a _____?”

Because ‘fuck you,’ that’s why.

That’s what you tell the government when they start trying to dictate what you ‘need.’

* * *

The other reason is more complex.

There are times–very, very rare in the time frame of an individual human life, very common in the lifespan of countries–when you need to kill people. Sometimes a lot of people. For protecting yourself or your family against common, everyday, crime, a pistol or shotgun will probably serve you better than an ‘assault weapon,’ but as I mentioned above, there are the uncommon situations. These rare events are when you want a rifle.

(It’s axiomatic that a pistol is what you carry when you’re not expecting trouble. If you’re expecting trouble, you take a shotgun or rifle. Remember the beginning of PULP FICTION? “We should have shotguns for this kind of deal.”)

The classic response that gun owners will give when asked about the 2nd Amendment, or why they need that rifle, is to ‘defend against tyranny,’ or to ‘protect themselves from the government.’ The classic response to that is that there’s no way a civilian militia could defend itself from, much less overthrow, a government that has become unbearably oppressive. I’m not going to say a great deal about this, because I don’t consider a government that oppressive to be likely in the United States during my lifetime, and probably not even in my son’s, but I do want to make a couple of points before we move on to more realistic scenarios.

The people who think they can pull their old SKS out of the closet and trot (or, let’s be honest, very likely ‘waddle’) off to Overthrow The Tyrant during an otherwise dull week are grossly underestimating the casualties a lightly armed irregular force (rabble) would suffer going up against a modern, well-equipped, military organization. Even with the inevitable desertions and defections that the regulars would have in such a conflict, the casualty ratio would probably be about 1000:1 against the militia. (That is, a thousand militia would die for every government soldier.) That’s not to say that the insurgency would fail, necessarily, but it would take a very motivated bunch of rebels to keep fighting after sustaining hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions of casualties, having their families rounded up and tortured and executed, and so on. Look at what’s going on in Syria right now.

(As I write this, there have been an estimated 60,000 casualties in the fighting in Syria. That would be about 900,000 dead in a comparable US civil insurrection, given the proportions of the populations. Probably more, given the greater capabilities of the US military compared to the Syrian. All bets are off, of course, if this hypothetical tyrannical US government decided to go nuclear against its own population.)

Repressive governments are very good at violence and terror. That’s kind of their thing. It’s possible to fight them on their own terms, but it’s a very messy, very painful business. You are much better off preventing your government from going in that direction in the first place, though I have to admit that the events of the last 12 years have not convinced me that there’s any interest in doing so.

On the other hand, I find it a little amusing to hear people say that we might as well all turn in our guns because there’s no chance that any lightly-armed insurrection could oppose the mighty US military. Perhaps they haven’t noticed that the mighty US military is 0-for–3 in wars against lightly-armed guerrillas over the last fifty years.

* * *

A full-on civil war or insurrection is not, however, the only situation in which you might be glad to have a rifle handy. Smaller scale civil disorder is quite common in history, though again rare in the span of an individual human life. You may never find yourself in the middle of such a disturbance … but then again, you might.

The L.A. Riots of 1992 are a good, if rather modest, example of this kind of situation. There was looting, arson, and murder, and it took days for the civil authority to regain control of the situation, and then only after being reinforced by the National Guard and regular Army and Marine units. Far from protecting the people hardest hit by the rioting, the police evacuated those areas. The small area known as ‘Koreatown’ suffered 40% of the destruction in the riots, and the people there were outright abandoned by the police.

This is a feature of civil disturbance. The police are overwhelmed by the scale of the disorder and must abandon some areas to concentrate on others. (Needless to say, the neighborhoods where they concentrate contain wealthier–and in this country, whiter–people than the areas they abandon.) They simply can’t protect everything. If you are unfortunate enough to find yourself in one of these events, it is quite likely that you will be on your own for a significant period of time–hours, or days.

Abandoned by the police, the Koreans took out their guns and formed impromptu self-defense groups. Militias, if you will. It worked; the buildings defended in this way remained intact. I remember seeing one bit of news footage from the riots. This reporter approached a group of Korean shopkeepers who were standing on a rooftop with their rifles.

“I notice you all have guns,” he said.

“Tha’s right,” replied one of the men.

There was a pause, then the reporter said, “I notice that your building is the only one on the block that hasn’t been burned down.”

The Korean grinned, waggled the rifle he was holding, and said, “Tha’s right.”

If you are too young to remember those riots, or if you’ve forgotten what they were like (it’s been 20 years), here are a few short clips. This is what a small civil disturbance looks like.

Incidents like this are much more common than civil wars. The worst civil disorder in US history was probably the New York Draft Riots of 1863. There were 34 people killed in the Watts Riots and 55 in the LA Riots of 1992, compared to an estimated 120 in the New York riots, out of a much smaller population. (Some estimates of the number killed range as high as 2,000, but those are not considered credible.) The pattern is familiar; the rioters raged out of control for days until outside force arrived to supplement the local police and restore order. (In this case, regiments of the Army of the Potomac, fresh from the Battle of Gettysburg.)

One incident in particular from the 1863 riots stands out to me.

Other targets included the office of the New York Times. The mob was turned back at the Times office by staff manning Gatling guns, including Times founder Henry Jarvis Raymond.

The New York Times had three Gatling guns, a weapon more advanced than anything the Federal Army had at the time, and used them to deter a mob (which went down the street and instead looted the Tribune, the staff of which was presumably less heavily armed than that of the Times).

We don’t have video of that one, obviously, but here’s a little sample of what the action was like. Note the cannon.

New York, July 1863

In 1921, The Tulsa Race Riot featured running firefights between white rioters and blacks trying to defend their neighborhood, while the usual looting and burning included air-dropped incendiaries. Somewhere between 30 and 300 people were killed.

Riots aren’t the only civil conflict we’ve seen in this country. The struggle for workers’ rights featured some pretty serious fighting between union workers and mercenaries hired by companies to break strikes. The Homestead Strike of 1892 featured a battle between thousands of striking union workers and hundreds of Pinkerton detectives. The strikers had not only small arms, but also a cannon. About 30 people were killed. The Battle of Blair Mountain in 1921 is the largest battle fought in the United States since the Civil War. It featured thousands of combatants, air strikes, a million rounds of ammunition fired, and 80–150 men killed.

A fairly comprehensive list runs to dozens of entries. Most of the disturbances are of a very small scale, but some, as outlined above, are quite substantial. We’ve been fortunate; there are civil disturbances in history that make the L.A. Riots look like a boisterous night at the local bar. The Nika Riots of 532 A.D. saw about 30,000 slaughtered in Constantinople and estimates of those killed in the St. Batholemew’s Day Massacre in 1572 range from 2,000–30,000. It can happen in any country, in any period of history. Even modern England and France are not immune.

Natural disasters usually bring people together, contrary to popular conception, but there are exceptions, and sometimes the situation is so confusing that it’s hard to tell what’s going on.

* * *

Rioting of one sort of another and extreme workplace negotiations make up most of the incidents of civil disturbance we’ve seen in US history, but there is another kind of disorder that I’d like to look at: Political violence. I don’t mean revolution or other large-scale political violence, but smaller-scale action between the partisans of two or more political factions. It was a feature of the late Roman Republic as well as Weimar Germany, among others. An example of this sort of thing would be people from one party attacking a polling place, taking it over, and only allowing members of their own party to vote.

This is the one that worries me. We’ll have more riots in the future, but those tend to be almost random events, typically in response to local circumstances, and rarely lead to wider conflict. Low-level political violence can easily grow and spread. Looking at the last few Presidential elections, and the level of rhetoric and vitriol on both sides, I’m afraid that, if it continues to escalate as it has, we may be only a few electoral cycles from the beginning of this sort of violence. And before you say that it can’t happen here, be aware that it has. The Battle of Athens in 1946 was a firefight between county deputies and the “GI Non-Partisan League” over physical possession of the ballot boxes from a county election.

I hope that the rhetoric and high emotions get dialed back before shouting and name calling turn into beatings, assassinations, and street fighting. I really do. But these things do happen in many places, in many times, and I have to acknowledge at least the possibility that what has happened in the past might happen again in the future. I can’t ignore my own Law of History: “History doesn’t repeat itself. It just gives pop quizes to see if anyone was paying attention.”

I would love to know what plans our political leaders have for dealing with outbreaks of street-level political violence. I don’t think any want to encourage it, but they’re certainly aware of the possibility and doubtless have some kind of plan. They would be grossly irresponsible if they didn’t. It is, for example, probably not entirely coincidental that Democratic politicians, whose party members tend not to be as heavily armed as their opponents, support various gun control measures. That’s simply smart politics, and the sort of thing you have to be aware of if you’re going to play the game at a high level.

* * *

We also face the possibility of events outside of our control, such as global warming that may set populations on the move (it’s too late to stop it; the best we can do now is try to reduce it and hope for the best) and true wildcards like getting smacked with a big rock from outer space. A very rare, effectively random catastrophic event could completely change–or destroy–our civilization. It has happened before. All bets are off if we get hit with something like that; it would literally be a whole new world.

When people say that something ‘could never happen’ I smile, because ‘never’ is a very, very long time.

Wrapping It Up

I’ve tried to bring some perspective to this debate. Far too many people are shot to death in this country, certainly, but the demonization of gun owners as all being collectively responsible for every one of those deaths goes too far. More than four times as many children under 12 drown each year as are killed with guns, but we don’t demonize swimming pool owners. Gun violence has been declining for years, even though people will tell you exactly the opposite. To solve a problem you must understand what the problem is, and you probably should know if it’s even the biggest problem you face.

More than the actual deaths caused by people using them, ‘assault weapons’ are, I think, a proxy for our fears. They seem the very embodiment of ‘stranger danger’; the bad man who is going to come out of nowhere and hurt your children. But they are used in a very small number of crimes, and are just the sort of weapon that your children or grandchildren may desperately need someday, to counter a threat that isn’t even on your radar. I’ve tried to show a few examples of such situations that people have found themselves in in the past. Banning ‘assault weapons’ would be a feel-good act, a psychological salve for a few people, but would have no measurable impact on actual crime, and may very well cost lives in the future. How can I be so sure a ban wouldn’t reduce crime? We’ve done it before, remember. It didn’t make any difference then, and there’s no reason to think it would make any difference now. It’s basic math; banning something that is used in a tiny number of crimes is going to make, at best, a tiny difference in crime. It simply can’t do more, and may well do less.

Weapons like the AR–15 elicit strong emotions, just as certain kinds of speech do, and like potentially offensive speech it’s the potentially offensive weapons that need the protection of the Bill of Rights. They are what those Amendments are for. Mild and inoffensive speech doesn’t need protection any more than mild and inoffensive guns do. We can’t depend on the government to protect those rights for us; they’re aimed at limiting the power of the government, so naturally our leaders will find excuses to chip away at them. It’s up to us to protect our rights. All of them. Sell your neighbor’s rights today, and yours will probably be on the block tomorrow. Divide et impera; divide and rule.

Our children and grandchildren may have to struggle someday to take back the rights we give up today (not just gun rights, but all of them), cursing us every step of the way.

The challenge we face is preserving these weapons against future need, while limiting the harm that they can do in the wrong hands today. I believe that we are best served by focusing on the crazy people who want to commit atrocities, rather than focusing on the weapons that a few of them have used. There are a lot of things that can be turned into weapons if a person cares to do so; finding the crazy people is easier and more effective than trying to eliminate all the things that might be used to hurt us. We need to find out what drives these people, especially if we’re creating them.

Just as we can’t depend on our politicians to defend our rights, we can’t depend on them to stop, think clearly and rationally, and propose a solid solution aimed squarely at the actual problem. It’s up to us; we have to do the hard thinking and make them do the right thing.

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