Saturday, December 22, 2012

Looking forward to holiday political chit-chat (Arrgg-ggh!)

For those oh-some-pleasant holiday discussions about the latest political controversies, here's a little reference aid for one of them, The Gun Glossary: What’s a semi-automatic? What counts as an assault weapon? by Mark Joseph Stern Slate 12/17/2012.

One of my Facebook friends and one his commenters like the idea of armed guards in schools because it makes kids "feel good" to see them. It makes six-year-olds "feel good" to see a guy in a Santa Claus suit, too. But if you're an NRA True Believer, nothing is too silly an argument to repeat. As long as it changes the topic from enacting and enforcing sane gun laws. Putting armed guards in the schools - like they had at Columbine - isn't going to prevent or even much mitigate mass shootings as long as automatic and semiautomatic assault weapons are easily available with enormous clips and no background checks for buyers at gun stores and gunshows and widespread online ordering (called "mail-order" back in Lee Harvey Oswald's day). Besides in general being a shabby way to allocated police resources. And states with the most permissive gun laws also tend to be the ones who try to operate their public services at a minimal level. Like, you know, local police departments.

And how many rent-a-cop security guards have the kind of training to take down a well-trained survivalist with assault weapons and body armor? But it doesn't matter. My friend said he once heard about some security guard who shot and killed some drunk who showed up at a school board meeting one time and fired off a couple of shots, or something like that. That was enough reason for him to cheer for the NRA!

While I'm on the subject, what's with the Democrats talking about all the "responsible" members of the NRA? They haven't been a generic gun-safety group since the crackpot rightwingers took over in the 1970s. Their board of directors includes the xenophobe and patriot-militia nut Jim Gilchrist and professional loser Ted Nugent, who enjoys suggesting in public that it would be nice if somebody murdered the President. They're like a Ku Klux Klan group without the sheets. Anybody who supports today's NRA has no reason not to know who and what it is they're supporting. "Responsible" is not the word that comes to mind. Can you picture Harry Truman or LBJ appealing to "responsible" members of the KKK?

For anyone who's serious about using guns for home security - the burglar breaking in during the night, the home invasion robbery - a shotgun with a self-defense load is probably more than you'll ever need. But people need to take it seriously and not just keep a loaded gun around the house for a kid to play with or an angry spouse to grab in a tense moment. Joseph McNamara, then Chief of Police in San Jose, did a book back in 1985 called Safe & Sound about personal safety and crime prevention. It obviously doesn't have much on Internet fraud. But his observations on self-defense with guns is still relevant nearly 30 years later.

  1. Know the laws in your state concerning when you can use a gun.
  2. Take professional lessons on how to shoot a gun.
  3. Plan in advance how you will get to your gun and use it in case of emergency.
  4. If you have children, or a spouse who does not know how to handle a gun, you must safeguard it. I suggest you keep all weapons unloaded, with the ammunition in a separate location. In the case of a revolver, place a lock through the open cylinder. On an automatic, a guard should be used to prevent the trigger from being pulled. A rifle or a shotgun are best stored if the safety bar is put through the trigger mechanism.

In other words, for a gun to be useful for self-defense, it has to be in the defender's hand at the moment it's needed. It has to be loaded and in good working order at that moment. As McNamara put it, "What good is a weapon if it is locked and unloaded? Not much." And the user has to be able to shoot well enough to hit the target attacker in the torso and be willing and able to kill the attacker with it. The last one is a critical condition. McNamara didn't describe these things in comic-book or Wayne LaPierre fashion:

I learned from my patrol days in Harlem that when a store owner keeps a gun, his wife stands a decent change of collecting on his life insurance policy. I remember one grocer - we nicknamed him "Wild West" - who kept several pistols in his store. He even killed two robbers in separate holdups. ON a third robbery attempt, it was Wild West who got splattered all over the tuna cases. I knew he was going to get it sooner or later. He had to. Every time he shot it out with a robber, the odds mounted against him. And he only had to lose once.

Wild West was not your run-of-the-mill handgun owner. He knew how to fire a weapon. But when the crucial moment came for him to shoot, the robber beat him to the punch. The death of Wild West convinced me long ago that [for most people] the risk of owning a gun far outweighs the protection. Most law-abiding citizen who own guns will hesitate to pull the trigger; the armed robber will not. Once he reaches the stage where he points a loaded revolver in a shopkeeper's face, he has become a hardened criminal. That means he has probably committed other acts of violence. Many violent criminals consider it no big deal to take the life of a victim who resists. They've done it before and they may have to do it again. It's part of the job. You and I generally don't think that way.

Compare the robber's motivation to that of the store owner who pulls his gun and yells for the robber to freeze. Chances are the shopkeeper has never shot anyone, nor does he want to kill another human being. All he wants is for the robber to leave him alone. The person who has second thoughts about taking another life had better not wave his gun at anyone. A shred of hesitation and he can be dead.
The rightwing fanatics at groups like the NRA and the Gun Owners of America, guns are all opportunity and no risk. In their dystopian view of the world, the only risk is not having a loaded weapon strapped to your body at every moment.

That's not the real world of guns.

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