Random Thoughts About Gun Love

What happens when you mix the killing efficiency of a military-style weapon with our usual racial hatred? Look to the recent mass murder in Buffalo.

Random Thoughts About Gun Love
Photo by Heather Mount / Unsplash

The tragic shooting in Buffalo last week has generated all the usual discussions, and one new one.

Let’s discuss the usual ones first. Guns and hate. A recent piece in The Atlantic by conservative commentator David Frum, makes a point that many, including me, have made before. Frum mentioned that all nations suffer the sin of hatred for one group or another. But only we have the arsenal to turn that hate into mass killings with such efficiency.

Now, I know some of you are predicting where I’m heading here. I can hear the mumbling now about gun-grabbers and “come and take it” and “What part of shall not be infringed do you not understand?”

And believe me Skeeter, I’m actually with you. Well, with one exception. You see, I’m not blind to the history of this nation and how it was written with bullets. I love history and ours is among the most fascinating. Oh, it’s ugly in so many ways starting with slavery and then the treatment of Native Americans, but it is also adventurous and stirring as well. And all along the way, given the wild nature of this country and its people, guns have been necessary implements for the forging of a society carved out of a sometimes hostile wilderness. But that society has long since been carved, so, what now?

There are westerns I can literally recite as they are playing and I have owned a silly number of guns over the years, both firearms and airguns, which is a real hobby for me these days. I’m not a hunter, but have nothing against the sport, unless you pay big bucks so you and your dumber brother can shoot an increasingly endangered African elephant and then pose for photos waving the severed tail. I’m looking at you, Don Jr. As a Hemingway fan, I fully embrace my hypocrisy here, and I can’t weasel out of it.

OK, caveats out of the way, what about high capacity semi-automatic weapons? Can we be selective in eliminating some categories of guns or magazines legally? Well, of course we can. Will it be effective? Not unless we do it better than we did before. Let me explain.

But before getting into the weeds here on guns, let’s talk about our founding document and what I feel is the fundamental dodge Wayne LaPierre and his merry pranksters use to avoid the obvious. Among the first ten amendments to the US Constitution, the bill of rights, is this one…

Amendment II (1791): A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.

So what does that mean? Obviously, it refers to the “well-regulated militia” or the words wouldn’t be there. And many absolutists have proffered that every able-bodied male is technically a member and should be armed. So, does this mean those goofy guys in camo playing in the woods with cheap Chinese AK’s and gear they ordered from the Sportsman’s Guide that makes them look like they are ready for street fighting in Aleppo, are the militia mentioned in the amendment? Let’s be honest, most of them look less like the 101st Airborne and more like the platoon in “Stripes.”

But, while many search through various legal citations and laws, the Founding Fathers actually had you covered. Being a bunch of fairly smart cookies, they knew you’d wonder what this meant so they went to great pains to explain. Right there in plain sight in Article I of the document are all the powers and duties of the Congress. When we get to Section 8 of that article, we see the various military and war powers given the only Congress we have, and we find this…

"To provide for calling forth the Militia to execute the Laws of the Union, suppress Insurrections and repel Invasions;

To provide for organizing, arming, and disciplining, the Militia, and for governing such Part of them as may be employed in the Service of the United States, reserving to the States respectively, the Appointment of the Officers, and the Authority of training the Militia according to the discipline prescribed by Congress."

So the militia is organized, armed and trained by the states, using officers appointed by the states and a set of disciplines devised by Congress. And they are subject to being called up for combat, insurrections or emergencies. I know I’ve seen an organization like that before. No, don’t help me. I’ll think of it. Oh, yes. It’s called the National Guard.

So, recent Supreme Court decisions, most notably the Heller case, have revolved around one word in the amendment, “people.” Is that a collective term as in the American people, or does it refer to individual people. They opted for individuals making the phrase mean, everyone can own a gun thus ignoring the whole militia part altogether. That does not fit the definition of militia the founders mentioned, but their definition does have importance in one other way. Since Joe Doaks isn’t really in a well regulated militia, does he have to be armed as though he was?
And more importantly, can any class of weapon be made off limits?

Well, again, of course they can. Even in the Heller decision, the Supreme Court added that the right is not unlimited and does not preclude the existence of certain long-standing prohibitions such as those forbidding "the possession of firearms by felons and the mentally ill" or restrictions on "the carrying of dangerous and unusual weapons."

Here are the ones you can’t own right now.

  • Machine guns
  • Sawed-off shotguns
  • Explosives and bombs
  • Stilettos
  • Switchblades

Take machine guns for example. Defined as a gun that shoots multiple rounds with one pull of the trigger, they are heavily regulated. No machine gun made after 1986 can be made or imported unless it’s for a governmental entity. Any older guns are heavily taxed and registered. So, you can’t sell your old gun without the government knowing.

So, what is the attraction of the AR-15 and its Russian counterpart, the AK-47? They aren’t good hunting or self-defense rifles, frankly.

Designed in 1957 by the Armalite Company, and a guy named Eugene Stoner particularly, the original rifle that became the M16 was the answer to a US Army request for a gun that was a “high-velocity, full and semi-auto fire, 20 shot magazine, 6lbs loaded, able to penetrate both sides of a standard Army helmet at 500 meters rifle.”

The semi-automatic civilian version was named the AR-15, and was actually prohibited for a time under the Assault Weapons ban from 1994-2004. It is light, frankly fun to shoot, customizable and perhaps the most important quality, it makes you look like some kind of badass.

The NRA says it is useful as a hunting and home defense weapon. Really? Its standard .223 caliber ammunition, which is basically a super-duper .22 caliber bullet, doesn’t offer much stopping power for anything other than small game.
From Slate Magazine…”As one hunter put it in the comments section of an article on americanhunter.org, ‘I served in the military and the M16A2/M4 was the weapon I used for 20 years. It is first and foremost designed as an assault weapon platform, no matter what the spin. A hunter does not need a semi-automatic rifle to hunt, if he does he sucks, and should go play video games. I see more men running around the bush all cammo’d up with assault vests and face paint with tricked out AR’s. These are not hunters but wannabe weekend warriors.’”

In short, if you need 20 rounds, you really need target practice. You might want to “pray and spray” bullets at a terrorist bunker, but on a deer hunt? As to home defense, a rifle is cumbersome in close quarters like a home, and requires more skill to use accurately. The AR over penetrates walls and endangers others in the home. Leaning against the wall in my bedroom is a much more useful defense, a Remington 870 pump shotgun. Even a pistol, if you are good with it, is more useful in a home invasion scenario.

So, there are much better hunting and self-defense guns on the market. The fact that it can accept magazines holding up to 100 rounds without reloading makes it the weapon of choice for urban terrorists and gangs. Warning on this video. It shows some pretty iffy firearm affection, along with some F-bombs.

So what’s the attraction for everyone else? It’s the same one that made me ask for a Mattel Tommyburst for Christmas when I was 8. It’s cool.

So, we are letting the same judgment exercised by my 8-year-old self determine the weaponry out there for relatively easy purchase? Let’s face it, the AR and AK were designed for one thing. They can kill a lot of bad guys in a short space of time.

That’s what you want for your fighting men and women, but on the street?  No, the Constitution doesn’t say a firearm has to be useful, but we have obviously decided that some implements of war are too destructive to be readily available. Why not this?

I know the arguments against. And they are as old as this country. The west, for example, was rife with gun laws, contrary to what many think after binging on John Wayne for, oh, I don’t know, a lifetime. Gun restrictions were the norm, not the exception.

What is amusing is, the Supreme Court and our state “leaders” have decided to make guns more available than they were on the streets of Tombstone in 1885. When I see a guy with a Glock strapped to his waist in WalMart, I imagine Wyatt and Virgil looking down and laughing.

And I know, people get shot with lots of other guns all the time. But be honest. Nothing does it more efficiently or in larger numbers than Mr. Stoner’s invention.
So, Mr. AR owner, you’re not in a militia, no matter what you think. You’d be better off with my shotgun to protect your family. And you’ll bag more deer with a Winchester Model 70 or even an old 1894. Remember, we won World War II with an 8-shot rifle.

So that leaves the only defense for this weapon summarized as “F**k you, I like it.” If we as a society feel that’s an adequate rationale for a national gun policy, then so be it. So, help me explain that to the people of Newtown, Buffalo, Las Vegas, Sutherland Springs, El Paso, Parkland…

I was also going to tackle the moronic “Great Displacement Theory” espoused by the Buffalo killer, Tucker Carlson and those guys with tiki torches. But I ran my mouth on guns so long there isn’t room. If one of my outlaw colleagues doesn’t tackle it, I will next time. For now, I’m going to lock and load to face the mean streets of small town East Texas.

I’ll let you know if I make it home.

Roger Gray has toiled at the journalism trade since 1970 and his first radio news job at KTRH in Houston. Over those woefully misspent years, he has worked in radio, TV and written for magazines. He was twice elected President of the Texas Automobile Writers Association and was elected to the Texas Radio Hall of Fame. He covered the first Persian Gulf War, the fall of the Berlin Wall, the reunification of Germany, Oslo Accords in Israel and peace talks in Ireland. He interviewed writers, actors, politicians and every President from Ford to George W, and none of them remember him.
Now, he is part of the Texas Outlaw Writers, and if this doesn't pan out, the outlaw part will still work as he will indeed resort to robbing banks.