Monday, July 27, 2015

Round & Round We Go

Heyo, kiddies. Normally, Uncle Jeremy has a Ragebooks moment and craps out a steaming pile of fury. Today is not that day. Today, Uncle Jeremy is blogging, because it's been a while and I feel like it. Yay new meds!

So, lacking a Ragebook-boner, what shall we talk about? Let's talk about guns. Because it's been a while since my Ragebook friends list cleaned itself.

Guns! (Source.)

Standard disclaimer is standard: I do not own a firearm, for personal reasons.

'K? 'K.

Now then, point the first: guns are cool. Guns make an awesome noise and spew metal at near or faster than sound speeds, several times, and there are few things better than the feeling of a precision machine that fits in your hand and does something incredible at the flick of a finger.

What? Just 'cause I don't own one doesn't mean I don't know how to use one and never have. I'm a damn fine shot, actually. I favor long arms, because I'm more precise with them, but a nice 9mm compact can get the job done.

Point the second: there are any number of reasons to own a firearm. Hunting, self-defense, because they're cool, being an aficionado (not the same thing as "it's cool," more like, "it's art"), target shooting, and so on.

Point the third: I live in America, and guns are somehow part of our heritage. Strawman Shmoe is bouncing up and down to argue my use of the word "somehow" in that sentence, but we'll get there, Schmoe. I'm just laying it out here.

Are we all on the same page? Good.

So, point one: guns are cool.


I mean, obviously, any piece of precision machining and technology has a cool factor. Also, anything that makes loud noises, or successfully harnesses explosions. But let's take a step back here: a gun does precisely one thing. It eject a small object, usually metal, at high velocity for the purpose of placing a maximum amount of force in the smallest area possible. This application has limited potential for use. Namely, it puts holes in things at moderate to great range. Despite this, we've found a number of applications to justify their existence.

Look at other things with similar base conceptual technology: fireworks make a loud noise, require a certain level of precision, do one thing only, and harness the power of explosions. Their purpose in life is to be pretty and make a cool noise. That's the whole thing. Art in 2.5 seconds of boom. And while we've only found one modern use for the things, that use is more than enough to justify their existence. Because seriously, pretty.

Cars harness the power of explosions, require precision machining, do one thing, and often look freaking awesome. On the other hand, they have formed the backbone of culture for a long time. They are a convenience, a conveyance, a necessity in a culture that has spread out in response to the ability to travel greater distances in shorter times.

The same above can apply to airplanes, with one key difference: holy fuckballs, we can fucking fly! We can fucking defy the inborn limitations of our species, flip the bird to birds and warp the restraints of gravity to our will as we fling ourselves through the atmosphere in armored shells powered by explosions and tornadoes. Airplanes are fucking awesome because holy shit, airplanes, you guys.

Airplanes! (Source.)
Ok, but back to guns. Looking at conceptually similar stuff, the question starts to creep in: cars go places, airplanes go places and holy shit fly (I'll stop now, I swear), both of the above support our culture in intertwined and complex ways, fireworks make a cool noise and are pretty, and guns...guns put holes in things at high speed. Yes, they make a pretty noise, and they're precision machines, and all of that, but...

Well, bluntly put, there's a purpose beyond function for cars and planes. They do work, they serve society. Fireworks, conversely, are essentially loud toys, but the big, dangerous ones are (generally) restricted to a certain time of the year, certain places, and in quite a few instances, to certain people. Because explosive art is dangerous art.

Buuuut...why are guns cool? What's their purpose beyond function, or if they're toys, why is the culture surrounding them one of legitimate function? What, in short, about the use of a firearm is inherently cool in the way that the use of a car, or a plane, or a firework is cool?

To break into that, we have to head to point two: reasons to own a firearm.

There's a few arguments to made for guns here: that they do work (hunting,) that they serve society, (law enforcement, military, self-defense) and that they have a purpose as a loud toy (because they're fahking awesome.)

And now, to summon the hordes of dissenters:

No, yes, maybe.

Honestly, we live in a world where food is just a ten minute drive away (not counting nutrition deserts, which are another post.) Yes, meat is expensive, and yes, there's nothing quite like going out and bagging a meal at gunpoint,'s literally a game for (assumption!) 90% of people. It's not work: it's play.

Yes, the military obviously needs guns, because the other guys have them, and they're not going to chuckle in bemusement and go away on a fair showing if we hurl rocks at them. Leaving aside the question of who the hell we fight and why, the purpose of a military is to saturate a given area with arms and ordnance to gain something we call victory over whoever the guys at the top happen to dislike that year. Sometimes for good reason, sometimes not, but at the end of the day, I'm not seriously going to sit here and say that soldiers shouldn't have guns.

(Side point, because I just have to say it, my preference wouldn't be to disarm soldiers, it would be to eliminate the need for a military at all. Given the sheer number of people that feel the need to yell at each other at ordnance point, I don't see that happening any time soon, so give the poor bastards on the ground firearms.)

Police: Not to beat a dead horse, but Britain. Gun control works fine there.They have a (largely) unarmed force, and when they do see a gun, they cordon the area, summon SWAT (or SWAT equivalent) and politely inform you that you're going to put that down or freaking else. We make fun of them for it, but frankly, it works.

Sources you say? And: go.

Biased source may be biased (depending on your point of view; I found a decent balance between things there), but I will note that the Skeptical Libertarian appears to be for 2nd amendment rights, so there's that.

Why one source? Because the guy sources himself all over the place. I could spend three hours hunting sources and counter sources, or I could send you to someone who already did the thing. Three guesses which way I decided to go, and the first three don't count.

 Continuing onward: self-defense. Hoo-boy.

Maybe. This is a self-fulfilling argument. We need guns to defend ourselves because the bad guys have guns. Which they have because we need guns to defend ourselves.

Bluntly, the argument goes that taking guns away from the good guys doesn't make the bad guys any less well armed.

True, as far as it goes. One tiny problem: the argument is used to prevent any conversation about how we can fix that. Frankly, the argument (in my experience) goes something like this:

"Maybe we wouldn't have so many firearm related deaths if there weren't so many firearms."

"But then if some bad guy had a firearm, I wouldn't be able to defend myself."

 "Well, what if we maybe just started regulating firearms? Ya know, start slowing that shit down, getting a better handle on it?"

"But then if some bad guy had a firearm, I wouldn't be able to defend myself."

"That's...not what I said?"

"Second Amendment."

"Uh, not saying you can't have it, just saying maybe we should regulate it better?"

 "Government overreach."

And that's where it stops. I have guns, I have a right to have guns, and therefore, regulation is bad.


So tell me: other than giving cops more tools to deal with those who misuse them, what has car registration done for the ownerships of cars? Other than making it more economically feasible to operate an explosion powered speed machine, what has mandatory insurance done to the ownership of cars?

Made it more expensive? Yup.

Made it more onerous? Yup.

Made it unfeasible? Not by a long shot.

Honestly: why is it government overreach to want to keep an eye on the movement and sale of a machine that has, as its sole purpose, accelerating small bits of metal to put holes in things?

More to the point, how does a gun "defend" you? If the other guy doesn't have a gun, sure, it can be a great show of force. So can a kitchen knife. So can a baseball bat. And I'm not saying an armed householder isn't a deterrent to an unarmed intruder.

But so is a dog. So is an alarm system.

To an armed intruder, the question rapidly becomes, "who shoots first?" A gun, even in the hands of a professional, does nothing to stop the other guy from shooting. The sole benefit of having a firearm in an armed v. armed situation is that it allows you to shoot back. That's the principle of "the best offense is a good defense."

Problem: trained professionals have a hit rate between 37% and 23% on average. Admittedly, that article also attributes it to poor training. Here's another that discusses different methods and how they can increase or decrease accuracy in a gun fight situation.

But here's the thing: firearm defense involves exposing yourself to gross bodily harm to inflict gross bodily harm on another person. Under stress. Usually with practice involving stationary targets in low stress situations, and frequently with little to no mandatory training. And in many cases, the training that is received is the exact same training the cops get.

To be clear, I ain't saying it's impossible to defend yourself with a gun, I'm just questioning the wisdom of having more than one firearm in play in an uncontrolled situation with untested factors, and most of those factors being civilians. 

Quick test: someone opens fire in a civilian area. You have a gun, you return fire. What happens?

Regardless of the fact that you are returning fire, and not instigating, three things have just occurred.

1) You are now a target. Unless you were lucky enough to paste the guy on the first shot, they will most likely shoot back under the premise of returning fire.

2) You have just introduced more whizzing projectiles into an already dangerous environment, thus further endangering bystanders.

3) When the cops do come, and they will, you are now in possession of a recently used firearm, with incontrovertible proof that you have fired it in a civilian situation. And if you were  lucky enough to paste the bastard on the first shot, you then have to deal with all the charges that come with shooting someone. Just to be clear, that's going to be a bad day for you.

As pointed out in the Skeptical Librarian's article above, the numbers of guns in an area vis a vis crime is largely a wash.

But if you open fire to defend yourself, you're not viewed as a hero by the cops. You're "Shooter #2."

Moving on to point three:guns as part of the American fabric.


When guns were appropriate, we used them as tools. In backwoods situations, living out on land, dealing with snakes, predators, etc. guns are still a viable tool. The same goes for most places: if there's a high chance in your day to day life that something's going to try and eat you, guns are an important equalizer.

As near as I can figure, guns are a part of our lives because we want to believe we're still frontiersmen. Honestly, half the world had guns before we did. There's still a culture of gentleman sporting here and there, and of course, there are war torn countries where guns are simply a fact of daily survival.

But not here. We don't have to kill for survival, we don't (necessarily) live in a dictatorial warzone (jury's still out on whether that might happen). We have a culture of sporting with firearms, but there's a difference between bopping out with the old fowling piece for a spot of what, and building a small armory. Sure, there's some people that own one rifle for hunting, but I've heard many of those people list "self-defense" as a primary reason for owning it. Not all these things are true for all cases, but unlike many other cultures, we enshrine guns as part of our heritage. Part of who we are.

Simply put, there's no need for it. Further, there's no reason for it, except that we've been raised on stories of cowboys who had guns, soldiers who had guns, and frontierspeople who had guns, and miss the part where they all needed guns to survive, and go straight for the part that "ancestors needed guns = guns are part of hertage."

And that's kind of silly, in my opinion. Our ancestors also needed leeches, horses, land to plow, hunted for food, have to manually drive cattle, and were drafted into wars. We don't need any of those things anymore. We ride horses cause horses are beautiful animals. We have machines the size of small buildings that plow for us. We've dropped the draft, we send cows by train and truck, and we get our food at the local megamart.  One of the few things we've kept from these cultural necessities is the firearms.

Down here, then, a point: taking all of the above, all the wrangling, let's not forget the primary purpose of a firearm. Namely, killing things.

There's an old saying about "guns don't kill people, people kill people." What's left out there is that people often kill people with guns. We can talk about hunting, we can talk about target shooting, we can talk about responsible ownership, and collecting, and so on. But at the end of the day, there's the overriding function of a firearm: accelerating that tiny piece of metal the ludicrous speeds for the purpose of putting holes in living things.

And we accept this reflexively. In movies, guns are elevated out of the role of "weapon" and into the role of "endless bullet spewing death god." Lady nipples and dicks are too racy for TV, but let the bullets fly. Two men kissing is an outrage; two men trying to kill each other is entertainment. There are states where it's illegal for consenting adults to make porn, but legal to buy enough weaponry to arm a small militia.

And it's not even like we try and excuse it. Hollow points, fireball and flechette rounds for shotguns, armor piercers, Teflon coating...we make bullets that are better and better at killing shit, and sell the weapons that fire them for $200+. Guns are cheap, and even cheap ammo gets the job done as well as the fancier stuff.

So...yeah. Personally, I'd like to see at least tighter regulation of guns. I'd like to see tighter regulation of what kinds of round are available on the civilian market. I'd like to see a national registry.

But mostly, I'd like to stop reading about gun violence, and then seeing all the people come out to say that that person didn't get shot because Guy X had a gun, he got shot because Guy X was disturbed in some way. Because that leaves out the main question: how would that person have been shot if Guy X didn't have a gun?

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