On the private ownership of firearms

Cassiel C. MacAvity

    I would like to comment upon a proposed scenario which has been receiving much attention, that of a world which is free of firearms, and as an immediate result, free of violence and the greatest cause of unnatural death.

    There are many reasons for this scenario, but three major justifications are the attack in the 101 California Street office building in San Francisco, the attack on passengers on a Long Island commuter train, and the killing of children in a Stockton schoolyard.

    Because firearms were used to kill people in these attacks, then any ownership of them must be banned. This applies to anything that can be used for hunting, including assault rifles, which all criminals carry because they have such a high rate of fire and thus definitely are useless for any hunting.

    Furthermore, as the lack of a ban continues, more modifications and ways of killing people are being developed by manufacturers, thus resulting in further deaths of more people. A primary case in this point is the Black Talon Exploding bullet which is deliberately designed to blow up in a person at whom it has been fired, as opposed to more ordinary ammunition used years earlier.

    If these weapons had not been available, any attack upon anyone would never have occurred, because firearms are icons of evil, which kill innocent people anytime they are carried.

    So that this scenario may come to pass, what must be done is to ban all private ownership and use of firearms by banning all sales of firearms and by requiring that all firearms owners turn in all their weapons. In the meantime, to help protect the general populace, all sales of firearms and ammunition must be heavily taxed, because this will result in fewer sales to criminals, making things much safer for everybody.

    When firearms are banned, there will be none available to commit any crimes, so that the police, and if need be, the militia, will then protect everyone from crime and violence, because only the police and the militia will have firearms, and most importantly, because that is why they exist. The militia, of course, will only have firearms because the second amendment to the U.S. Constitution states that the militia is an extension of the national army, which in itself is completely unrelated to crime.

    Back here in reality, a favorite politician of mine is the British statesman and Prime Minister, Benjamin Disraeli. To paraphrase what I have seen attributed to him, I have found that there are three kinds of statistics; Lies, damned lies, and gun statistics, both pro and con. To address the above scenario, I shall thus ignore statistics and stick to what is or is not, what can or can not be done, or what is likely from a certain occurrence, without relying on this set of numbers, that set of numbers, or, to borrow from science fiction writer Robert Heinlein, the Martian Transit Authority---the man who cited the MTA won the debate, but there was no such animal to cite.

    Much of the current furor is the three sets of murders cited above. While the Stockton murders occurred several years before the others, the wishful thinking offered was that if the particular model firearm used was banned, such attacks would stop. Aside from follow-up investigation making it clear that all the attacks were matters of personal grievances, to even attempt any such ban is to claim that the firearms used are self willed and that the possession of them causes death---i.e. they are icons of evil.

    What is actually of more interest is that many people did die. I have a general memory of five or so adult witnesses to the Stockton killings. Many of these, if not all, were acting as guardians, watching and protecting the children, and were themselves injured in the attack. In particular, the murder of the mother of an infant girl in the 101 California attack is a tragedy and should never have occurred. In particular, that the site of the 101 California attack is a law office is a particularly black irony, because of the proximity of lawyers to the courts and crime and the knowledge that violence can and does occur in many and varied circumstances. The ifs and whys of why attackers are armed and attack will be just as numerous as those who would kill. The important questions to ask of these three sets of crimes, and others like them, are why did NO ONE return fire? Why did NO ONE kill the killer?

    This is not a question of public protection and whether or not ordinary citizens should be expected to act as police or even soldiers. If the situation warrants, such as in a riot or war, yes, police and soldiers should be sent in the place of civilians. But as the United States is not a police state, to ask the police and their firearms to be everywhere and prevent everything is unfair to both police and citizens, and generally impossible.

    In California alone, this question is addressed in section 845 of the California Government Code;

    Neither a public entity nor a public employee is liable for failure to establish a police department or otherwise provide police protection service or, if police protection service is provided, for failure to provide sufficient police protection services

    In short, the self defense of particular individuals and in general situations must then be the sole responsibility of individual citizens. As firearms of many varieties exist and are in circulation, then the individual citizen must be permitted to have access and use of all these firearms, on the said individual's own terms.

    Two facets come to mind from this last, particularly "assault" rifles and Black Talon ammunition, and the meaning of militia.

    The implication which I have found involved in the use of the word assault is that is that the so named weapon is designed for use on a battlefield and thus has no place in a civilian situation. The problem is that in a battlefield situation, any and all weapons can and have been used, and there is no one feature or group of features which will clearly differentiate a military weapon from a civilian weapon. Is one to also ban that most deadly of weapons, the spoon?

    One of the more encompassing arguments is that a rifle with a large capacity magazine and a folding stock has no legal civilian use and is therefore a military only "assault" rifle. The folding stock is of note because of the declaration that a criminal would use it to enable hiding under an overcoat or blanket. In actuality, folding stock or no, and even with a chopped down barrel, a rifle is still a fairly massive item, one which also tends to require different ammunition and operation than a much more versatile and easy to conceal pistol. Also, the purpose of a rifle over a pistol is the longer barrel and the resulting increase in shooting accuracy. To shorten the barrel would defeat the purpose of having the rifle in the first place, again reenforcing the ungainliness of the rifle and desirability of a pistol. Lest this observation be used to erroneously attempt an attack on pistols with large capacity magazines, the weapon used to commit a crime is the same weapon which should be available to stop that same crime.

    Reasons for civilian ownership of a rifle with a folding stock can include ease of transport and storage, both of which can fall into the areas of personal and household defence and not into the areas of intended criminal assault. A large capacity magazine also falls into these absolutely reasonable areas, as does one observation regarding hunting. The popular imagined ideal is a hunter with a single shot rifle who never misses. The problem is the usual difficulty with ideals. They're not. Given reality, which is preferable? The hunter who has a single shot and only wounds a deer, leaving it to run off and die elsewhere in pain, or the hunter who has more shots in reserve if needed. In the same area, if I were hunting wild boar, I certainly would not feel particularly comfortable being strictly limited to one shot under possibly less than ideal circumstances.

    In the case of the Black Talon exPANDING, not exPLODING bullet, a reason for its creation was exactly the situation of immense numbers of policemen, all armed with a venerable .38 revolver and traditional smooth rounded nose ammunition. When the cause of police involved deaths was investigated, it was found that with the rounded nose ammo, even with the relatively low-powered .38, a bullet fired into a suspect had a very good chance of having more than enough power to exit the body and continue into a second and quite innocent person, with another very good chance that the suspect would only be wounded, but the innocent could be killed.

    The Black Talon was created to take advantage of the laws of physics. When a body in motion through a medium such as air, water, or a body, suddenly expands, it encounters much more resistance than before and thus quickly slows down and even stops. This action does have an effect of causing a good deal of damage to the person hit, but A) shooting someone is NOT a casual matter, and intent to harm tends to be part of the situation, and B) when the Black Talon expands, it stops---transferring its force to the person it hits---and does not continue on into the body of an innocent. The Black Talon is an innovation which saves more lives by its existence than if it had not been created.

    On the subject of militia, there is the observation that "regulated militia" means a well drilled company, which has been used to claim that it refers to the National Guard and other reserve military units. A more telling observation has been that if that was the defining form of the militia of the revolutionary war, the militia would have been entirely the Hessian mercenaries aided by British loyalist volunteers. In actuality, the militia of the time, and the intended for today---or the second amendment would not have been written---was and is individual armed citizens and their easily accessible state of the art weapons.

      A counter claim is that of the image of hordes of armed vigilantes roaming the streets, threatening anyone who moves, all in the name of protecting themselves. The reality is, why? Constantly being in fear is exhausting, and if there is no need, no one constantly attacking, there is no need for fear. A law abiding citizen is not going to attack another, and few criminals will take the chance of getting killed just for a little money. A perfect example of the average armed citizen over time can be found in the May 1994 issue of Smithsonian magazine, in the article "Pioneers made a lasting impression of their way West." From page 48, column two;

    Every man displayed his arms in the most approved desperado style, and rarely thought of stirring from the [wagon] train without his trusty rifle. But no enemies were seen. By degrees the arms were laid aside, and by the time we reached Fort Laramie all were abandoned except a knife and sometimes a pistol, which might be seen peeping from a pocket.

    As far as the purchase of one's weapons, one of the more embarrassingly naive propositions is the taxation for reduction theory, once recently propagated by then San Francisco Supervisor Carole Migden. The fact is that firearms sales by the taxed dealer will indeed go down, but for the reason that law abiding citizens will go elsewhere to cities and counties with more intelligent laws, while the average criminal will continue to buy a pistol off the street which is generally untaxed, untraceable, and specifically untraceable to him or her. If such a tax was universal, the rich and the criminal would still be able to get what they wished, but the poor would be unfairly limited, leaving them thoroughly at the mercy of the nearest, and armed, criminal.

    Regarding mandatory surrender of personal firearms, the fifth amendment does state "Nor shall private property be taken for public use without just compensation." Aside from the deliberate violation of the second amendment, "Just compensation" for the deprivation of all that personal property bought legally and in good faith could run into a lot of money.

    What comes to mind is "social" and "engineering" solutions, and the insoluble differences between them. The Apollo program and the eradication of smallpox are perfect examples of engineering a solution. All that was required was to build a rocket, train a crew, and launch. All that was required was to identify the disease, develop a vaccine, and deliver. A situation such as world hunger is a social situation---there is no one solution which can be implemented, and by decreeing ONE way---by engineering a solution---there will be countless negative results. Had Apollo or smallpox been left at the social level---amateurs running experiments, for example, people would still be dying of smallpox, and no one would have seen the Earth from space.

    As many headlines show, even with the F.B.I.'s own proof that crime has declined in the last 20 years, there is a concern about violence. As this violence is committed by somewhat random individuals, it is a social situation and cannot be given a one dimensional engineering solution. A classic example of this is to decide that the problem is the use of neutral inanimate objects while assuming that those who use them to kill share responsibility with those objects instead of bearing it alone. This assumption is not valid.

    As a finish, what WOULD happen if there was an attempt at violating the second amendment and the reasons for its creation? There are a few thoughts which come from our shared history.

    Legal test cases are the first result to come to mind. When Japanese Americans were illegally interned in World War Two, three Japanese Americans deliberately had themselves arrested. While the immediate release was not achieved, their challenges were as correct as any gun owner's would be, and their cases were ultimately judged in their favor.

    At the turn of the century, there were a lot of immigrant street gangs which remained street gangs. With the prohibition of alcohol, the street gangs were suddenly tolerated because they were already at risk and thus were willing to supply the demand, and quite willing to receive all that money and popular support. Those beefed up street gangs are now known and remain as the Mafia.

    Much more recently, when the equally successful prohibition of cocaine caused a demand more for steady supply than legal compliance, the Columbian cocaine barons not only gleefully supplied the U.S. demand, but have also crippled the otherwise independent nation of Columbia.

    If the ban of ownership of firearms was attempted, Japan and its like can serve as a perfect beginning. In Japan, private ownership of handguns is forbidden. Nevertheless, the Yakuza, Japan's native Mafia, regularly smuggle in whatever they wish.

    In the case of the United States, there is already a greatly honed interest in personal firearms. Aside from the likely massive level of non-compliance while waiting for a more sensible and equitable set of laws, a network of smugglers and suppliers will spring up which will grow faster and be more entrenched than the cocaine barons. After all, cocaine is a drug with a stigma, but firearms are a personal defence issue, and much easier to smuggle. With the examples of the mafia, and then the cocaine barons, imagine what the gun smugglers will be like, how long THEY will last, even after the repeal of an unfair and unsupportable prohibition.

    Former House Speaker Tip O'Neil's favorite dictum was that all politics is local. This too is a matter of local politics. It doesn't matter the least what the local government thinks, its owners, the citizens, will make their own correct decisions regarding firearms ownership. Men and more and more women will continue to buy---not to commit crimes---but to prevent crimes. What is needed is the understanding at the highest of levels that this choice will be left alone, without difficulty of evading misguided, pro crime, bad answers such as extra taxes, fingerprinting, licensing, whatever the patent medicine of the moment. In the meantime, as ownership IS a matter of personal defence, then personal ownership, personal possession, and personal use of whichever firearm one wishes will remain a local right, not the national privilege that some would wish it could become.


© 1996 Cassiel C. MacAvity