Thursday, March 29, 2018

Yes, There Are Progressive Gun Owners-- Meet One


This guest post from One Gun Owner, a political progressive and a musician, happens to be one of my oldest friends. I don't know why he wants to remain anonymous but he does and I'll respect that. His perspective stands on its own. I do want to mention though, that a very, very progressive congressman was in my house a couple of days ago and, at one point, the conversation turned to gun control, which he adamantly supporters. He told me that the Uber driver who had left him off at my front door had told him that it's very hard to take away the right to do something that millions of people like doing. And millions of people like shooting weapons. I used to like it too, though never outside of a shooting range. It helped me dissipate my stress after work. (I found that meditation works even better.) Anyway, the congressman also told me that one of his constituents complained about a vote he had taken to ban military-style assault weapons because he likes hunting deer with them and cutting the deer in half by firing the gun at it, pretending the deer is (an Iraqi? an Afghan? a North Korean? a Russian?... A Trumpanzee?).

Inside the Mind Of One Gun Owner
-by One Gun Owner

The issue right now isn’t just about saving lives. It’s about changing the role of guns in American culture. That’s a huge ocean liner, and it will take decades to turn it around. The real challenge is to make guns less alluring and more difficult to obtain. Only then, over the course of years, if not decades, will individual behavior change sufficiently to redefine Americans' relationship with firearms.

As a political progressive, I am probably atypical in the fact that I own guns, and I participate in recreational shooting sports on a regular basis. Over the past twenty years I’ve owned five rifles, ten shotguns and six handguns. While that might seem like an arsenal to DWT readers, it’s probably average among shooting enthusiasts, and I’ve met folks who own many more. On the other hand, I’ve known people who own just one gun, and in most of those instances, it was a weapon purchased strictly for self-protection and not for sporting purposes like hunting or target shooting.

My personal journey progressed from shooting at paper targets with a .22 rifle to shooting moving clay targets with a shotgun. I quickly discovered that each shooting discipline requires specialized equipment, and so my collection expanded as my interests evolved. I naturally sought out guns that were best suited to the type of shooting I was doing. I’m also a bit of a “gear head” so I was drawn to guns of superior mechanical quality and aesthetics. Likewise, as a musician, my collection of instruments grew in similar fashion; based on aesthetics and functionality as well as their appropriateness for the types of music I play.

Every collector eventually makes mistakes. Some acquisitions are driven by impulse or by compelling advertising, and some are driven by the latest trends; following fashion in a sense. As a result, I found myself, from time to time, in possession of guns that were strictly “man killers” and had no practical sporting use. I eventually sold them.

I imagine some of you are shaking your heads at that distinction, and I concede that virtually any gun can kill, but there are some that seem so specifically designed for that purpose that I had no qualms about selling them. I also watched, with concern, the growth in popularity of AR-style “black guns.” At local gun shows, buyers were gravitating towards tables that displayed civilian versions of semi-automatic assault rifles by Armalite, Smith & Wesson, Colt, Stoner, and others. While it’s dangerous to make generalizations about an entire group, I got the sense that this new class of gun-buyers was heavily skewed towards the “don’t tread on me” cohort. In spite of all the gun industry rationalizations, that those guns are reliable, versatile, accurate, etc., I couldn’t help thinking that it was their bad-ass looks that were driving sales. They were also representative of an unpleasant shift in the post-911 American psyche. I began noticing this trend around the same time that the NRA was becoming increasing shrill and irrational in their hard line, pro-gun arguments. Their support of some of the worst candidates to ever run for office solely based on a parroting of “I support the 2nd Amendment” was enough to drive me to end my relationship with the organization.

Although it seems easy to focus on the evils of guns, anyone who seeks to address the problem of guns in this country needs to understand their complex appeal. They are utilitarian; originally designed for warfare, hunting and self-protection. However, they are also specialized recreational equipment used in a broad range of shooting disciplines, including Olympic-sanctioned sports. I’ll bet not a single DWT reader has ever heard the name Kim Rhode, a 38-year old California native who won medals in six consecutive Summer Olympics for Skeet Shooting, including three golds. Apparently the major broadcast networks don’t consider it “PC” to air shooting competitions.

There are numerous local, regional and national organizations that promote and sanction specific shooting disciplines thus underscoring the diversity and popularity of shooting sports in America. My personal passion is Sporting Clays. I won’t go into a long description of the game here, but you can get a good sense of its appeal among men, women, seniors and juniors by watching a few minutes of video.
Sometimes referred to as “Golf with a Shotgun,” sporting clays has its own professional association, tournaments, sponsors and streaming video channels. Still, few non-shooters have ever heard of it, and it isn’t alone. There are associations and competitions that highlight rifle and pistol shooting and cowboy-themed competitions. These activities attract hundreds of thousands of avid participants. There are also thousands of public and private shooting grounds that host these sorts of activities.
Aside from the various uses for guns mentioned above, they have another appeal. They are simple, clever and elegant mechanical devices that have been refined over seven centuries. Appreciation and technical mastery of their inner workings can be extremely satisfying, especially as everyday technology becomes increasingly complex and inaccessible to tinkering. It’s not unlike the appeal of classic cars in this age of digital ignitions and computer diagnostics. Many firearms are also showcases for fine craftsmanship; taking woodworking, metalworking and engraving to extreme levels of aesthetic sophistication. Some high-end sporting guns require hundreds of hours to complete due to the skilled artisanship involved in their manufacture. The bottom line is that millions of your fellow citizens, myself included, simply love to shoot and own guns, and we don’t need the NRA to stoke our passions.

However, the civilian version assault rifles pose a unique problem, and I believe that ill-informed criticism of that class of weapon has driven many owners into the welcoming arms of the NRA. First of all, the fact that they are correctly classified as “semi-automatic” gives them a malevolent connotation even though there are many guns that fall into that category without having the same stigma attached. The semi-automatic firearm was the brainchild of John Moses Browning. Browning’s system redirects some of the expanding gases created when gunpowder burns, and uses that energy to work a mechanism that ejects the fired cartridge and moves a fresh one into firing position. There are any number of sporting and hunting guns that use that mechanism without falling into the category of “assault rifle.” In the comparatively genteel shooting sports of bird hunting and clay target shooting, it’s not uncommon to fire two shots from a modern semi-automatic shotgun or even from an old fashioned double barreled shotgun in less than a second, yet those guns have thankfully not become associated in the public’s mind with mass killings. Also cited is the rapid rate of fire of civilian assault rifles. If you think about it, a skilled shooter in the 1860s could fire six shots from a Colt single action revolver in under two seconds. And in terms of ammunition, big game hunters rely on bullets far larger than anything found in AR-type weapons, but those hunters use traditional bolt action or double-barrel guns limited to two-to-five rounds.

So, simply criticizing a type of weapon based on its operating system, caliber of bullet or rate of fire is not helpful to the debate.

Yes, any gun can kill, but there’s a uniquely evil intent attached to the new wave of semi-automatic rifles. What earns them the deserved reputation as mass killing machines is their ability to accept high capacity magazines loaded with exceptionally lethal ammunition. For numerous reasons that have been discussed in myriad articles, they have become the tool of choice for angry, crazy individuals who seek to destroy the fabric of society. Clearly, the perpetrators find something appealing beyond the functional capabilities of those guns. But, the combination of high capacity, rapid rate of fire and lethal ammunition poses a unique danger that cannot be dismissed. The AR and its brethren have become enablers, and perhaps the catalysts, for the darkest of human impulses. For some reason, they bring out the worst in some people. And yes, in spite of the familiar countervailing arguments, I am suggesting that guns themselves can, in some cases, affect behavior. There is such thing as a “bad gun.” Put an AR15 with a 30-round magazine into the hands of the nicest, normal guy and I’ll bet you dollars to donuts that he’ll be ripping off shots as fast as he can pull the trigger until the magazine is empty. In places like Las Vegas where you can pay to shoot a fully automatic weapon, people will fork over big money just to squeeze off a few bursts. I’m not talking about target practice. I’m talking about pulling the trigger and spraying shots all over the place for the sake of feeling the gun go bang. As a frequent shooter and gun owner, I simply don’t understand the appeal.

Judging from statistics and personal experience, a significant percentage of my fellow shooting enthusiasts understand that gun ownership comes with grave responsibilities. We fully acknowledge the inherent risks and are willing to make reasonable concessions to public safety. It doesn’t always have to be an all-or-nothing constitutional debate. As I was drawn into the gun culture, I naturally developed strong opinions about the regulatory environment. I live in Westchester County just north of New York City. We are one of the most highly regulated counties in one of the most highly regulated states in the country. It took me nine months to obtain my original pistol permit. While that might seem an outrageous infringement of my constitutional rights to some people, to me it merely underscored the gravity of owning a concealable weapon. Even with my license, if I decide to purchase another handgun or sell one, I have to go through a permit amendment process, which can take up to three months and also requires the participation of a dealer with an FFL (Federal Firearms License). When my out-of-state friends scoff at the timing, I ask them,” what’s the rush?” It’s not as if someone announced that they’re coming to rob my house and I’ve got fifteen minutes to buy a gun so I can run home and defend myself.

I can still walk into any licensed New York State firearms dealer and purchase a long gun (rifle or shotgun) after filling out some paperwork, providing ID and waiting for the dealer to call in to the National Instant Background Check (NICs) system. However, I can no longer purchase certain guns that fall into the “assault rifle” category. I never really understood their appeal, so it’s no big deal as far as I’m concerned. While these restrictions and legal processes are unacceptable to zealous gun advocates, I don’t find them to be a big inconvenience. As a retired advertising executive, I have to admit to my admiration of the job that the gun lobby has done in selling a post-apocalyptic fantasy in which all responsible patriots must arm themselves with military-style weapons. I sometimes wonder if my over-the-top acquaintances truly buy into that bleak view of the future or simply use it as justification to rant at their political enemies while adding more guns to their collections.

In my opinion, the NRA and gun lobby harm everyone, including their own long-term interests, by virtue of their intransigence. For example, in the aftermath of Sandy Hook, New York’s Governor, Andrew Cuomo, felt compelled to implement tighter gun regulations. Because the NRA does not cooperate, negotiate or provide any political cover whatsoever, Cuomo rammed through a new law called the SAFE Act. Judging from its provisions, there was little, if any, informed input from the gun community. As a result, the laws were illogical and unenforceable, even in the opinion of the New York State Police, who bear primary responsibility for enforcement. Ultimately, some provisions of the law had to be re-drafted or tabled entirely. To me, this perfectly reflected the national situation; extreme positions on both sides failing to cooperate on what should have been sensible steps to reduce the lethality of weapons in New York State and ultimately save lives. In the end, law-abiding gun owners like me found ourselves further restricted in meaningless ways that will do little to reduce gun violence.

The New York State experience, in my opinion, also mirrors the national debate in the sense that the new legislation (and the strict, existing laws) are primarily based on an urban perspective. New York State is dotted with high-population urban centers but vast areas are rural and semi-rural. Yet, the approach to gun control is very much dictated by a New York City perspective. As soon as the law passed, “Repeal the SAFE Act” signs sprang up like mushrooms in the northern suburbs and throughout rural areas of the state. The same urban vs rural argument drives much of the national debate, and it can’t be ignored lest we bolster the rural minority’s argument that they are being tyrannized by the urban majority with nothing less than a constitutional right at stake.

Like most of today’s crucial issues, the problem of guns offers no easy solution. Opinions have become hardened on both sides, and it’s the greatest shame of our time that the daily deaths of innocents is still failing to move the debate. I applaud last week’s student walkout, and I have no patience for the kids who opposed it simply because their friends “don’t understand guns.” The point is to save lives, period!

I’m just one person, and I can only speak from my point of view. I own guns, and I enjoy using them. But, as a responsible citizen, parent and neighbor, I understand the need for, and willingly accept, restrictions on my gun ownership as long as they are based on informed debate and sensible legislative action. And having said that, if someone (god?) were to assure me that by giving up my guns I would definitely save even one innocent life, I would gladly turn them in. Conscience would demand it. Unfortunately, things are never that clear or easy.

The author. Do you recognize him?

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At 6:12 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

What fun Freud would have had researching "men" who require steel penises in order to feel manly.

At 3:14 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am a progressive liberal and I own 2 guns. I never felt the need until my neighbors (2 of them) were victims of daylight home invasions, one by a drug addled asswipe and the other by an unknown who fled when a baby cried.

But it's kind of beside the point of the current NRA-funded blood orgy isn't it?

The usa has 10s of millions of decent people. But we are out voted by one third of us that are Nazis filled with hate, greed, fear, bloodlust, greed and hate. Did I mention...?

Make society "decent" and I'll gladly drop my guns into the smelter to make windmills or something. But the NRA needs society to continue to devolve into bloody anarchy in order for its constituents to keep profiting from the blood in the streets and schools.

Always remember: blood means money. no blood... no money. Money will win.


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