This is something that’s been rolling around in my head for a while, but after this, I figure it’s time to move some electrons.
The catalyst is a comment in an opinion piece by Robert F. Green at the Fallbrook Bonsall Village News titled “Gun ownership has brought lawnessness”. I’m focusing on this passage from Mr. Green’s article:
Single-shot rifles and shotguns for bona-fide hunting is okay, but handguns, assault weapons and the like are a no-no! Come on, America, let’s grow up! This is not cowboys and Indians.
What caused the following thoughts to begin rolling around in my head was a comment made by a relative. This relative is no stranger to guns, a hunter. A few weekends ago Wife attended a large gathering of family (I regretfully was unable to attend). My understanding is a discussion came up between the relative and another at the gathering, Wife overheard something to the effect of “I don’t understand why anyone needs one of those” referring to your modern rifles with black plastic parts. Wife kept her mouth shut because it wasn’t a conversation she wanted to get into. Wife told me about it afterwards and it stuck in my craw ever since. You see, I own some of “those” and I’d like to explain a few things about them and why I choose to own them… or rather, why someone would want and/or need one of those.
Understanding the Difference, or Lack Thereof.
The first thing to understand is the term “assault weapon” or “assault rifle” is an invention of those that do not understand and wish to invoke scary images in the minds of the unaware. If we look at the term “assault weapon” in the context of the 1994 Federal Assault Weapons ban, this rifle is an assault weapon:
It’s a semi-automatic rifle, it accepts a detachable magazine, it has a folding stock, a pistol grip. That’s sufficient under the terms of the legislation to say this is an assault rifle. Besides, it’s black, has plastic parts, and looks scary and military, right? especially those “banana clips”.
Now look at this rifle:
Nice rifle, eh? Wood stock. Nice smooth lines. Looks like something you’d take hunting. It is a semi-automatic and actually does have a detachable magazine, but for some reason this rifle is considered socially acceptable whereas the previous one is not. What’s interesting about these two rifles?
Those are both the exact same rifle.
They are both Ruger 10/22‘s (the latter is as sold by Strum, Ruger & Co.; the former outfitted with aftermarket parts), probably the most popular rifle in the world chambered in .22 LR. I should clarify that what makes them the same is that which truly makes a firearm: the action, the mechanical parts of the firearm that load, lock, and extract the cartridge (bullet). So if they’re really the same, how come they look so different? Exactly – the only difference is the external cosmetics. These two rifles shoot the same cartridges (bullets) and function in the same manner. In just about every way that “terminally matters”, these two rifles are the same. So if that’s the case, why would anyone want the former when the latter should be sufficient, right? Before I get to that, take a few minutes and watch this two-part video. It’s hosted by Leroy Pyle, San Jose Police Officer, 25 year career, firearms trainer/educator, and he talks about the facts of “assault weapons”:
Why The Former?
Technology is a wonderful thing. If not for the continuing advances of technology, you wouldn’t be able to read this article. I’m not just talking about computers and the Internet, but the technology evolution that got us here, such as the printing press and movable type, or even the invention of written language. The way humans have tended to work through all time is we have problems, we seek solutions. If the solution is good, we use it. If the solution continues to be good, we seek to find ways to improve that solution. If we didn’t, we’d probably all still be writing on clay tablets. We like to make things better, whatever “better” might be defined as for you and your needs. Firearms are no different.
If we take an abridged walk down history lane to the earliest uses of gunpowder by the Chinese, early “proto-gunpowder” was first used over 2000 years ago and the first “military” uses would have been almost 1000 years ago. Those first military uses involved putting the powder and a projectile into a bamboo tube. I don’t know about you, but while that’s a great and logical start, I’m sure glad things didn’t stop there. Not only would I expect the bamboo to not hold up to the pressures, flammability and so on, I am not sure how accurate those could be. So fast forward some hundreds of years and we have rifles that shoot lead projectiles, and while better at hitting the target they still aren’t the most accurate things. Then someone invents rifling and now we’re able to do much better at hitting the thing at which we’ve aimed. And so, firearms, like all technology, have evolved to meet needs. There’s a problem, we solve it. Perhaps once that problem is solved it now allows some other problem to come to light and so we set about solving that.
Weight is one such example. When you had the old non-rifled guns they had to be big and long. The theory was a long barrel gave the projectile more time to stabilize and thus would be more accurate. This certainly was true. But if you’ve got a very long barrel, that’s a lot of steel, and that’s a lot of weight. Still, accuracy mattered more since weight could be managed in other ways (e.g. just get stronger, or rest the rifle when firing). But once the accuracy problems were solved, we didn’t need the big, long, heavy, barrels so we could now address matters of weight and trim the barrel down to a more manageable size. Still, there’s only so much weight you can shave off that way, so to get lighter you have to look elsewhere for weight savings. Thankfully another bit of technology came along: plastics. Plastics are wonderful in their ability to produce very strong and very lightweight products. So now we can remove that heavy wooden stock and replace it with a lightweight plastic one. If you don’t think a couple pounds matters, spend a full day or even half a day carrying around something of moderate weight. When you have to do that, every ounce of weight you can save matters (ask a backpacker). Furthermore, plastic is more durable to the elements; wood can warp, swell, and have other manner of problems. So if plastic is so superior why do we still have guns with wood? Because wood is pretty.
Ergonomics. Hopefully you’ve noticed that people are built differently. Some people are tall, some are short. Some folks have long arms, some have short arms. Some people have big hands, others have little hands. People have varying levels of strength, levels of health and fitness (e.g. carpel tunnel syndrome, arthritis, etc.). Some people are old, some are disabled. As a result, one size does not fit all and many times that factory setup is designed as a compromise aimed to fit most adult males but even then isn’t a perfect fit. Replacing the fixed stock with a collapsible stock? Now the same rifle can be used by big me, my petite wife, and even my children because I can adjust how the rifle fits up to the shoulder. Pistol grip? I injured my right wrist some years ago and it does better when kept in a natural, relaxed position. An ergonomic pistol grip bodes better for my wrist instead of the extreme cant forced upon it by the grip of traditionally stocked rifles. If we were satisfied with “one-size-fits-all” then we’d all be wearing Spandex. Thankfully we appreciate and allow for folks to customize and make the tools and other products in our lives fit us. Firearms are no different.
Appropriateness and fitness for purpose is another and perhaps more important example. One of my nephews has a rifle chambered in .223 Remington. It’s a single-shot, break-action rifle, wood furniture, of the type obviously approved by Mr. Green. The .223 Remington is more or less the same round as the 5.56x45mm NATO round. Both of these rounds can be fired from AR-style rifles. Note then that in all ways that “terminally matter”, Mr. Green’s approved rifle and an AR-15 are the same, firing the same round from different but related-enough rifles. So if they can fire the same round, why isn’t my nephew’s rifle sufficient for anyone and everyone? It’s about purpose. Look in a toolbox. A basic toolbox might have a hammer, and it’s probably a claw hammer. While this may be good enough for folks that just have to pound some nails into the drywall to hang a picture from time to time, other people have other jobs and requirements that might require another sort of hammer in their toolbox. Maybe they work with metal and need a ball-peen hammer. Maybe they have a lot of wood to split and need a maul. Maybe they are an upholsterer, or a geologist, or a judge. Sure that light-duty claw hammer in your home repair toolkit might be able to handle these jobs, but then again it might not – at best it may not do the job well, and at worst it may fail outright. While one may be able to shoehorn an incorrect tool into doing a job, one is better served using the right tool for the job. That break-action single-shot rifle may be alright for target shooting or hunting, but I wouldn’t bet my life on it to defend myself and my home. For that, I prefer my AR-15. I’ve previously written on this topic: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4.
Technology advances. As I stated before, technology advances because we’re solving a problem or perhaps trying to find a better solution to a problem. Firearms used to be very manual, slow affairs. If we just go back as far as muskets, the time it took to fire, then reload was far from ideal. What if you missed what you were shooting at and need to shoot it again? Wouldn’t it be nice to be able to shoot then almost immediately shoot again? Revolvers were a step in the right direction, having multiple chambers and a mechanical means of advancing to the next chamber so you could fire again. Then in the late 19th century, the semi-automatic firearm was invented. This is a mechanism that uses the physical reactions occurring (rapid expansion of gases) and harnesses that energy to perform useful work (e.g. cycling the slide, ejecting empty case, loading new cartridge). An improved (and over 100 year old) technology at work. So far we haven’t been able to surpass “auto-loading” technology; we’ve tried other approaches towards implementing, different means to the same end, but in the end the principles remain the same and currently at the end of the evolutionary scale. Why wouldn’t I want to use superior technology? I certainly don’t use clay tablets for writing, but then, I’m a Mac. 🙂
Need? Really, why do we have to need? Why can’t we just want? Look at the car you drive. You don’t need that, not just that type of car, the make, the model, the design, the color, the features, the amenities… no, you don’t need a car at all. You can walk, ride a bike, take the bus, get someone to drive you, or just sit on your butt and get things delivered all day. Look at the clothing you wear. You don’t need name brands, fashion labels, pretty things. No, a burlap sack covers and warms you just fine. You don’t need all that fancy food in your fridge and pantry; beans and rice will sustain you. You don’t need that TV, you don’t need that iPhone, you don’t need that iPod, you don’t need that computer, you don’t need that gaming console, you don’t need that vacation, you don’t need that jewelry, you don’t need a whole lot of things. But we want them. Is there anything wrong with that? Who are you to tell me what I need and don’t need? What I want and don’t want and thus can or can’t have? And if you’re willing to draw lines for me, are you willing to let me draw lines for you?
So one might say you don’t need a gun, you want a gun. Yes I do. I want a gun, because I feel a need to equip myself in the best manner to defend myself. I hope to never use it in defense of myself or anyone, but it’s one of those things that you don’t want it until you need it and then when you need it you need it really bad. Mr. Green and many others view hunting as the only legitimate purpose for use of firearms. But why is that? I certainly could use a bow and arrow to hunt, or I could use trapping mechanisms. If I want to target shoot, I could throw darts or spitballs, some people fling cow patties for distance and accuracy. But again, technology advances. We have problems, we seek solutions, and often tools help us implement those solutions. Then when someone finds a way to build a better tool, we tend to adopt it if it truly helps to solve the problem. So this is why we use firearms for hunting, because it’s far more effective at helping us obtain food. It’s also why some of us choose to use firearms for self-defense.
Why self-defense isn’t considered a legitimate use is a mystery to me. I offer a simple experiment. After you read about the simple experiment, now would you want a gun? If not, why not? How much (or little?) value do you place on your life? I study a traditional empty-hand martial art. In addition to kicking, punching, throwing, grappling, joint locking and breaking, the art’s curriculum involves swords and staffs and a wide variety of other weaponry (e.g. cane). But why don’t those traditional weapons continue today? Because technology advanced. They’re not obsolete because there’s still use and application, but they aren’t as practical. I could carry a sword down the street, just like I could carry a long rifle. But it’s not very practical to do so. Whereas putting a handgun in my holster on my hip, that’s rather practical. Plus it keeps it rather handy if some low-life decides to endanger the lives of myself, my wife, or my children. Furthermore, a sword has rather limited range whereas a gun has a much better range. A sword, staff, cane, rope, fan, can still be a useful tool and still has a place; generally speaking, the firearm has surpassed all other weaponry in terms of general applicability for defensive purposes.
A true reality is that bad people exist. We cannot eliminate them from this world no matter how we try. Thus if we must live with them, we must do what we can to keep them at bay. If they opt to infringe upon us, we must turn them back, preferably by reason but by force if we must. This could be just some mugger wanting my money, some rapist wanting my daughter, or could even be some tyrant wanting my country. Without weapons, you’re a slave, not a citizen; slave to whom? someone with power over you, and likely they’ll have weapons to maintain and enforce that power. If you’ve got weapons, if you’ve the ability to stand on equal ground therefore it’s mighty tough to be a slave. I may not need to be free, but I want to be free.
I may not need a gun, but I want one. It’s the most technologically advanced means of defense, of equalizing. I may not need one of “those types of guns” but I want one. I want a handgun because of it’s ability to be concealed and carried. I want an AR because it’s purpose-built for urban defense situations. Fear usually comes about because of things we don’t know or are unfamiliar with. So if you’re afraid of these firearms, if their appearance is scary to you, take the time to get to know them and educate yourself about them. Hopefully after my above explanation you at least understand them a bit better.
In the end, the firearm isn’t anything to be afraid of. It’s just a thing. It’s just metals and plastics, levers and springs. It has no brain, it has no conscience, it has no soul. The person using the firearm however is another matter. Yes, bad men can use inanimate objects to further their evil purposes. But please don’t let that overshadow the millions of people that use those same inanimate objects for good and just causes every day. There are a lot more of us good guys out there, and we want and need “one of those guns” because we believe they’re a good tool their job.