Friday, December 14, 2012


Unfriendly Fire

The reports of the Connecticut school massacre indicate that a .223 Bushmaster rifle was found at the scene and was, presumably, the weapon used to kill twenty kindergarten children and six teachers. Bushmaster makes a version of what was known as the AR-15, a supposedly "civilian" version of the M-16, long used by the military. The main difference between the AR-15 and the M-16 is that the latter has a switch that converts it from semiautomatic to automatic operation. However, there are kits readily available that will convert the AR-15 to automatic.

I fired the M-16 on numerous occasions while I was in the Army. While I was never a combat officer, I did earn several expert marksman badges and I lettered in target shooting in college.

Frankly, there is not all that much difference between the semiautomatic and automatic mode for this weapon. In fact, in Army training, we were basically told not to use the automatic mode because it used up the magazines (standard issue in the Army was 20 round magazines) too fast with too little accuracy. Even with larger magazines (60 or 100 round versions can be found on the internet) you could probably empty the magazine in under a minute in semiautomatic mode.

My experience is that there is no "sporting" use for such a weapon, except, perhaps, for the tumescent experience certain juvenile personalities undergo by putting a large number of rounds downrange in short-lived, but apparently satisfying to them, spurts.

For target shooting, AR-15s suck. This is what a great target shooting rifle looks like, a single shot bolt action Anschütz:

Nor are they hunting rifles. The .223 round (essentially a 22 caliber bullet, though longer than the standard 22, with a larger powder charge) does not have the "stopping power" to bring down most large game. And the long but thin profile of the bullet causes it to tumble once it hits a twig or a body, giving it much the characteristic of a "dum-dum" round. Even if you managed to bring down, say, a deer with it, it would ruin a lot of the meat. Hit a rabbit with it and you'll blow it apart.

There is only one reason to use an AR-15 and its kin ... to maim or kill people.

In a civilized society, no one who hasn't any business killing or maiming people should be allowed to own them.

I also read somewhere in the news coverage that the gunman had a couple of 9mm handguns. A 9mm Glock 17, of course, is an excellent deer gun, and you can get a 100-round mag for it, in case the deer fights back.
... and you can get a 100-round mag for it, in case the deer fights back.

Actually, I knew someone who told a story (apocryphal or not) of a deer who did fight back. He was hunting in western New York (where only shotguns and "deer slugs" were allowed ... yet another story of cruelty). He saw a large male and shot it, only to have it charge him. He reloaded and shot it again but it still kept coming. He fired a third shot and, wholely by accident, hit one of the deer's front legs, causing it to collapse about 10 feet from him.

I never did tell him who I was rooting for in the exchange.
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According to early reports the Bushmaster was found outside in his car, which would make a certain amount of sense since it would have been difficult to get that past the school's recently-installed secure admission system.

I enjoy shooting as a recreation but I don't shoot anything living, just targets. My attitude to hunting is summed up in the line from Kipling's Jungle Book "Hunt for food but not for pleasure." I see neither sport nor pleasure in shooting other animals from a safe - and often long - distance with a powerful rifle just for a trophy. Like you, I would have been rooting for the deer in the incident you recount.

Nonetheless, I think it is important to protect shooting as a sport or recreation which individuals are entitled to practice provided it is properly and safely managed. In cowboy action shooting, for example, they fire low-powered pistol-caliber ammunition and safe handling practices are strictly enforced. Any infraction of the rules, however minor, will get you thrown out of a competition immediately.

Although I have never fired such a weapon, I agree the Bushmaster is just a 'civilianized' version of the M16 and there is really little difference between semi- and fully-automatic modes, certainly for an experienced shooter. In fact, you could argue that semi- is more dangerous since it encourages more careful aiming of each round. Spraying bullets around in full auto means a lot more of them are going to miss. That said, I would still argue that people should be able to shoot such a weapon if it can be done without risk to innocent bystanders.
That said, I would still argue that people should be able to shoot such a weapon if it can be done without risk to innocent bystanders.

I wouldn't be against having licensed and regulated shooting ranges having such weapons available for the use of members. My problem is with private ownership of weapons whose only "real" purpose is to kill people. It might be a real rush to set off an atomic bomb ... that doesn't mean I want to see them in the hands of the public at large.
Yeah, the assault rifle was in the car, the murders were done with the handguns. This time. I can't believe we are already hearing people saying "don't politicize this". Stopping crazy people from killing the rest of it is the point of having politics, I thought.
The shooting became politicized from the very instant that it became news. The only people for whom its not political are the families and friends of those killed. It's political for everyone else, in some shape or fashion or other -- and "don't politicize this" is itself a political gesture par excellence.
Yeah, the assault rifle was in the car, the murders were done with the handguns.

The same arguments apply. There are no "sporting" reasons for individual ownership of those types of weapons. Target shooting has much better examples of good weapons for that sport and there is no place for them in hunting.
Yes, there are specialized pistols and rifles, like the Anschutz, for precision target shooting but there are also the so-called practical shooting sports which employ standard or modified production guns.

Personally, I would have no problem if there was a requirement to keep any personal weapons in a secure storage facility at a licensed range or that any others would have to be hired for use on the day.

The problem, as Mill understood, is balancing individual rights and freedoms against the legitimate interests of society as a whole. In this specific case, allowing people who will never be a threat to anyone to shoot as sport or recreation while keeping guns out of the hands of people like the suspect in this terrible case, Adam Lanza.
NPR just said the medical examiner said the shootings were mostly done with the assault weapon, so I guess the early reports were wrong. Why does anyone who is not military or law enforcement need these again??
Why does anyone who is not military or law enforcement need these again??

Because the NRA is full of pseudomasculine assholes like Charlton Heston, who mouth stupid mantras like "pry it from my cold, dead hands".
It now appears it was the mother who was the gun collector, which is a little unusual in itself, and her son left behind three rifles.

And I agree that no one other than the police or armed forces need assault rifles but sports, hobbies and recreation are not about needs as such.

The problem is keeping guns out of the hands of aberrants like spree killers.
Background checks are a must, and gun owners shouldn't have a problem with them, because 99.9% of all gun owners/wannabe gun owners would probably pass.
I would suggest that ownership and use of a firearm would require a license, just as for driving a car.

In order to obtain a license, an applicant would have to undergo a rigorous training course and pass an examination.

Purchase of a firearm would require a valid current license and be subject to a thorough background check. Part of the background check would be to confirm that the applicant had a secure container in which to store guns and ammunition.

A history of mental illness or substance abuse or a criminal record would disqualify anyone from obtaining a license and owning a firearm.

Semi-automatic rifles, pistols and shotguns would be permitted but conversion of a gun from semi- to full automatic mode would be an offense for which the penalty would be a permanent revocation of the license and the confiscation of all arms and ammunition.

The magazines of semi-automatic firearms would be limited to a maximum capacity of ten rounds and only two magazines would be allowed per gun.

As a responsible gun-owner I would be comfortable with this degree of regulation and I believe it would go some way towards preventing these mass murders although gun-control on its own is not enough.
If you want to do anything about these school shootings and the general murder glut in the USA, you need to get semi-automatic weapons, whether pistols, rifles or shotguns, out of the hands of the general population. These are guns for killing people. They should only be in the hands of the military and police and, maybe, but only maybe some folk with a very specific demonstrable need for such a weapon.

That's if you really do want to do something about mass shootings like Newtown and about the background gun murder rate of a Newtown every day of the years.

If you're not willing to go there, let's not hear pious prating about children being priceless when you set such a low price on them.

I would be comfortable with this degree of regulation

It would be a start ... that the NRA will fight tooth and nail.

But in this case, except for the size and number of magazines (which I have seen no reports about), it wouldn't have made much difference. The mother owned the guns and was apparently able to pass background checks. It would hardly be surprising if her adult children had access to any secure container she had. One of the problems with such regulations is that you aren't permitting access to such weapons to the person who applies but to anyone and everyone that person allows access to them.
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