Staying On Target

Whether we want it or not, we’re going to be hearing about guns and gun control for some time to come. There is a better than average chance that you already have a strong opinion on the subject, and there is a less than average chance that your opinion will ever change.

Nevertheless, in keeping with what we try to do here, we’re going to make an effort. We know we’re not going to change your mind, but if you are a rational human being, when you are exposed to new information you may change it yourself. At the very least, you may become more capable of compromise, and compromise is needed on this issue, like so many others in these partisan times.

We’re only two paragraphs in and some of you will already be experiencing a tightening of the jaw and an increase in blood pressure, and we haven’t even offered an opinion on guns or presented any new information on this controversial subject. Gun rights belongs to a perennial list of issues that, either by design or by tacit approval, are used on a regular basis to accomplish specific goals. They inflame us. They increase ratings and website traffic. They galvanize political support.

We are not suggesting that people on both sides of the issue lack sincerely held beliefs and honorable intentions. But as our culture fragments into almost tribal constituiencies, we signal our allegiance to our “tribe” by automatically embracing the opinion that is sanctioned by that tribe. When we become positional, new information has little chance to become incorporated into our thinking processes.

But we will take that chance. First, some new information, particularly for those who are wired for conservative opinions. (Any vterans in this group may want to skip ahead. This is old information for you.) The AR-15, such as the one used in the Parkland, Florida school massacre, is a civilian version of the famous M-16, which has been in service since 1964. It fires a 5.56 mm round. This round, propelled at a muzzle velocity of around 3250 feet per second, was designed for one thing: To kill and incapacitate human beings.

The difference between an AR-15 and a military issue M-16 is that the former is a semi-automatic weapon (as are most modern rifles and handguns), while the M-16 and other military rifles are capable of automatic firing.  When an AR-15 is outfitted with a bump stock, it is capable of firing at a rate that approaches that of a fully automatic weapon. Automatic weapons have been banned from civilian ownership since 1934. New laws have been introduced and modified several times since then to keep military hardware out of civilian hands, but the bump stock exists because of loopholes in current gun law.

Your author was an ammo tech in the Marine Corps. You might be surprised, or appalled, at the lethality of some of the ordnance used by the United States and our allies, and the amount of research which has been geared toward achieving maximum destructiveness. The 5.56 mm round is particularly destructive to human tissue.  By the process of cavitation, a bullet passing through flesh at a high velocity damages or destroys surrounding tissue at a much greater radius than the diameter of the round itself.

But that’s not the worst of it. The 5.56 mm round is designed to yaw, or tumble as it passes through its intended target.  It is also designed to fragment when it impacts its target. Some of you may remember the boot camp demonstration where a 5.56 round that was fired into the top of a mattress – exited from the bottom, leaving a mangled path of destruction between entry and exit points. The same thing happens in a human body, and an entry wound the size of a pencil can become an exit wound the size of a plate.

No one who hunts for food would use a 5.56 NATO round. It tears up the meat. Yet this type of ammo is readily available to the general public, and apparently available to 19 year olds.  If you are one of the people looking for rational solutions to the gun debate, keep this in mind, and to paraphrase an old cliche:  Guns don’t kill people. Bullets kill people.

Now for those who are wired for more liberal thought processes, one of the rallying cries for your cause is simply false. The recent tragedy in Parkland, Florida, was not the deadliest school attack in American history. Not even close. That dubious distinction belongs to the Bath School attack in 1927, where a disgruntled farmer and school board member killed 45 people, mostly children, and injured 58, with explosives.

We can, perhaps, now upgrade our platitudes to the following: Guns, bullets and bombs kill people when they are directed to do so by human hands. If we take away guns and bullets, human ingenuity motivated by sickness of mind will always find a way to achieve violent ends. This is why compromise is desperately needed, because we are not facing a simple problem with a single solution.

Many of you who read this may remember thinking nothing of carrying a pocket knife to school. Some of you who grew up in rural areas might have belonged to a high school gun club, or you may remember driving to school in a pickup truck with a shotgun in the gun rack. You probably didn’t even think to lock that truck when you got out to go to class.

Things have changed. Our culture has changed. For whatever reason, there is more anger and more mental illness among us, and in the last decade or so, fewer resources for the mentally ill. There is strong evidence of a link between certain psychiatric drugs and the potential for violent behavior – a link which is vehemently denied by the same pharmaceutical industry which produces the opioids that now plague us.

Underneath it all, perhaps, is a culture steeped in violence, confused by mixed messages about what violence is. The same celebrities who shoot the bad guys in the films have the audacity to preach to others about the evils of gun ownership. We could write an entire series on the glorification of violence by hip-hop artists, some of whom have been honored guests in the White House.

At the extremes of this debate are those who would disarm us entirely and those who would arm teachers in their classrooms. In this humble opinion, both are exceedingly bad ideas. More rational minds desiring to meet somewhere in the middle should be asking different questions, and demanding answers to all of them: Why was a 19 year old able to purchase a weapon with an effective capacity of a military rifle? Why was he able to purchase military grade ammunition? More importantly, why did he wish to do so? Finally, why, when the safeguards we have for detecting such potential problems functioned properly, did the agencies responsible for protecting us fail to act?

 

 

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