Wednesday, December 19, 2012

The only way to end gun violence once and for all

The kind of assault rifle used in the Newtown horror. Based on the military M-16

The first known gunpowder weapon, from China

Gunpowder spread from China to Europe. A 16th century soldier

Many people are now interested in firearms in the wake of the horror in Newtown.

Some who favor "gun rights" may be willing to strengthen gun control laws.

Yet relatively few people are familiar with the history of firearms, or harbor mythologies of the Old West, or the National Rifle Association's interpretation of the second amendment to the constitution.

By the way, try reading the second amendment:

 A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.

No wonder it generates so many different readings. If you're an English major type, try diagramming it. There's also confusion over what is meant by "a well regulated militia."  "Militia" dates to the 16th century and is from the Latin that means "military service." What we would now call an army.

This is a subject of contention, but it seems clear that the second amendment is intended to prevent disarmament by a king. (There were some in the 18th century).  Note that the language refers to the right of the people, not the individual. Resolution of what the amendment means is not imminent.

Guns, since the first one was invented in China, have been developed for military use. The idea of "sporting arms" is a relatively recent invention to create business for firearms manufacturers. 

A more advanced Chinese weapon

Likewise, hunting with a rife is also a recent development. Hunting with a smooth bore musket, or a rifled musket, would not have been remotely easy. Muzzle-loading guns are inherently inaccurate due to their design. The projectile has to be shoved down the barrel, meaning that the bullet has to be slightly smaller in diameter.

Consequently, up to and through the Civil War, armies had to maneuver and fire in large formations to ensure an adequate volume of fire. This is also why battles could be fought by two ranks of opposing soldiers a few hundred feet apart. 

The invention of the Minie ball, during the course of the Civil War, increased the range and accuracy of rifle fire, by squeezing the bullet into the rifling grooves. Most of the weaponry and tactics of the First World War were in use by the end of the Civil War.

Invention of smokeless powder and the self-contained brass cartridge further improved the accuracy and firepower of rifles and allowed the design of smaller and more deadly hand guns. 

Winchester rifles and Colt pistols become icons of the Old West. Did cowboys all walk around with pistols as in movie Westerns? No, in reality they did not. 

The invention of the machine gun turned the Great War into the bloody impersonal killing of thousands upon thousands of French, English and German young men. Many also fell to Mauser bolt-action and British Lee Enfield rifles.  The Thompson submachine gun favored by Chicago gangsters was designed as a "trench sweeper" but did not see use by Dough boys.

 World War II was even worse, much worse. In addition to similar rifles, soldiers were also armed with semi-automatic rifles, like the Garand M-1, sub-machine guns, and the novel  Nazi sturmgeweher assault rifle. The sturmgeweher was chambered for rounds smaller than rifle ammunition and larger than pistol cartridges. The Soviets drew upon the sturmgeweher to produce the ubiquitous AK-47. 

Private ownership of guns started to rise in the U.S. after World War II.  Thousands of returning soldiers, sailors, marines and airmen, were familiar with the Garand, the Browning Automatic Rifle,  and the .45-caliber Colt semi-automatic pistol. 

Somewhere along the way, the myths of the self-reliant rugged individualist-explorer, the quick-draw outlaws of the West, gangster anti-heroes, and what Richard Hofstadter saw as a paranoid and anti-intellectual culture of America, melded into the idea that every person had the right to own lethal weaponry.

Consequently, the U.S., with a population of 311 million, now has an estimated 270 million firearms, including rifles and pistols.  The U.S. has one of the highest rates of gunfire homicides, suicides and accidental deaths in the developed world.  (See link below)

Clearly, private small arms would not be sufficient to overthrow a repressive government armed with heavy weapons, artillery, armor, air power, and a standing army. 

How many gun owners successfully defend themselves or their homes? No one knows with any accuracy. Estimates range from 1.5 million to 2.5 million times a year. Few people outside of police and the military have the training and discipline to use firearms in a responsible and effective way. 

This is why arming everyone is an insanely bad idea. 

Guns are more often used to kill family members, gun owners themselves, and untrained people who handle weapons. And they are also used to assassinate presidents and other politicians, civil rights organizers, people in theaters, colleges, high schools, and most recently in an elementary school. 

No matter how stringent gun control laws become, there is only one way to ultimately end gun violence in the U.S. That's a total ban on gun and ammunition ownership. If our elected leaders were up to the task, they could set a year, say, 2020, at which time owning or possessing a gun would be illegal. The penalty would be a non-negotiable prison term. 

During the intervening years, state, federal and local governments could offer to "buy back" guns.

Remaining guns would gradually be taken out of circulation as they are used. They would be recovered from crime scenes and destroyed. Some number of gun owners would get by, but when they pass away, their heirs would not be allowed to inherit their guns. 

So the whole disarmament might take 10, 20, 30 years, or more. 

After that, no more senseless mass murders by assault rifle. 

Sturmgeweher 44, Nazi assault rifle

Soviet AK-47

Saturday, December 15, 2012

tragicadjectivea tragic accidentdisastrouscalamitouscatastrophic,cataclysmicdevastatingterribledreadfulawfulappalling,dismalhorrendousfataldeadlymortallethal. ANTONYMSfortunatelucky.a tragic talesadunhappypatheticmovingdistressing,depressingpainfulharrowingheart-rendingpiteous,wretchedsorrymelancholydolefulmournfulmiserable,gut-wrenching. ANTONYMS joyfulhappy.a tragic waste of talentregrettableshamefulterrible,horribleawfuldeplorablelamentablepiteousdreadful,grievous.
unspeakableadjectiveunspeakable delightsindescribablebeyond description,inexpressibleunutterableindefinableunimaginable, unspeakable crimehorrificawfulappallingdreadful,horrifyinghorrendousabominablefrightfulfearful,shockingghastlygruesomemonstrousheinousegregious,deplorabledespicableexecrablevile.

When an inexpressibly sad, shocking or horrific event happens -- an unspeakable act -- there's no need to speak.

Some dignified silence on television would have been merciful following the appalling Newtown murder of children. But no, television being what it is these says, there had to be verbiage, and lots of it, to fill the time.

Perhaps the most egregious way to approach the unapproachable was conducted by ABC news, personified by Diane Sawyer and Chris Cuomo.  With few facts to report, they shamelessly inserted themselves into the story.

"Look at my monumental humanity and empathy," they seemed to be broadcasting. As the old joke goes, once you can fake sincerity you've got it made. 

During the quaint days of real  journalism, reporters were required to be objective. That meant that no reporter was to insert his or her feelings into a story.

If the story is so horrible it leaves you without words, think of some words. That's what you were being paid for. 

Under no circumstances could you have turned in a few pages about how there was no way to express the story. Describing your own horror: no. Revealing the weakness of your vocabulary: no.

But what viewers got instead was an unctuous Chris Cuomo "interviewing" a young girl about the shootings. In self-conscious fake felicity he put words in her mouth, expressed self-conscious  concern for her, and generally scaled the heights of bathos.

WTNH was better, by a little. No one at channel 8 could apparently stomach the false sincerity of Sawyer or Cuomo. 
What our local news men and women did was sincere, but clunky.

 That evening was not the time to reflect on your own children over the cable. Or how as a parent you could imagine the terror or grief (You could not possibly).  Or how difficult your job is. Or what a strain you are under. Or how devastated you are. Or how you are coping with unspeakable tragedy.

By doing so, they converted the story into themselves. 

It's not necessary to tell viewers that 20 kindergarten kids being shot methodically by a deranged man is worse than horrible. 

But that was the easiest way to fill time, and given the usual undermanned staff that newspapers and television stations have acquired,  doing any more would have been difficult. What more?

Ideally, find a story.

 That's what you're being paid to do. If that cannot be done, how about a few blessed minutes of video without commentary? Show, don't tell. 

And by that, I mean do not show how slick you are, or how well you can simulate humanity. Enlighten. Disseminate some news.  State Police spokesman  Lt. Paul Vance was the clearest-headed person at the scene, and had a monopoly on useful, real information. 

He explained cogently why details were scarce. If anyone was listening, he said that the crime scene had to be thoroughly examined, and evidence had to be preserved.

Maybe someone could have asked him why.

That crime scene was incredibly complicated and traumatic to the men and women who were collecting shell casings, or some other nightmarish, grisly task.

 Do we need to know the path of each round, or what type of ammunition was used? Those kinds of details seem pointless. However, there might have been compelling forensic reasons for doing so. 

When a spokesman is orders of magnitude sharper, clearer, more articulate and  well composed than the reporters at the scene of a crisis, something is wrong.