How We Talk About Guns

In America, we have a gun conversation problem. It seems to me that the reason is that when we try to talk about firearms, we have some fundamentally different ideas about what the second amendment is, what firearms actually are, the proper role of government, and a basic inability to speak without excessive hyperbole. Allow me to offer a few suggestions.

The second amendment to the constitution is not only about hunting. Some may want it to be, and that is a perfectly valid opinion, but it is not helpful when trying to find solutions. The second amendment is also not about service in a well regulated militia. Again, some may want it to be, and that is a perfectly valid opinion, but it is not helpful when trying to find solutions. Whether we like it or not, the Supreme Court has said that firearm ownership is personal in nature and maybe used for any legal purpose including, but no limited to, self defense. The second amendment is also not absolute. Some may want it to be, and that too is a perfectly valid opinion. but it is not terribly helpful when trying to find solutions. The Supreme Court has repeatedly affirmed that there can be restrictions on firearm ownership. What I am getting at here is that if you are honestly trying to find real world solutions, we must deal with what is and not what we would like to be. Until we can do that, there will be no real solutions.

To go along with this, we have to understand that America is fairly unique in guaranteeing the ability to personally own firearms for a wide range of legal activities. Because of this unique difference, it is difficult to look at legislation in other nations where this right is not as guaranteed for solutions. There may be valid ideas in such legislation, but often it simply cannot work in America because of our founding documents. Another often repeated talking point is “why does anyone need…” It is perhaps a fair question so far as trying to understand motives, but it is not legally useful. In the most recent Supreme Court ruling, showing need, and perhaps other subjective criteria, were deemed unconstitutional. So, again, it just isn’t useful if we are trying to find solutions. Repealing the second amendment is a perfectly valid opinion, and goal, but if that is the goal, then efforts need to be made to do so instead of trying to misrepresent it or change its meaning. Doing so does not help find real world solutions. Solutions require ideas that are actionable, not only aspirations.

“Assault Weapon/rifle” has become a useless term because it does not have a real definition. The term means different things to different people so it just isn’t useful. The Encyclopedia Britannica defines assault rifle as “a military firearm that is chambered for ammunition of reduced size or propellant load and that has the capacity to switch between semiautomatic and fully automatic fire”. The US Army defines assault weapons as “short, compact, selective-fire weapons that fire a cartridge intermediate in power between submachine gun and rifle cartridges.” Using the army definition, this is an assault rifle . This is not One of the the Presidents nominees for director of the ATF could not define what an assault weapon was other than to say that it is whatever congress says that it is with legislation. A bill introduced in the house of representatives, (full text here) labels this as an assault weapon How on earth can we have honest and serious conversations to seek potential solutions to assault weapons when we have no idea what we are actually talking about? We need an honest and specific definition before we can have honest conversations.

High capacity¬† magazines is another fun buzz phrase that is nebulous as well. The Brady united, a gun control advocacy group, defines them as magazines that carry more than 10 or more than 15 rounds. Giffords and every town say that they are more than 10 rounds. Wikipedia, which popped up first in a google search for high capacity magazines, defines them as “a magazine capable of holding more than the usual number of rounds of ammunition for a particular firearm. My point is that we need an actual firm definition for what we are talking about.

Another big issue is that often people will say things that while they may be true, are not particularly helpful. In a recent speech, the POTUS stated that the muzzle velocity of an AR-15 was significantly higher than a pistol. That is a true statement, but it is not terribly useful. The muzzle velocity of nearly any long gun is significantly higher than a pistol. In fact, the .220 Swift round has a significantly higher muzzle velocity than the AR-15, but i only useful for small game and vermin. Muzzle velocity is only one of many factors in the power of a weapon. Shot with a .220 Swift round in the leg, it would be possible, though painful, to walk to the ER (muzzle velocity 4,000 ft/s) while being shot in the leg with a .50 Desert Eagle pistol might cause you to lose the leg (muzzle velocity 1,542 ft/s). To often people are spewing out things that may be true, but are not terribly useful, seemingly for the purpose of hyperbole for a desired action instead of intellectual honesty for the purposes of seeking solutions. To be honest, folks who understand firearms, like myself, become very frustrated with those who do not understand them because things are said that are either factually wrong, or do not actually advance the conversation. It is difficult, if not impossible, to have an honest, solution seeking conversation about things that you do not have some working knowledge of.

Yes, you can buy a “weapon of war” in the United States. I am not going to link how that process works here, but yes, you can with some hefty restrictions. No, the AR-15 is not a “weapon of war”. ArmaLite, the company that first made the AR-15, did try to sell it as an infantry rifle to the US military. While they had some small limited success, it failed miserably as the military did not want it. The design was then sold to Colt who, in the 1960s, produced the M-16, a fully automatic file, for the US military. It used the same caliber as the AR-15, but met the requirements for military use being fully automatic. The semiautomatic AR-15 was then sold to the public. The patent ran out in the 1970s and all sorts of manufacturers then began manufacturing guns similar to the AR-15. While some might make the argument that the 5.56mm round is “military grade” or use similar language, the US military also uses the 9mm round, the .45, 12 gauge shotgun shells, 7.62mm, etc. Also, regarding the 5.56mm round and the claims it is not useful for hunting, that is a fallacy. It is an acceptable hunting round for mid size game (small to medium hogs, coyote, etc) and, with proper loading, it is a perfectly acceptable deer round out to about 100 yards or so. It is particularly useful in this type of hunting because the round sheds significant energy beyond that range so as to limit the potential for accidental shootings during hunting season. This should not be read as a defense of the round, or the weapon, just the realization that it is not a “weapon of war” unless virtually every gun made is a “weapon of war”.

There is ample room as well as need to discuss firearms in America. Please do discuss and try to find solutions that work within the system of law that we have. The problem that we all seem to suffer from is that “talking” has been reduced to partisan talking points where person a parrots a bullet point and person b responds by parroting their own. That is not honest conversation and will not result in any type of real solutions. I know, and even understand, that many want to speak about gun control from both sides of the issue, but more than a gun control problem in America, we have a gun conversation problem in America.


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