It’s Far More Complicated Than We Think

I’m not sanguine about the positive effects of gun control. There are lots of people stirring the pot, trying to think of effective measures, but I can pretty much guarantee that they are barking up the wrong tree.

Without getting into detail about “what is an assault rifle” it’s a non-starter, in my opinion, to argue about that stuff. We’ve already seen that gun nuts will game whatever rules are put in place, with bump stocks, trigger cranks, whatever. As someone who spent my share of time with an M-16 in hand (mostly in 1983; in my reserve unit I carried the M-60) I can’t see any excitement to firing a full-auto weapon. It just means you don’t hit a damn thing. I’m kind of old school about that, and I think the army should have never gone with higher fire-rates than tri-burst; perhaps I have read too much George MacDonald Fraser. [gmcdf] My interest in guns is on the same axis as nihon-to, Japanese swords: good design and aesthetics. I used to regularly laugh at the pathetic quality of the M-16 when we really hammered them on the range. When you clean them, there are these little gas-rings on the bolt that you have to make sure are not lined up, because the gas can bleed through this gap in the gas-ring and then the action won’t cycle; it has to be staggered. What a ridiculous design! A keyed gas-ring and a key on the bolt would solve that problem, it’d just take a tiny bit more machining, and the rifles are junk – someone decided it’s just not worth it.

I’m exposing this stuff because I know there is a large body of gun owners who consider themselves safe and harmless. For one thing, when you get an assault charge with a deadly weapon, plea deals almost always include that you won’t have access to your firearms for ${a while}. When I got my dust-up with the law, I had to get rid of all firearms for 2 years, which meant that they all wound up coated in oil, vacuum bagged, stacked in the uppermost hay loft of my barn. [Don’t ask, I don’t think I’m ready to talk about it] Anyhow, the vast majority of gun owners are harmless collectors. Maybe what they are collecting is dangerous, but for them, it’s a different obsession. For one thing, among the hard-core gun nuts that I know, there is no bluster about how it’s for home defense. They all know that having more guns than you can carry in the back of a Chevy Suburban does not increase your self-defense at all. Arguably, one gun might suffice, but a truck-load certainly will not.

I spent 10+ years shooting paper targets with handguns and long rifles. It was calming, during a high stress period of my life. I’d sit there at the bench behind my sniper rifle (a Sako TRG-21S with 10x Swarovski/Kahles scope) and control my focus and my breathing, until I could reliably shoot the cap off a coke bottle at 200M. Honestly, I felt more like it was meditation [cue a bunch of bushido warrior meditation bullshit, some of which is true] because I really did sort of feel my intent floating out of my body and becoming just my will, the crosshairs, the trigger. It became less interesting/fun once I stopped missing. But the sensation the whole time, was that of a difficult sport requiring high mental focus. I was also practicing Iaido at the time, with live steel like you’re not supposed to, and that had a similar effect. I mention that because sometimes people make the mistake of trying to frame guns as a penis substitute, and a mere gun cannot stack up against a sword in that regard. So, mock me on that axis if you think you’re qualified.

[Illustration from an old article about the kennedy assassination, on my site. I need to update it and perhaps post a shorter, tightened-up version here]

There’s a sort of community at the range, which is not bad. The Maryland State Police had a range of their own, which they closed, so they sometimes showed up at the range where I shot. I remember one time there was a bunch of cop assholes wearing windbreakers that said “TACTICAL TEAM” on the back and they were crowded around a McMillanized Model 70. They were taking turns and bullets were all over their paper at 200yd. I snorted and kept my routine. Then there was a break and one of the cops sauntered over, looked at my Sako, and asked, “what is that?!” I replied, “Finnish army sniper rifle.” Looked through my scope at their target and said, “you dialing in your optics?” The cop said, “No, it’s zeroed. Why?” “You’re all over the map, here, take a look at mine” and handed him the spotter scope. I was working on a nice .5″ group at 200yd and had about 5 holes in it. The cop said, “holy shit!” and I said “that’s why I thought your optics were off.” Then he asked me what I did for a living and I replied, “I run a software company.” Badum-tschh. Cops are, in my experience, some of the worst shots. They sometimes would bring a bowling pin or two and .45s and try to hit the bowling pins with rapid fire. Mostly, all they made was noise.

Cops see guns as tools for doing their job, which means that they will never achieve the level of focus and appreciation that a hobbyist can. But, what I found interesting, is that a typical, i.e.: the vast majority, hobbyist is not sitting there imagining they are shooting schoolkids. They’re just relaxing and enjoying the fusion between an expert and their tools. When I am turning a bowl on the wood lathe, I go to the same place – my happy country – where it’s all skill and will and reaching for beauty. Yes, there is beauty in shooting the caps off 3 bottles at 200yd in a row; it doesn’t matter if you have an audience – it’s satisfying. There are doubtless some cops that are gun nuts, but because it’s their tools, there are probably few cops that are gun artists.

I’m not trying to defend gun ownership. This is me thinking out loud about some things. I remember many times arguing “Well, I’m harmless and for me it’s just a sport like Iaido or Kendo or Judo, or fencing.” My first awareness of the larger debate about guns in America was in the context of me being pissed off about the “open carry” jackasses and the spree shooters, who made the rest of us decent people look bad. Now, I know it’s much more complicated than that.

One aspect of the gun nut that we don’t take into account is the really hard-core nutty gun nuts. Like this guy:

Just looking at the wall in the opening frames I see multiple pieces of garbage based on AR-15/M-16 design. It’s not a matter of “why do you think you need that” it’s “why do you have that crap on display” to me. This guy may have a collection that he spent over $1mn on, but it’s like he’s a compulsive acquisitor; he’ll grab anything he can get his hands on, and stick it on the wall. I know he’s not using any/most of those guns because nobody is going to find cleaning that many AR-15 actions fun. Cleaning one isn’t fun. And I can say with some confidence that he’s not a shooter because a shooter knows that if you want to hit stuff, you practice with one rifle, and that’s it. Every rifle’s trigger has a different break-point and then there are scopes on what looks like every one of jackass’ rifles – I bet he never zeroes any of them. See what I mean? This guy is not a shooter; he’s a collector. He could be collecting pokemon cards, but he just happened to obsess over guns instead. I’m going to say he’s mostly harmless because he’s so in love with his collection that he’d never risk having the police or FBI seize it. if he did something wrong with any of it.

I mentioned in an earlier posting that this sort of super-collector actually own a significant portion of all the guns owned in the US. When I hear his voice, I hear a bit of the whine of desperation as he’s trying to justify “this is revolutionary war” and “this is civil war” – why? Obviously, none of this stuff is useful to him because one AR-15, even though it’s crap, is far more lethal than a Brown Bess. I felt the pull of collecting, once, when I was at an antique store in Paris and they had a boxed set of duelling pistols by Boutet a Versailles, but they cost as much as a Lamborghini. So much for that. They were beautiful, in their way, because of the quality of manufacture, but the carvings on them were really tacky. See? There I go. I bet this collector would have snapped the duelling set up and it would be a prize part of his collection. Still not as deadly as that crappy AR-15. Basically, this guy has a private museum he has spent $1m on, and I’m not sure if we have any business judging him. I’m also going to say that this guy is not the problem.

I was listening to one of Beau of the Fifth Column’s pieces and he pointed out a thing I’ve thought before (but he did it better than I do) which is that the guys who are the problem are the guys who think they are warriors not home museum-keepers. The guys, like Kyle Rittenhouse, who want to feel the burn of adrenaline as they step into the lists for their own Armageddon. Or the combat cosplayers who strut around in “battle rattle” and molle gear covered with Punisher patches, and “thin blue line” patches. Beau pointed out something that is profoundly correct: the premise of the 2nd amendment is that the state may become dangerous to individual rights, and therefore individuals may overthrow the state. The 2nd amendment nut who is leaning on the 2nd amendment and wearing the “thin blue line” patch is self-contradictory, because the 2nd amendment means that when the state gets oppressive, you’ll shoot cops. That’s why the well-regulated militia exists: to combat the state – not to serve the state as irregular bullet-sponges. I think we should be doing a better job of framing that meme to cops everywhere: when they’re open carrying they are not open carrying to protect democracy from the nonexistent liberal death-squads (‘cuz we don’t squad up) – they are there to hunt you cops. There, by the way, is one way to do something productive about the problem: does the 2nd amendment say “you can open carry?” No, it does not. It says you can keep and bear but it doesn’t say where. A state rights’ fan governor could pass laws saying “open carry all you like on property you own. Otherwise, it’s a felony.” Does it say you can open carry on the commons? No, it does not. Look at the way state governors were able to fuck abortion rights all to hell – you could do the same to gun ownership. $1m liability insurance required. Must have a certified range that meets ${criteria}. All gun repairs and part substitutions must be safety-checked and certified by a master gunsmith and oops we only have 5 in the state.

I’ve got an actual strategy I’d like to suggest for all of this but I don’t feel like it because I know nothing good is ever going to happen. This whole topic is pointless because nothing is ever going to happen and we’re just going to vibrate between extremes of pain and stupid.


  1. Cass says

    There are things that can be done that would limit accidental gun deaths, like insurance, background checks, ammunition tax storage laws training requirements. Safety. I don’t know what can be done to change the attitude that unfettered violence against strangers is conflict resolution.

  2. says

    @Cass: the problem I have with insurance is that it means only people who can afford it get guns. Just raising the price of guns results in people with $1mn gun vaults.

    The “conflict resolution” aspect is the important point. I don’t see how corpsing someone is successful negotiation. In fact, quite the opposite. Further, if you add the political violence (2a is anti-government) aspect of the problem, then violence is a demonstration of a person’s incompetence at politics – it ought to disqualify them.

  3. Rob Grigjanis says

    Is the “well-regulated militia” supposed to be the National Guard of a particular state? If not, who’s supposed to be doing the “well-regulating”?

  4. says

    Rob Grigjanis@#3:
    Is the “well-regulated militia” supposed to be the National Guard of a particular state?

    Important point, thank you.

    I’d certainly interpret it that way. Wanna play soldier? Join the state guard and learn the important military skills: boredom, cleaning stuff, taking stupid orders, and sometimes doing something useful. They did a unit call-up during a hurricane and half the tough guys in my unit couldn’t make it. Useless! I made it 40 miles on my motorcycle.

    I carried an M-60 in my reserve unit and hauling that thing around cured me of any interest in machine guns.

    “Militia” has a specific meaning and it’s not armed peasants. It’s armed and organized peasants. The overall power-structure does not and should not appreciate “freelance militia” – a “well-regulated” militia fits into a chain of command and is able to deploy for light missions. The chain of command for guard units is well-defined: they have scattered bases within a state, their own logistics, motor pool, and arsenals – and they have NCOs and officers, anchored at the state governor who is the civilian authority that can order a call-up and deploy guard units on a task and purpose.

    The US national guard system was utterly demolished under Bush/Rumsfeld – suddenly instead of being deployed in-state to help communities with floods, etc., they were running around in Iraq taking casualties. Worse, because the regular army and guard had different retention rules, it was actually possible (and happened) for guard units to get deployed and redeployed to Iraq. There were “weekend warriors” who spent WAY more time in Iraq than regular army units – so much for “one weekend a month, one month a year.” Since Bushco treated the guard as regular army, now nobody wants to be in the guard; suddenly they have a retention crisis.

  5. Pierce R. Butler says

    … the premise of the 2nd amendment is that the state may become dangerous to individual rights, and therefore individuals may overthrow the state.

    Only in the fantasies of wingnuts.

    US Constitution, Article I, Section 8 (1st mention of “militia”):

    The Congress shall have Power …
    To provide for calling forth the Militia to execute the Laws of the Union, suppress Insurrections and repel Invasions;

    To provide for organizing, arming, and disciplining, the Militia, and for governing such Part of them as may be employed in the Service of the United States, reserving to the States respectively, the Appointment of the Officers, and the Authority of training the Militia according to the discipline prescribed by Congress; …

    Article II, Section 2:

    The President shall be Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy of the United States, and of the Militia of the several States, when called into the actual Service of the United States; …

    IOW: the militia exist to enforce central authority, and the Second Amendment does the same.

    The “Framers” convened the Constitutional Convention in the aftermath of Shay’s Rebellion specifically to strengthen the government (which demanded and collected taxes far above anything the British had ever levied) and make sure anything like that which might happen again would get thoroughly and immediately squelched. The first major mobilization of the militia occurred exactly for that purpose (see “Whiskey Rebellion”); not sure when this “overthrow the tyrants” fantasy began, but it’s 180° out of line with historical & legal reality.

  6. consciousness razor says

    The 2nd amendment nut who is leaning on the 2nd amendment and wearing the “thin blue line” patch is self-contradictory, because the 2nd amendment means that when the state gets oppressive, you’ll shoot cops. That’s why the well-regulated militia exists: to combat the state – not to serve the state as irregular bullet-sponges.

    That’s an interpretation, I guess, but it’s certainly not the only one. Some context, via wiki (my emphasis):

    Before and after the English Bill of Rights, the government could always disarm any individual or class of individuals it considered dangerous to the peace of the realm.[44] In 1765, William Blackstone wrote the Commentaries on the Laws of England describing the right to have arms in England during the 18th century as a subordinate auxiliary right of the subject that was “also declared” in the English Bill of Rights.[45][46]

    The fifth and last auxiliary right of the subject, that I shall at present mention, is that of having arms for their defence, suitable to their condition and degree, and such as are allowed by law. Which is also declared by the same statute 1 W. & M. st.2. c.2. and is indeed a public allowance, under due restrictions, of the natural right of resistance and self-preservation, when the sanctions of society and laws are found insufficient to restrain the violence of oppression.[47]


    The need to have arms for self-defence was not really in question. Peoples all around the world since time immemorial had armed themselves for the protection of themselves and others, and as organized nations began to appear these arrangements had been extended to the protection of the state.[48] Without a regular army and police force, it had been the duty of certain men to keep watch and ward at night and to confront and capture suspicious persons. Every subject had an obligation to protect the king’s peace and assist in the suppression of riots.[49]

    A few points…. It won’t assist you in combating the state, since that’s clearly not “necessary to the security of a free State,” one which can legitimately remove such things that it regards as dangerous or threatening to “the peace of the realm” so to speak.

    Also, when you’re threatening someone’s life (or simply taking it), what you’re definitely not doing is reasoning calmly with them based on fine points of legal/political philosophy.

    And it’s just a bad joke that you would be citing the laws of a purportedly unjust/oppressive state and claiming those as your basis for overthrowing it violently. At that point, you don’t give a shit what’s written down in those laws, because by then you’ve already abandoned them.

    You might as well recite some Ayn Rand nonsense and tell people that’s why you should be doing it, or maybe write your own weird screeds and manifestos about it, if you’re so inclined. But you don’t actually need any bits of text at all, no matter where they originated. It would be kind of like somebody chanting a religious incantation before battle…. With no gods granting you any favors for saying the right magic words, those sorts of things don’t actually do anything other than maybe get you more psychologically prepared for what you’re about to do.

    The language in the second amendment is clear that the intention is to help secure the state. (While it may not be sufficient, the claim is that it’s necessary, so it “helps” but by itself may not “guarantee”). That may be foolish, but in any case, that’s what we’re stuck with.

    However, the purpose certainly isn’t to make it less secure. The thought (as wrong-headed as we may think it is) is that if citizens have such a right or are free in that sense, this enables them to protect the state from things which may cause it harm. However, to repeat myself, that can certainly include you, because by the very same reasoning that’s supposed to justify why it should (normally) protect such a right for you, the state can also totally regard you as the threat that it needs to be protected from and thus take your weapons away, etc.

    If that’s the right kind of interpretation, it just doesn’t do you any good in your anti-government efforts, even if you entertained the incoherent notion that a law could somehow assist with an anti-government effort of some kind. Which government is supposed to enforce or codify this law? The one you don’t recognize as legitimate? Or is it a different one, which has no jurisdiction there?

  7. says

    From my understanding, “well-regulated” in this context is supposed to be similar to how clocks were “well-regulated” if they kept good time. (And, in fact, the pendulum of a clock is called its “regulator”.) In other words, “well-regulated” in the 2nd does not mean that there should be lots of regulations (or laws) that they have to follow, but that the militia as a whole functions properly, being well-trained.

  8. xohjoh2n says

    @2 Marcus:

    2a is anti-government

    Well, it’s anti “a” government, probably mostly the English. Or the French, or the Spanish or whoever else was still lurking around taking potshots, not having yet realised that their lot was for the foreseeable future their lot.

    I can imagine at a stretch that they might imagine it being used against their rivals, should any arise and try to take over from them.

    But I bet the one thing that never crossed their mind is “fair enough if someone decides it’s time to shoot *me*.”

    For some reason kings have always been the most forthright in their condemnation of regicide.

  9. says

    Let’s not forget that during the Whiskey Rebellion, George Washington as President called up the militia and led them as Commander in Chief. But back then they were allergic to standing armies.

  10. sonofrojblake says

    One other thing: by the time I reached 50, one thing I’d learned was this – EVERYTHING is way more complicated than we think.

  11. Tethys says

    It’s actually not very difficult or complex to regulate consumer products that have the capacity to become lethal weapons. ( see automobile laws)

    Sure, you can have a gun! But first, you must successfully take and pass a course in gun safety in order to get a license. Without the license, you can’t buy or own any guns. You also need the gun license in order to get a yearly hunting license. Anonymity is not an option. 18 yo kids aren’t allowed to buy any sort of fully automatic weapons.

    It’s basic administration. Minnesota does this fairly well, and also ranks on the low end of gun violence in the US.

  12. Pierce R. Butler says

    ahcuah @ # 10: … during the Whiskey Rebellion, George Washington as President called up the militia and led them …

    He summoned them and tried to lead them – but, having injured his back by falling off a horse, was unable to accompany them very far even in a carriage, with the roads as rough as they were.

    I highly recommend William Hoagland’s The Whiskey Rebellion: George Washington, Alexander Hamilton, and the Frontier Rebels Who Challenged America’s Newfound Sovereignty for further reading on this. Hoagland makes a good case that Hamilton (who definitely lied in all directions about every aspect of it) deliberately provoked the rebellion so as to use the backlash to create a stronger central government, in large part to reinforce its (and his) tax-collecting abilities and thus repay money lent by his major patron, George Mason (who then lost those repayments in overstretched speculation in western lands, as did many of the “Founders”).

  13. sonofrojblake says

    Note : I haven’t lost my mind@11. I posted a long thing, and it seems to have evaporated.

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