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« Just spitballing here | Main | For general audiences »

Dec 18, 2012


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Hoping for a rational discussion about firearms, I have two requests:

1) People should stop using the term "automatic" to describe semi-automatic operation.
Fully automatic weapons are regulated at the Federal level and sometimes at state and local levels. You can't just walk into a gun shop and buy an automatic weapon.

2) Agree on a definition of "assault weapon".
The often shown Mother Jones article has four categories:
semi-automatic handgun, assault weapon, revolver, shotgun.
With those choices, both an M1 Garand and a single-shot .22 are assault weapons. Neither is.


The M1 was developed for the army, yes?

sean coon

this is an honest question: why do gun owners feel the need to own anything more powerful than a pistol/revolver/hunting rifle?


Ged, as were 1792 contract rifles, but I think even the most staunch advocate for assault rifle bans would agree that a 1792 contract rifle is not an assault rifle.


Sean, a 30-06 hunting rifle is significantly more powerful than a Bushmaster AR-15.


Jim Fallows has taken to talking about "gun safety" rather than "gun control". I thought this post yesterday was interesting, especially the input from a "reader in Virginia".

We need a focused and deliberate way to identify people we do not want to have guns. One of the suggestions in Fallows piece is for mandatory state-licensed instruction before being allowed to buy a gun, with the instructors being trained to identify and report high-risk students.

Account Deleted

Sean - That is part of the problem. They argue that the AR-15 is not powerful. They say the 223 Remmington is a low powered shell only used for target practice. They say its not even powerful enough to hunt deer. They call the Bushmaster 223 a "varmint rifle" and say the shotgun is "more powerful" at close range.

sean coon

ok, let me back up and be clear about something: i don't own a gun. i've never fired a gun. i 've never had the desire to fire a gun. consequently, i know nothing about guns except that a variety of models start off small and get big; start off weak and get powerful; start off as a single shot and move towards being automatic.

that said, why would anyone feel the need to own something like a semi-automatic weapon or an assault rifle? as opposed to the most powerful hunting rifle in existence or a pistol/revolver?


JC, I have no clue how it works today, but when I was a kid the entire 7th grade class at my elementary school spent a portion of the semester taking hunter safety training. The final test was shooting skeet with a 12 gauge (girls shot 20 gauge) on the playground. Passing this was a requirement in order to purchase a hunting license. The course and tests were administer by state wildlife resource agents. Nothing to do with buying a gun, though....


If I were going squirrel or rabbit hunting, I would prefer to use a .223 over a .22. A .223 has a significantly longer range than a .22. The rifle itself isn't really that much different in weight/size.

Using a .30-06 on a rabbit wouldn't leave much rabbit left for stew. It's a very common round for deer hunting, though. It's also the same round fired by the previously mentioned M1.


Only one generation ago guns were in closer proximity to schools than they are today. Kids took hunting rifles with them to school for use afterwards, rifle and shotgun were team sports, kids had their own .22 at a young age. No one was going around mass murdering at the same frequency or numbers as today.

The guns didn't change, society did: Inescapable violence on TV, Video Games, Movies, broken homes with no fatherly influence, loss of respect for life, loss of respect for authority, loss of honor and loss of dignity.

We are reaping the harvest of a generation grown under those conditions.

But let's ban guns, that will fix everything.


"that said, why would anyone feel the need to own something like a semi-automatic weapon or an assault rifle? as opposed to the most powerful hunting rifle in existence or a pistol/revolver?"

Sean, have you ever fired a weapon or been exposed to handling one more than once or twice?

Account Deleted

I think Hugh is on to something important with his comment at 12:45.



Lots of things change. Including the delusions of some on the fringe right that bury themselves in conspiracy theories that say the US Government is plotting to take over the country, throw us all into marshall / sharia law and build a highway from Mexico to Canada. I have relatives who have been stockpiling thousands of rounds of ammo for years. I love them dearly, but they are one incident away from armed rebellion. Call me crazy, but this scares me FAR more than any video game, movie or TV show, none of which have been conclusively proven as a link to violent crimes such as this.

So yes, things change. Assault weapons, and the huge ammo clips that get sold with them need to GO.


Ged, in your fear you're falling into the paradigm that the only argument to improve the situation is gun control.

The problem is magnitudes larger than the availability and presence of firearms.

But to humor you, are you suggesting gun confiscation or a return to the 1986 Assault Weapons Ban that was a points system. To be considered an assault weapon there had to be one a detachable magazine present combined with two or more of the following: bayonet lug, flash suppressor, pistol grip, threaded end barrel, grenade launcher (common on Soviet Block semi-auto rifles), carrying handle.

For a shotgun it was a two or more of the following: Pistol grip, folding stock, more than 5 round capacity, detachable magazine.


So far, I haven't seen a definition of "assault weapon".

What are its specific properties?

Does the cartridge make a difference? How about the color scheme?

Not all hunters hunt for the same thing. The .223 may be fine for coyotes, but marginal (maybe not legal in some jurisdictions) for deer. The .30-30 is traditional for deer. Neither is good for elephant.

Dave Ribar


If by "a generation ago" you mean 20-30 years, the problems may have actually been worse, not better.

A report from 1990 (22 years ago) calculated that between 1986 and the time of the report, there had been 227 incidents involving shootings or hostage taking on school property. From those, there were 71 people murdered, 201 wounded, and 242 held hostage.

Dave Ribar


In 1992-3, there were 34 homicides of children in schools. By 2009-10, the number had fallen to 17. Similarly, the total number of homicides involving children 5-18 fell by nearly half over the same period.

Schools have been especially safe in the post-Columbine period.

It's simply incorrect to say that "removing guns" made schools less safe.

See http://nces.ed.gov/programs/crimeindicators/crimeindicators2011/tables/table_01_1.asp


Dave, for your edification: Generation meaning when I was young, back in the 60's.

Ed Cone

Hugh's point about culture resonates as one of the problem areas raised in yesterday's thread.

But this, about differences between earlier generations and the present day, seems wrong: "The guns didn't change."

Isn't a great deal of the focus here on exactly the topic of the guns having changed? I don't see a lot of conversation about banning hunting weapons, it's the semi-automatic weapons that are at issue -- how available were they in the '60s?


And Hell, the preponderance of posters here are stuck on stupid trying to make the issue about gun control instead of even an inkling of acknowledgement that socially we've screwed up this country to the point of mass homicides of young children.

But lets not even acknowledge the social issues which implicate some of us here on this thread; instead lets keep the talking points on guns, that will fix everything.

Ideological slaves, all of you.


"a 30-06 hunting rifle is significantly more powerful than a Bushmaster AR-15"

Thus it can't possibly be that the latter is more effective in homocide.

Ed Cone

Hugh, your latest comment may have crossed mine, in which I commended your mention of culture, but my original post above also mentions culture, and applauds the multi-factor approach to the killing problem, and points to a previous thread where this approach was discussed.

Mental health care also has been mentioned in these threads, and in the post, and it seems to raise at least as much concern as gun laws.

So it's just not accurate to say that these threads are all about gun control and, specifically, that they ignore other factors such as culture.


Winchester was producing semi auto rifles in the 50s.


Err, I was wrong. Make that 1903

sean coon

the social issues you bring up are real to an extent, hugh, but what would you do about them?

guns have gotten more powerful and accessible since the sixties and codifying responsibility into gun laws (for owners, for dealers, for obtaining a license for government rescinding licenses, etc.) is a rather easy step one in terms of reform. but you (and so many others) refuse to even address that notion, instead lumping all conversations about guns into "taking them away."

to answer your previous question, which i did higher up in the thread but i'll repeat, no, i've never fired a weapon before. i'd like to add, it's my god given right not do so. or, as you might put it reverse, my liberty and freedom. i've chosen to not hunt or join the military, not out of any particular fear, but growing up in an environment with my father being a veteran, as well as a teacher and artist, it never occurred to me because it was never glamorized by my male role model.

Dave Ribar


Unless you're arguing that the societal issues that you identified have improved since the late 1980s and early 1990s, it would still seem that the trends run counter to your argument.

Also, we may be overlooking an important cultural element that has changed for the positive--the culture that tolerated violence in school. These things certainly have not disappeared, but fighting and bullying bring a much swifter and tougher response than they did a generation or two or three ago.


"These things certainly have not disappeared, but fighting and bullying bring a much swifter and tougher response than they did a generation or two or three ago."

To what end, Dave? A bullied kid who is rescued by the teacher learns nothing from the experience except to not defend his/herself and rely on someone else for safety and security. The fact that defending one's self results in the same punishment as the offender further cripples the child as they never gain the ability to deal with the situation on their own. The lack of any critical punishment for the offender encourages future bullying. It takes a gun in school to get expelled now.


"guns have gotten more powerful and accessible since the sixties "

Ludicrous. In the 60's there were no background checks or waiting periods. A 12 year could buy a .22 from the hardware store. Every caliber in semi-auto available today was available then.

Never having fired a weapon explains your lack of knowledge on the subject. That's OK, just understand you don't know what you are talking about sometimes.


Stephen, I grew up in Ohio. We had no training, etc., about guns in the schools. Until I saw your comment here, I'd never heard of such training happening in the schools.

Personally, I've never been sure how we get from "more and better gun training" to "fewer people killed with guns". Knowing how to handle a gun might keep someone from shooting his own foot, but I'm not sure how that will keep him from taking a military weapon into a public space and opening fire. Or, how it will keep, say, his wife from pulling the hunting rifle out of the closet when she confuses the neighbor kid with a house invader.

sean coon

hugh, there wasn't a walmart.com selling these in the '60's.


Absurd, Sean. Airsoft is a safety improvement over kids shooting real BB guns at each other like we did in the 60's and 70s.

You could buy those at the Five and Dime which was the origin of Wal-Mart to begin with.

Bill Yaner

The wonderful movie "Lincoln" did a superb job of portraying a man who with strength and determination was able to focus his efforts down onto one thing - passage of the Ammendment to free the slaves. Around that spun a multitude of social, cultural and economic issues to which he was constantly being reminded by those who surrounded him. But he never took his eye off the prize.

Today the very real issues of mental health, culture, and broad issues of gun policy spin around and around this vital question of deadly machines efficiently designed to kill rapidly and easily without hesitating to reload.

It's about the hardware folks! And our ability to maintain a focus on the proliferation of these weapons is surprisingly simple when stripped down to its most essential elements, much as the other industrial nations in the world have done. We can too.

sean coon

that was a search for "guns," hugh. keep scrolling. i'm not an idiot.

in reaction to the shooting, walmart and dicks are suspending the sale of assault rifles... "out of respect to newton."


>>"It's about the hardware folks!"


Concerns about mental health and gun training are legitimate in their right. But, we need to guard against allowing them to divert attention from the real problem and real solutions.

We should not make the mistake of arguing that because some acts of gun violence are committed by mentally ill people that *all* acts of gun violence are committed by mentally ill people.

Unless, that is, we are prepared to make policy on the premise that gun violence is prima facie evidence of mental illness. I, at least, don't believe that. Plenty of quite sane people use guns to kill.

Guns are tools that kill. When someone, for whatever reason, decides to kill and starts to look around for a tool to get the job done, we need to make it as unlikely as possible that their eyes fall upon a gun.

sean coon

"Plenty of quite sane people use guns to kill."

here's part of the problem we have with our society's take on mental illness.

we are all mentally "ill" to one degree or another. true, there are explicit diagnosis with names and variations of each, but even in those explicit definitions there are variables (highly functional vs not) and plenty of unknowns around why medication combinations work for some people and not others. as such, treatment isn't the same for most illnesses, let alone patients, and psychiatrists can only monitor "the range" of a patient's blood level re: the prescribed medication. there are no cures, only bookends to keep shelves in order.

generally speaking, we're all cut from the same cloth, share the same genetic make-up and have the same complexities to our chemical makeup that controls our behavior. some people have a greater degree of a chemical imbalance, which is made apparent in explicit ways within society, and eventually, their behavior leads them to a *chance* to make it to a place to receive help for their problems and become in the very least stable. of course, that's if everything like family support, insurance, etc. is in order. otherwise, more often than not, they become lost to the streets.

we, as a society, don't categorize people with excessively bad tempers, anger management issues, a propensity to be an asshole (in it's most clinical form), etc. as "mental illness" because, apparently, it doesn't differentiate far enough from the expected societal norm. what about stress combined with being said asshole plus the worse timed bitch session from the wife or demands from a boss? no amount of gun training in the world will stop someone from snapping and reacting. and that someone, quite often, doesn't have a criminal record.

the value in the sane/mentally ill conversation is two-fold:

1. people that have been diagnosed by a professional to be mentally ill should not be able to own a firearm. even if they become stable, the going off meds problem is real. there is no cure, yet.

2. we need to carefully consider the expansion of that definition, or the potential for violent tendencies, when it comes to owning a firearm. i can't say for sure how to make that a reality, but a few written tests—one about gun safety and one to uncover behavioral traits—and a few mandatory visits with a psychiatrist trained for these concerns as part of the licensing process would be a step in the right direction.


>>"the value in the sane/mentally ill conversation is two-fold..."

I agree with the two points you make there, Sean.

We humans are a species prone to violence. Societies often condone, or demand, and reward acts of violence. Someone who guns down a couple dozen people in one circumstance is a hero. The same act, by the same person, in another circumstance, is an atrocity.

Knowing the difference between the two circumstances might be a valid way of determining mental health. But, we don't really make it easy.


I fear that this is unfortunately moving towards the generalizations that will lead to an impasse.

What purpose does a gun that can fire 45 rounds per minute serve? Still unanswered. Does asking the question mean I'm for banning guns? No, it doesn't.

Is there a Constitutional right to possess every new gun technology that comes along? The Constitution does not speak of guns, it refers to "arms". Do we have a right to own bazookas, nuclear weapons, armed jet fighters, cruise missiles, chemical weapons, bombs? If not, why not?

What was the argument before there was a weapon capable of firing 45 rounds per minute to "take away"?

If a company markets the Illudium Q-36 Explosive Space Modulator that Marvin the Martian used to incinerate Bugs Bunny, is there a Constitutional right to own one?

Most people recognize that there are limits and those limits along with other gun related laws are a part of this discussion.

One reason guns are an early topic of discussion is because in many ways it is the easiest one to have. Video games would probably be next. Mental health and culture are tougher.

Guns and gun related laws are but one part of the issue. Nobody should be too quick to blame the guns, nor should anyone be too quick to assume that guns and gun laws are taking all of the blame.


Meanwhile (sorry), I just came across this from here.

... if you were in an office and someone gasped, “I’ve just been informed there are some deranged lunatics amongst us”, it would take a certain imagination to reply, “In that case, the main thing is to make sure everyone in the building has access to plenty of guns”.

If we thought of ourselves as the inhabitants of a high rise, or an orbital platform, rather than 330 million scattered across part of North America, we might see things differently.

Bill Yaner

Those diagnosed with a serious mental illness in our society and put into a public hospital spend an average of 5 days there, then are put back out on the street because we have 1/10 th of the mental hospital capacity that we had in the 1950's. The hopes of that person having any kind of treatment subsequently are slim to none until another incident of some kind lands them back in the hospital for another short stay. That's the reality of where we are today and God help us find a better, more compassionate system for dealing with this growing crisis.

BUT meanwhile, we know exactly what kind of weaponry has the best chance to inflict massive death and destruction to lots of people in a short period of time by someone with little or no shooting skills. Don't confuse these two issues because the former is a long term complicated turnaround while the latter is objective and specific and actionable NOW if we're got the guts.


Actually, if I heard there was a deranged lunatic amongst us I would prefer to have a gun. There are always deranged lunatics among us, which is why people should be allowed to have guns.

The right of people to defend themselves- and the laws that make that harder- must also be a part of this discussion.


Spag, a gun that shoots 45 rounds per minute is a military weapon designed to kill people as rapidly and efficiently as possible.

No, there is not a Constitutional right to possess every new gun technology that comes along. To believe that, one would also need to believe that the people who put the 2nd Amendment in the Constitution were prescient creatures who gazed unerringly into the future. Or, that they just did not care. I think they expected us to change and interpret their work as we see fit, not being any more obligated to blind obedience to their language than they were to the language of Cromwell or Grenville.

Video games are not designed to kill people.

It is a moot, and diversionary, point to wonder if we should "blame the guns". Guns, obviously, are not sentient creatures that open fire on their own. They are tools people use to kill other people. The real point is not to worry about who or what to blame. The real point is to reduce the opportunities for anyone who wants to kill to have access to guns.

sean coon

spag: "There are always deranged lunatics among us, which is why people should be allowed to have guns."

see, that's where i get confused as a non-gun owner. i'd be much more comfortable dealing with deranged lunatics without access to guns, than be armed—which also gives the deranged lunatic access to guns—ever waiting to defend myself. that's another reason i don't own; i refuse to give into the culture of "guns will protect me." to twist the mantra of hugh and god knows how many other gun proponents, "a gun can't protect me, only i can protect myself."

also, the term "people" in your comment is the catch. we're all people, all the same, especially during the licensing & purchasing process to the government and dealers, respectively. obviously, the vetting process doesn't do a good enough job differentiating people from law abiding and those with the propensity to murder.


That's not realistic. Guns aren't going away. People have the right to defend themselves even if you choose not to.

There is going to have to be some give and take all the way around. My way or the highway is a formula for failure.


Sounds quite similar to a hostage situation.

sean coon

if you read "my way or the highway" or "guns are going away" into my comment, i wasn't clear enough.

i fully realize guns aren't going away and i fully realize that a good number of americans, many whom i'm friends with, feel the need to own a gun. i'm just saying the notion is foreign to me. i'll never understood the allure of shooting or collecting, and never once, even after dealing with some hairy situations, have i thought to myself, "i need a gun."

you know, the house i grew up in was robbed three times by the time i was 10. we finally installed a security system and the break-ins stopped. if someone cased my house today, and broke in when i wasn't supposed to be at home, and i walked in on them, how would owning a gun help? oh, that's right i should be carrying one. doh! now i see the logic...

all that is me, not my position on what to do legally. if you've read my take here and on other threads, you'd know that we seem to agree on many counts, particularly the banning of assault rifles.

Worst person on the internet

"What purpose does a gun that can fire 45 rounds per minute serve? Still unanswered."

Spag, in the dialogue I posted part of earlier today with an avid hunter and gun enthusiast, I sought to get an answer to that very question in order to understand his perspective. Like Sean, I know little about guns, and figured I might be pretty ignorant of some valid arguments for semi auto, auto, etc. He declined to address it and the more I pressed for an answer the more he veered into more sweeping, tangential and bizarre generalizations about rights and government, and analogies which made little sense to me. He eventually devolved into the claim that I was trying to assign "evil" to an inanimate object, and otherwise I (and the government) must consider him evil for owning one. Then he deleted the post. I wish I had saved it first. I suspect that the failure to address that relatively straightforward question must mean something. I think I learned something, but not in the way I had sought.

sal leone

I like people to remember that guns dont kill people, people kill people. The world we live in now has changed from years ago. We live in a violent culture where movies, music and TV glorify violence. We have more domestic violence, we have more gang violence, people solving problems by hurting innocent lives, sad world it is because we got weak as a society. We dont punish people anymore but make excuses for them. We talk to kids instead of giving them the belt, sex is so common now that we have kids having kids. We have terms like baby mamma and baby daddy, women on music videos are viewed as objects. Now we have to pay for years of being easy as a society, the chickens are coming home to roost as they say in the south.

"We talk to kids instead of giving them the belt..."

Are you serious right now?


Sal, yes people kill people but people with guns kill far FAR more than people without. It is a logical fallacy to say that guns are in no part of the equation.

On a separate note, violent video games are *not* the problem

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