Thursday, 10 January 2013

Arsenal of Democracy

    "Personal weapons are what raised mankind out of the mud, and the rifle is the queen of personal weapons." –Jeff Cooper, “The Art of the Rifle”
You may recall I covered weapons and policies regarding them several times in this blog. Weapons and laws regarding their use are very relevant topics for a blog regarding supervillainy. This column is an expansion on Dr. Brin’s excellent “Jefferson Rifle” essay. He proposes setting aside one specific class of firearms from registration as a safeguard against tyranny, as a counterpoint to the “slippery slope” view of gun control: the bolt-action rifle. There is significant historical background and reason for this, as a neighbors covering each other with hunting rifles can turn an urban warfare situation into a meatgrinder for conventional and modern armies. Jeff Cooper, the founder of the "Modern Technique" of handgun shooting, preferred a bolt action "scout rifle" as his ideal firearm. This was shown in countless conflicts, but most recently with the Bougainville uprising. A group of natives, angry about a polluting mine, used obsolete weapons against the forces of Papua New Guinea (and later, mercenaries and international forces). 

Regulation and cataloguing of certain types of firearms can eventually reach a point of diminishing returns. As the New Zealand government determined, hunting and sporting weapons are the least regulated of their own categories of firearms (with pistols and then semi-automatics with higher capacity detachable magazines being more regulated). “Hunting and sporting” weapons include primarily manually cycled long-arms, such as bolt action, pump action, and lever action rifles and shotguns. These weapons are hard to conceal, have a low rate of fire compared to a semi-auto, and are slower to reload. This makes them impractical for most criminals or spree killers. A criminal may try to “saw one off,” but by that point, the weapon has probably already been stolen and/or resold on the black market. New Zealand also counts semi-automatics with a fixed magazine in the sporting category, like the Mossberg 10/22, to be added to the sporting category. It is harder to reload such a system than, say, an AR-15 style rifle or civilian AK copy. Firearms such as these may be good additions to the “Jefferson rifle” advocated by Brin. Other things, such as air rifles, slingshots, and crossbows, also belong here.  

I would argue a few other things could be added to this “least regulated/unregulated category,” as even many countries with strict gun control do. These include black powder pistols, from flintlock horse pistols to cap and ball revolvers. The inaccuracy, size, noise, and awkward dimensions of say, a flintlock pistol make it impractical for spree-killings and more practical as a “range toy” or decoration or movie prop. This “historic” category could also include some early semi-automatic pistols (and perhaps modern replicas), such as the Mauser C96 or C93 Borchardt pistols, due to their low ammo capacity, awkwardness reloading, and awkward size compared to modern semi-automatic pistols. 1901 seems to be a good cut-off point, as the first Browning design utilizing a slide was made in 1899, and this date also includes designs from the Boer Wars. 

Lastly, even Russia and Germany allow for individuals to carry less-lethal weapons for defense without much paperwork. This includes things like gas guns shooting rubber bullets, pepper spray, tasers, and so forth. While less lethal weapons can kill, their purpose is to deter or distract an attacker long enough to get away. A robber may use them for intimidation, but they may do the same for with a sawn off shotgun or knife. As far as carry concealed firearms, I will cover that next.
The ability of civilians to legally carry a concealed pistol is interestingly supported by some gun control proponents, as carry concealed laws are essentially a form of gun control (requiring registration, background checks, and so forth). However, most places even the US have background checks, required training, and criminal penalties against the misuse of such a firearm. As Larry Correia states, a carry concealed permit is not a badge. Small amounts of ammo can be carried (hence why compact automatics and revolvers are favored for the task), rather than say, a higher capacity semi-automatic. To prevent issues such as the Trayvon Martin shooting, cameras may be required to be added to the pistol to record each time it is shot outside of a firing range. It is not merely humans I am concerned with. In wilderness areas, there are threats like wild animals, rabid/feral dogs, and the like that may require lethal force. This is one reason the Pacific Northwest in the USA and western Canada tend to be more permissive of firearms, given the wolves and bears that live in the wilderness nearby. Concealed carry owners have stopped a few spree killings, as may mad shooters tend to turn their weapons on themselves after encountering significant resistance. A concealed carry pistol with limited ammo capacity, a “paper trail” registered with police, limitations on use, stringent storage requirements, and perhaps a camera to ensure proper usage makes for a poor weapon for spree killings and crime.  

There is a last category of firearms which may be completely impractical to regulate or legislate, unlike carry concealed models or historical relics/replicas. That is homemade weapons. There are two broad categories of homemade firearms: the first are hobbyists or recreational users. The second one are “black market” gunsmiths. A hobbyist may indeed manufacture historic weapons, as a hobbyist can include a historical re-enactor, collector, or prop-designer. Their weapons are primarily designed for fun, or legitimate profit (such as making exotic prop guns for a science fiction movie). So long as their designs meet the “Jeffersonian” category I’ve described earlier, I would allow them to produce such devices. The advent of desktop manufacture (potentially with new technologies, like caseless ammo) may mean this could become nearly impossible to track via conventional means. If they start providing or selling weapons for the black market with definite intent, then there are already a number of criminal charges suitable for them. 

The current generation of firearms requires bullets to work, otherwise they are merely clubs. A simpler solution than cumbersome regulations could simply be tracing ammunition rather than firearms. If regulations are to be written, focusing on the logistics of the issue seems more prudent than every individual manifestation of the symptoms. My inner civil libertarian wishes to see everyone allowed to do what they want, so long as they don’t hurt anyone. As stated before, the ideas I list primarily come from Russian, German, New Zealand, and (smarter) US policies. 

As an aside, I believe ending the drug war, for-profit prisons, and the current incarnation of the American criminal justice system/prison-industrial complex will lower gun crime rates more than any bill or executive order being dreamed up now. Drug related shootings comprise about 80-85% of firearms homicide. A professor who studied the history of violence in the US interestingly found that social inequity and a lack of social safety nets is the major driver of crimes and depraved spree killings. A policy like Brin’s “Moron Act” to deny killers infamy is another sound idea, depriving bad guys of infamy. The problem is, the status quo has all the momentum of a cyberpunk dystopia, and the other indicators (climate disruption, resource depletion, market manipulations, legal impunity for endemic financial fraud, etc.) mean the emergence of corrupt neofeudalism more than any kind of democratic grand compromises or enlightened decision making.  

1 comment:

  1. Thanks this appraisal is a worthy addition to the (alas, all-too rare) library of cogent discussion bout guns, and parsing out WHICH personal weapons merit looser or greater attention from society.

    In my "Jefferson Rifle" article, my chief point was to address the "slipper slope argument" of the US gun lobby, which considers any regulation of firearms to be an incremental step toward utter state banning and confiscation. Any registry of weapons, no matter how benign at the beginning, would then be a shopping list for Big Brother to go around collecting them all, as the Nazis did, when they occupied France.

    I actually have some sympathy for this basic point... though not with using it as an excuse to block reasonable -- auto-like -- regulation of most guns that wreak the worst harm. My point is that the slippery slope can be blocked by choosing one class of weapons to safeguard constitutionally from all registration, forever, and treating all the others like cars. That one class happens to be very poor at usefulness for crime, but excellent for insurrection if thousands of neighbors cover each other.

    It is pure stupidity to refuse this offer, as the US Second Amendment is extremely ambiguous and nowhere near the safeguard these people contend that it is. They need a new amendment. This one would be within easy reach. Alas.

    Thanks again.

    With cordial regards,

    David Brin