06 January 2013

Guns & Schools, Part 5: When Guns Even in Schools Are a Good Idea

No post or series of  posts will cover adequately the topic of firearms violence. Even if some pundit makes the fundamental error of separating firearms violence from violence generally, still no series of writings or articles can do more than walk through the neighborhood of violence.

Nor can any book.

Nor can any one person, no matter how hard he or she works nor how long he or she works at it.

Not Wayne LaPierre..

Not Sen. Dianne Feinstein.

Not R. Lee “The Gunny” Ermey.

Not the President, the Atty. Gen., the Senate Majority Leader, the Senate Minority Leader, the Speaker, the Justices or even victims of violence.

And sure as hell not me.

Nevertheless, there are times when guns are a good idea.

God made humans.

It is not necessary to this discussion that the reader believe that. The premises here are equally valid if the reader accepts pure, unguided evolution.

Col. Colt made all humans (potentially) equal.

Humans seek to exercise power and control over other humans. It would be nice to say that we can educate that out of ourselves, but several millennia of trying has done nothing. 

Those who exercise power may have bad motives: “Your money or your life.” They may have good motives and pure motives: “This is for your own good.” When power is applied, when force is applied, it feels the same no matter what the motives are behind it.

Anciently, power depended on size, strength and numbers. The bigger and stronger the opponent – usually, young-to-middle- age, larger males – and the more of them there were, the more likely they would dominate everyone else. Even weapons were muscle powered. 

The sword took a strong arm. Some very few years ago, an old cargo ship wreck of English longbows was raised. The salvagers found that the strongest of them could barely draw one of those longbows.

The great Hittite warrior Goliath carried a huge sword and hundreds of pounds of bronze armor. Little David did not win the encounter because he was a good and gentle soul supported by the Lord God Jehovah. If you strip away the poetry and puffery,  David won because he was pretty strong himself. He was strong enough to use a centrifugal sling to accelerate a large rock to a speed which caused a fatal injury to an unarmored forehead. 

Of course, he also had the phenomenal skill or fantastic luck to hit the target.

Please note that the writer of the biblical account did not make it a sword fight. Nobody would have believed that.

Until the 16th and 17th Centuries, the combination of size, strength and numbers was totally dependable in comparing relative power and in handicapping confrontations. As firearms caught on, smaller and weaker people could use the power of chemicals (gunpowder) as a substitute for muscle power and leverage. There was still a good bit of strength involved – matchlocks, wheellocks and flintlock long guns were very heavy.

In the 18th Century, single shot pistols were becoming more commonly available. That put chemical power potential into more hands. A single shot muzzleloading pistol took about 30 seconds to reload. That made such a pistol at best a poor defensive implement. For multiple shots, one would need to carry multiple weapons and they too were not light.

[Light historical note: Noted pirate Edward “Blackbeard” Teach carried six flintlock pistols in his sash into battle. Likely, that was more advertising gimmick than anything, because he also stuck several burning “matches” (slow burning cords used to ignite cannons) into his beard.]

Then in the 19th Century, three technological changes made effective personal defense a reality.

The first was the percussion cap.  This was a small copper cap containing a very small quantity of explosive which was fit over a metal nipple at the base of the propellant. It closed the ignition system to the weather, was much more dependable than the flintlock ignition which preceded it and  enabled the weapon to be held at any attitude without degrading the integrity of the charge.

The second was the revolving pistol. A cylinder with multiple (usually six) chambers contained igniter, propellant and projectile so that all charges could be fired from the same weapon without reloading. In many of these, a pre-loaded cylinder could be swapped out for a fast reload.

The third was the metallic cartridge. No longer did  each chamber of the cylinder had to be prepared with igniter, propellant and projectile in advance. In the  metallic cartridge, the igniter, propellant and projectile were contained in one unit.

Further technological advances such as smokeless powder and the semi-automatic action made pistols more effective – that means more lethal – but they weren’t the seachange of the revolver with a metallic cartridge.

Fairly quickly, pistols became available in various weights and calibers. Many were small enough to conceal easily. The smaller calibers were best used at short range. These gave the physically smallest and weakest persons a defensive sting.

Every weapon can be used for offensive or defensive purposes.

For a moment, let us leave the notion of rights aside, excepting only the natural imperative to defend oneself and family from lethal attack.

As with lots of public questions, the last month of debate about gun violence really comes down to a balancing of interests.

On the one side, access by the general public to effective lethal weapons means that those who would use violence for evil purposes will more likely be able to obtain firearms. Firearms accidents will more likely occur. Firearms will be more available for crimes of passion by those not previously bent on crime and for suicide. These are facts which the gun lobby sometimes ignores. And yet the question is not whether they are true. They are. The question is how much influence they will have compared to competing influences.

Restricting public access to effective lethal weapons means that those presented with immediate threats will have less or no effective means to counter the threats of those persons who would injure or kill them or their families. Gun opponents ignore those facts. Yet those facts are true. Again, the question is how much influence they will have compared to competing influences.

The notion of self-help for personal defense and personal care is not ignoble or “dirty words.” Calling 911 is de rigeur when violence happens.  But that isn't enough.

As an aside, our relationship with the police is strange. We resent them for pulling us over when we’re driving badly. We resent paying them a living wage. Seldom is any one willing to assist them when they’re in trouble. Yet when trouble happens, we expect them to get in their Starship Enterprise transporter and appear instantly.

The police do not have transporters. They have cars. They do not appear instantly. They are not a preventive force. They are a reactive force.

We have heard tapes of 911 calls where people are home and call for police when someone is breaking in. On the open line, we can hear the homeowner warning the person breaking through a door, “The police are coming.  I have a gun.  Go away.” Then there is a sound of glass breaking, or a door breaking down, and the sound of the gunshot.

Evolution wins again.

Some would not shoot under those circumstances. We should respect that choice. This is America. But we should not be imposing that choice to forgo defending oneself on others. 

It is not a matter of “stand your ground.” In every firearms class I’ve ever attended and from ever every firearms instructor I’ve ever talked to, the notion of “standing your ground” is ridiculed. Students are taught to avoid the fight. And yet, if your foe is intent upon a confrontation, such as beating down your front door, the confrontation is going to happen.

There should be some concern over the attitude of “No guns, let the police do it.” Some of my friends call this a part of the “Wussification of America.”  I’m inclined to agree.  The thesis is that we are becoming progressively less willing to do things for ourselves and less willing to do difficult things. Our children do not join groups which go camping, they sit on their asses playing video games. (That will be a part of another installment.) In the name of “safety,” we cannot take pocket knives into public buildings.

We express fear of objects and avoid discussing violent people or real violence. After all, it’s easier to ban an object that it is to confront a violent person.

That’s was part of our scene in part  four last week about David Gregory being “investigated” when he used an empty 30 round magazine on television as a prop in a DC TV studio.

If you go online to find the DC weapons code you will find that it’s worse – okay, more restrictive – than most people can imagine. I did so a few days ago.  When I did, I started laughing.

Thank God I’m not in DC. (I’m thanking God for that for a number of reasons.)

On the base of my desk lamp is a single round of regular jacketed .223 ammunition. Were I in DC, my possessing that one single round would cost me a fine and a year in jail. The reason? I do not now own a “registered” weapon of that caliber. I haven’t owned a .223 in years. The round was going to be an exhibit in a case which unexpectedly pleaded out.

Now – why is possessing such a thing a crime? What can I possibly do with that ammunition if I don't have the weapon there? Poke someone’s eye out? A pencil would work better. Shouldn't DC be banning pens and pencils?  

That silly provision of DC law has not protected one single soul.

What should we be doing? We should be looking first to what action is being taken by those who have really studied the situation, those on the firing line. 

The National Rifle Association says that we should be putting police officers in the schools. That suggestion has been ridiculed by firearms opponents.

The most sensitive to the issue have to be the police agencies in and around Newtown, Connecticut. What are they doing? Well, there is a very heavy police presence in the schools, particularly the transplanted elementary school.

CNN just reported that two school districts in New Jersey are now placing police officers full-time in schools there.

The press has been giving the issue a lot of attention. Various outlets have published all sorts of related pieces.  The Journal News in Westchester, New York, published an interactive map showing the names and addresses of thousands of holders of concealed weapons permits. They receive a lot of negative feedback in including one e-mail which was vaguely threatening – not enough to warrant any action by the police, but apparently enough to worry the publisher. 

Here we have educated and dedicated people who take a strong stand against firearms being in the hands of others than the police or military. Now they are personally feeling threatened. What to do?

Simple – they’ve hired armed guards.

Were I a cynic, I would say they’re doing a little bit of “poor me,” or using this as a way to express the opinion that permit holders are a bunch of nuts. But the people in the Fourth Estate are citizens and they have a right to defend themselves and they are choosing to use  armed citizens to do it.

I say, good for them.

Oh, by the way, the names and addresses  that The Journal News published included those of retired police officers who now  are on guard more concerning retribution from thugs they’ve put in prison.  Also published were the names, addresses and phone numbers of domestic violence victims in hiding from their abusers.  Those victims, mostly women, are now scared shitless that their tormentors will come after them.

Every action has consequences.

An incidental:   I just saw a news report that a teacher-tinkerer in Pittsburgh has invented a very simple and cheap locking device for emergency use on classroom doors which open outward. For maybe 80 bucks per room, a classroom can be made very secure against intrusion.

Note:  Norton, I hope I've pissed you off somewhere here!

1 comment:

Jim N said...

Hey Roger,

I'm just now catching up with blogs, but my tardiness is not due to disinterest. Sorry to disappoint you, but nothing in this post has pissed me off. I have no problem with responsible citizens choosing to carry defensive arms, as long as they can be certified "responsible" as much as that is possible. Though, I still fail to understand the need for assault guns and high capacity magazines that can do so much harm so quickly.

There is the question of keeping weapons secured for their intended purpose 100% of the time. (I'm aware of a situation where a husband kept a gun on the shelf of the headboard of his bed, and somehow mysteriously it went off one night. His wife was not pleased.)

I have been involved in two domestic (extremely volatile)situations that raised for me concern about the presence of guns in the house. Each time I was able to get the gun owners to turn the guns over to me, which were then stored in a safe place in the parsonage. (Using the threat of notifying the police seems to work well.) When it was obvious that stability had returned to the household, I gladly returned the weapons. Did I do the right thing? Some would probably argue "No!" And they would be right: there is no way to control what others will do. But in these two instances stern persuasion won the day.

Your points are rational and stated clearly, and I'm glad to be reading your good stuff, sir.