Sunday, September 2, 2012

Gun Control Consideration

So recently I've been hearing more about gun control, banning "assault" weapons and a need to protect ourselves from those Hell bent on trying to take life. I've listened to both sides in an effort to give each the benefit of the doubt and not draw any conclusions in error. I've looked up statistics for myself and verified data that was being given through multiple sites and sources. Now based on all the data, I can draw my own conclusions and take an educated stance on gun control. Before I try and provide my conclusion, I think its important to first offer an explanation as to why I had to put the term "assault" in quotes. Strangely, its an easy answer to a difficult misunderstanding. 

What is definition of an Assault Rifle?

Merriam-Webster provides a general definition as: Any of various automatic or semiautomatic rifles with large capacity magazine designed for military use. There it is, easy answer, but unfortunately its still far too general and broad. So then what is an "assault" rifle? Nearly all news agencies give us the picture of an M16 or AK47 and call that an assault rifle. The general belief is that something with a pistol grip, folding or collapsable stock, "large capacity" magazine, magazine quick release, and flash suppressors classify a weapon as an assault rifle. Yet, what does "large capacity" refer to? Is it referring to the number of rounds a magazine can carry, and if so, what specific number turns a magazine large capacity? Also, what is the main difference between having one 30 round magazine or three ten round magazines when on most rifles you can change a magazine in less than 2 seconds? In California, on the AR style semi-auto rifles, the magazine release button requires a tool to release the magazine. Most refer to this modification as a "bullet button" because you need a bullet or tool to drop the magazine and add more bullets. Does large capacity refer to the size (caliber) of the round as some have inferred, but then what round should we consider larger capacity and what is "normal" or smaller? Also, as far as the magazine quick release, what do we consider all the semi-auto handguns since they all have quick release magazines? Lets consider this idea that a pistol grip and folding or collapsable stock might convert a rifle to an assault rifle. Strange that modifying a rifle to a more ergonomically comfortable position for some might convert a rifle to an assault rifle. Ok, since we aren't really defining what an assault rifle is, lets consider these pictures:

So here are two examples of weapons that fit the media's idea of what is an "Assault Rifle". Both of these weapons are fashioned after the AR-15 style based on the original Colt AR series weapon. Collapsable stock, flash suppressor, pistol grip, and quick release magazine are present on both of these weapons and they certainly meet the dictionary definition at first glance. However, neither of these are in fact meeting the definition because neither were designed for military use nor do they have what might be considered a large capacity magazine. The rifle on the left with the orange flash suppressor (tip of the barrel) is actually an Airsoft Rifle. Airsoft fires small round plastic balls slightly larger than BB's with normally less velocity and power than a standard BB gun. Simply put, the Airsoft rifle is a toy for little and big kids alike. The rifle on the right is a standard AR version but has a 10 round magazine, the bolt carrier is not designed for automatic fire, and it is only a single shot semi-auto rifle similar to semi-auto pistols in that one round fires with every pull of the trigger. To fire multiple times, you must pull and release the trigger each time. Interesting how each "looks" like what an automatic assault rifle should look like, but again, that's the reason for all the confusion with everyone. Lets make it a little easier now and offer up the next couple of pictures:

Some more "assault" looking weapons both from the same manufacturer, same caliber, and same capability. Both of these weapons are Ruger 10/22 rifles. For those that don't know, these are .22 caliber semi-auto rifles that have been customized with folding stocks, pistol grips, one has a larger capacity magazine (30 rounds), the other is sporting a red dot sight, front pistol grip and flash suppressor. Lets take a look at what they both looked like before their transformation.

Well, this is the basic model Ruger 10/22 rifle in .22 caliber. This is by far one of the most popular rifles in this caliber in the world and owners tend to modify them with any number of things to make them more comfortable, useful, or fun to shoot. A typical .22 LR (or Long Rifle) caliber is generally the smaller caliber available today. Yet, take off the old stock, add a folding stock and pistol grip, larger magazine, optic (laser, red dot, scope) and its easy to mistake it for a stereotypical "assault rifle". We need to understand though that stock, quick release mag, and optics don't make a weapon an assault rifle anymore than they make a pistol an assault rifle.
This is a perfect example of my previous statement. This is a Glock semi-auto pistol (caliber doesn't matter). This simple little semi-auto pistol was modified with a folding stock, tactical light, front pistol grip, and optic. Since its a semi-auto handgun, it already has a quick release magazine. So then what is the "real" definition of an assault rifle? Rather than go with the dictionary definition, I always interpret it as a weapon designed for military use, meeting military specifications, capable of firing standard military calibers including full metal jacket/armor piercing rounds, capable of firing 3 round bursts or fully automatic, and meeting military requirements for optional additions like grenade launchers, bayonets, etc. I would say that this would be one of the few ways to sufficiently describe what IS an assault rifle but I am no expert so please don't quote me. All the rest, including the millions of AK and AR looking rifles out there fall short because they ONLY fire semi-auto, they don't have the right parts to allow them for full auto or 3 round burst, and the only thing they have in common with the real assault rifle is some general similarities in appearance. As we all should know, looks can be deceiving and pistol grips, folding/collapsable stock, larger magazine makes a rifle an assault rifle as much as standing in a garage makes you a car. 

"Guns Kill People!" or "Assault Weapons Kill People!"

I've heard it both ways now depending on who you're speaking with and what their agenda is. Here in California, we have elected officials fighting to ban "assault" rifles citing that they are responsible for countless deaths. When I started to review their data, I was confused. I was even more confused when I read other elected official's data trying to support their cause. So as not to discredit anyone without doing my own due diligence, i began looking for myself. Currently there is no known case where a weapon killed anyone by itself. Each case of violence seemed to require a person or even animal to inflict damage. I can even cite a personal account while I served in the military where an automatic machine gun called the 'Saw' misfired ONLY after I pulled the trigger sending a round through the upper case and springing off my kevlar helmet. Even in this freak accident (which was due to a faulty repair job) was only caused once I pulled the trigger. So, I think we can stop suggesting that any weapon can kill without help, whether pulling a trigger or loading the rounds. 

That said, I began to see that all the data showed a very different look at which weapon was responsible for more weapon related deaths in the USA. Sadly, it wasn't assault rifles, it was handguns. Specifically small caliber handguns (.25ACP, .32, .38, and 9mm) seemed to top off the charts. Strangely the most popular guns were those easily concealable in pockets or on a person. So I guess they need to stop suggesting that assault weapons are responsible for the majority of deaths in the USA too. 

As I started digging deeper, I started seeing some huge numbers of gun related deaths per year. I was stunned that there were that many people who lost their lives to guns per year and it did leave me speechless. As I started breaking it down further I noticed that guns have had a very steady amount of deaths every year since before I was born. It made me sad that so many lost their lives to stupidity, irresponsibility, and violence. I then began wonder if guns were in fact the number one killer of Americans every year figuring nothing could be responsible for more deaths than the numbers I saw. It was then that I learned the number one killer of Americans per year was tobacco not guns. In fact, guns don't even make the list without pairing them with all unintentional accidents for the top 5 killers from the multiple sources I reviewed. I found that lung disease, heart disease, cancer, brain disease, and accidents seem to round up the top 5. When I started to research it more, it seems that smoking, auto accidents, and even alcohol seem to kill more people than guns combined (intentional and unintentional). My research is showing that "... every year tobacco kills more Americans than did World War II — more than AIDS, cocaine, heroin, alcohol, vehicular accidents, homicide and suicide combined." Well then why do so many suggest guns are the number one threat when its clearly not...its tobacco. Even after tobacco, when you consider the data, there are more drunk driver related deaths than homicides with a gun per year based on sources I found. I obviously must have my numbers wrong because when I find so much data suggesting that gun related deaths are less than tobacco, alcohol, disease or cancer, i am stunned that anyone isn't focusing on the bigger threats they can fix that don't have an amendment protecting them. 

"Assault Rifles" are no good for hunting and therefore useless to civilians

I have to say this one cracks me up. I heard this argument in a few anti-gun presentations. The basic premise was to suggest that the commonly misidentified semi-auto rifles being called assault rifles have no place in civilian life as the caliber isn't suitable for hunting. I don't hunt, never have, probably never will unless I am stranded with no other options in the wilderness. Yet, even with my lack of knowledge for hunting, I know first hand that .223/5.56 or .308/7.62 can kill. These two calibers are the standard calibers for the AR or AK series rifles. If a person can hunt with a .22 LR, why can't he with a .223/5.56 round? Plus, its hard to deny how effective the M16 is as a weapon for our military forces worldwide. As for the .308/7.62 round, based on a little research, this round is used for everything up to elk and deer with an occasional moose with a good shot. AR series rifles are becoming the model of choice for certain game and hunters who love them based on the forums I've read. So I guess we can put to rest that the calibers aren't capable for hunting. 

Regardless, even if a weapon is useless for hunting, does that make it pointless to own? Is there no other reason to own a firearm not suitable for hunting? I guess we could consider the pure fun of it or even for home protection as a viable reason couldn't we? Otherwise, why do so many homes in the USA own handguns? You aren't likely to go hunting with a handgun and a single shot .22 rifle may not be the first choice for home protection. However, countless numbers enjoy firing them at a range for the pure enjoyment of it. I guess the real question to ask is what reasons do people have to own firearms? To answer that, I found hundreds of sites telling readers numerous reasons to own a gun, but I feel I can sum it up in six: 1. Hunting, 2. Protection, 3. Collectable, 4. Preserve your rights, 5. Fun, and 6. Competition. There are a lot of people who like to expand on those basic six like this site, but for all intensive purposes this covers the basic principals. People use guns for hunting, protection from animals or people, some like to collect guns since some rarely lose their value and even gain value, others like owning guns because they can, and finally there are those who simply enjoy shooting for the fun of it, or even to compete with one another. So the question becomes, with any rifle, handgun, or shotgun, can any weapon fall under any of those choices? If there are weapons that don't apply to any, then you might have an argument for banning that particular weapon as its clearly not necessary. Otherwise I think its clear that every firearm will fall into one of those categories. 

Get Rid of the Guns and Crime will stop

I honestly never knew the term Gun Free Zone before I started doing my research. I knew there were places where weapons were not allowed like municipal buildings and schools, but I never considered the arguments for or against until I really read the details. Areas that everyone knows are gun free are now the primary targets for acts of violence. Areas known to have guns tend to rarely if ever encounter violence (not many want to run into a gun store and hold it up when every employee has a loaded gun at their side). Private locations that don't allow guns, schools, and other buildings known as gun free zones are considered by most to be easy targets for criminal activity. While doing some research I came across some interesting articles about Switzerland regarding the number of guns per home due in part to their militia design. Basically they hand out weapons to their youth as part of their military/militia service and the guns are kept at home. It's also not uncommon to see numerous youth (20-30's) carrying issued weapons around as part of their duty. Also strange is the low violent crime rate they have in their country. Whether this has anything to do with every household and every citizen having access to a weapon or not may not be as important as looking at our own areas in the USA that have a low incident rate and guns are permitted. Places like the University of Colorado allow students concealed carry weapons and they have some of the smallest number of violent crimes at a university in the USA. In fact, compared to other schools that don't allow concealed carry, the number of incidents is amazingly low. You have a sizable increase in violent crimes at EVERY college that prohibits guns on campus. Now, please note that I am not trying to suggest we let a bunch of 18-24 year olds "pack heat" when they head off to college, because we all know there are some very responsible young adults and there are those that aren't. I simply find the data interesting in that those schools where guns are allowed, violent crimes are far less than those schools where guns are prohibited. It reminds me of a bumper sticker I recently saw on a car that read, "An armed society is a polite society". While I may not totally agree, it does have some truth. 

I guess the thing that kept popping up in my mind about this topic about removing all guns or banning guns would be, who would freely turn their weapons in? Law abiding citizens...maybe, criminals... absolutely not. Consider England as a perfect example. They banned a number of weapons long ago. Citizens are only allowed hunting style rifles or shotguns specific to hunting game. However, criminals seem to still have handguns, rifles, and every other type of firearm the citizens don't. How you ask, they buy them from other places and bring them over. Lets say that every law abiding American did give up their guns, how long before Mexico and Canada are shipping thousands of weapons into the USA for the criminal elements to buy on the black market? The real truth is that criminals are the ones we need to disarm and there is no way to do it without going up to each and disarming them personally. Then doing it all again the next week when they get a new gun illegally. I would love it if someone could figure out how to disarm the criminals without impacting all the law abiding citizens rights. Mainly because taking a law abiding person's guns in hope of removing weapons from criminals is like killing every newborn puppy to prevent future dog attacks.  

The Bottom Line

So based on the information I found, the details I verified, and the conclusions I came to, I'm more concerned with our elected officials focusing on guns when there are bigger threats. Look at the data yourself because its clear the biggest threats are tobacco, alcohol, and vehicles. Elected officials are intently focused on guns because most believe they are easy targets to point the finger at. The support and money behind tobacco, alcohol, and vehicles makes enforcing new laws against these 3 very unpopular. Attempting to fight tobacco, alcohol, or vehicles would likely get any elected official out of a job quick when considering the power and support behind these killers. It just doesn't make sense to me which is why I am both confused and frustrated that so much effort is spent on gun control. If someone comes up to you and tells you that you will likely die if you do this activity, chances are, you're going to avoid that activity all together to increase your chances of survival. Yet, here is clear data from countless reputable sources telling us that tobacco, alcohol, and vehicles cause more death to Americans in the USA every year than ANYTHING else and our politicians decide to try to ban select firearms to "save lives" instead. Lets look at some of the real information: 

Alcohol is responsible for more drunk driving deaths than gun homicides every year. However, our judicial system sees countless DUI offenders, and repeat offenders, come through their doors till they kill someone and get locked up for good. I've personally witnessed two repeat offenders with previous convictions for DUI in court for another DUI charge and it shocks me to see how many chances they are given to kill innocent people due to their disregard of life and property. Most police know that its only a matter of time before they kill someone. It's only a matter of time? What does that say about our society that we don't want to be strict enough until life is lost? These drunk drivers are the vast majority of vehicle deaths in the US per year based on the data from the motor vehicle reports. I'm not suggesting we ban alcohol since it can be used responsibly and the last time the law tried to ban it, didn't work. I'm suggesting we enforce stricter laws that make a single offense of drinking and driving the ONLY offense. Consider how California is the car chase capital of the world. There are more high speed car chases in this state than anywhere else in the world. Its also easy to see how many lives are put at risk every time someone runs from police. Just count the number of pedestrians and other vehicles the suspect races by next time you watch a chase and think about how many lives they just jeopardized. Rather than slap someone with what many consider a light sentence, punish them much harder and people would at least think twice before they run. We need to enforce stricter laws governing those persons that are threats to society for whatever reason when they are behind the wheel. As far as with tobacco, its toxic to the human body and there is no "safe" way to use it. It can even kill those around smokers due to second hand smoke. Tobacco is a killer, it offers no beneficial properties, no positive traits, and it kills a large % of the people who use it. Though, again, I realize trying to ban it would also cause half of the US to have a nicotine fit and the big tobacco companies would spend billions to fight to keep it legal. I used to smoke 1-2 packs a day myself when I was younger and I remember that I couldn't care less about what impact my smoke had on others. I also see smokers here in California complain regularly about how their so called right to smoke is being threatened because of the California no smoking areas. One person was asked to step out of the patio area because he lit up a cigarette and was upsetting those trying to enjoy their lunches. He walked walked to the other side of the waist high fence and started blowing his smoke into the group that complained. Sadly no one could do anything since he was on the sidewalk right next to the patio we were all eating at. 

The point is, while guns are protected by our first amendment right, show me where tobacco, alcohol or vehicles are protected. Somehow the real mass killers are overlooked because creating laws that really prevent loss of life within those categories is considered too difficult or harsh and might result with people losing their jobs. I can't imagine how it can be so hard though. Outlaw tobacco and allow only the electronic cigarettes. This would immediately stop second hand smoke problems and those that feel a need to smoke can do so MUCH safer. Charge every DUI or those that flee from police for attempted murder for each person they pass or get near and do so on the first offense to send them away. I don't see why anyone driving while under the influence or fleeing shouldn't be punished more severely for how many lives they put in danger. Same applies to person's driving dangerously or reckless driving with implementing stricter laws to make people question how smart their actions are. Their vehicles need to be impounded for a year or more. I'm pretty sure people will start seeing a much more positive change as opposed to trying to outlaw legal firearms and prevent legal ownership.

My stance on gun control, based on all the evidence and after listening to both sides is simply this; gun control, whether talking about handguns, shotguns, or rifles of any sort should not be taken out of law abiding citizens hands. We have so many other areas of concern that should take precedence over whether a law abiding citizen owns an AR looking semi-auto rifle or not. I whole heartedly agree we need to disarm criminals, but even IF we did disarm the criminals, that still isn't a reason to take a guns away from every law abiding citizen in the USA. Each citizen has inalienable rights including free speech, the right to keep and bear arms, freedom of religion, etc. So why is it acceptable for one group to try to regulate or take away a right to own and keep firearms, yet not impede on another like freedom of religion? If I petitioned to prevent churches from assembling on Sunday because I don't like their message, I'd be hauled off in chains and met with huge opposition from everyone. Yet if I petition to enforce gun control and take weapons away from the people, I'd have huge support and cheers for my efforts from anti-gun advocates. It worries me that many of our elected officials are so focused on guns and gun control. Forcing a change of our so called inalienable rights does nothing more than open pandora's box, and we may not like what happens next.  Politicians should be focused on implementing better laws to save lives from tobacco, alcohol, and vehicles. It may be unpopular, but there are countless ways to improve our chances of survival from those three and it would most certainly result with scores more lives saved at the end of the year. There is no reason to try and take guns from law abiding citizens nor any reason to suggest that taking guns from law abiding citizens will reduce the number of guns criminals have. You aren't going to abolish purses to prevent purse snatching any more than you'd segregate men and women to prevent rape.

I support law abiding citizen's right to keep and bear arms and feel that we owe it to each other to stop trying to end that right. My primary reason is because I fear what can happen next if anyone is successful in outlawing guns. A revolution? Other rights like freedom of speech or religion removed? Where exactly does it stop? I prefer to put this issue aside and agree with our forefathers that we simply have the right to keep and bear arms. Meanwhile, we should focus our attention on figuring out how to institute stricter laws governing DUI offenders, outlawing tobacco, and fight to implement better laws to force people to drive safer. It may be unpopular, but its hard to argue with the number of deaths each is responsible for and they AREN'T a protected right.


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