Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Guns and the people they kill ...

The unfortunate incident at the LA Fitness center in Bridgeville has knocked the birther issue and even Bill Clinton’s visit to North Korea off the radar, at least for Pittsburgh. As Obama unfortunately said, we don’t have all the facts yet, in fact, I think we may never know all the facts. But that won’t stop me from venturing an opinion.

In 1981, James Garner reprised his role of Maverick the gambler in a series titled “Bret Maverick” (quite enjoyable, by the way, available on Netflix). In the pilot episode, before a poker game the sheriff disarms Maverick by taking his “hog-leg”, the big Colt 45 revolver so familiar in cowboy movies. But then the sheriff takes the various mini guns and derringers Maverick has hidden about his person. This was actually fairly accurate for the old west. It was common for towns to ban carrying guns openly, so a huge industry sprung up of offering various very small guns to carry concealed. They would have only one bullet, maybe two, rarely more and if so, only very small bullets. Sometime the one or two bullet varieties had a relatively large size bullet, but all of them had an atrocious range, not much more than the length of a table. The point being, concealed weapons have been with us for almost as long as there have been guns. But only recently have they become dangerous to more than one or two people at a time.

Modern semi-automatic pistols can carry 12, 13 or even 15 bullets, of varying sizes of bullets (calibers). This originated with the military market, but has proven popular with the civilian market as well. If you carry spare magazines (the things that hold the bullets) in your off hand (the one not holding the pistol) and if you are somewhat practiced, you could fire perhaps 45 shots in under a minute. That is astounding for something you could carry well concealed under a jacket. And of course modern bullets are much more lethal than they used to be. A bullet proof vest can prevent a fatal shot to the chest, but there are all sorts of caveats and who wears a bullet proof vest in a gym anyway.

This incident will bring the second amendment types out of the woodwork. They will say no “assault weapon” (military style rifle) was involved so even by the greatly reduced standards of current gun control debate, the government can make no comment. They will say that the guy was a criminal (by definition) and a nut, and this was a failure of public health screening or whatever that the guy was not flagged and prevented from owning guns. The second amendment types might even advocate allowing people to keep guns close by as they work out, to shoot someone like this.

But to me the point is that in order to have the right to bear arms, we tolerate the deaths of untold numbers of innocents each year. Additionally, some neighborhoods not only see the deaths of innocents but wars between rival gangs using weapons unimaginable 200 years ago. And the police have to keep up, switching from revolvers to semi-automatic pistols holding fifteen bullets, changing the shotgun in their car for an assault weapon. The police now do not know what awaits them when they answer a call not only in Garfield but also in Stanton Heights. The police may start wearing helmets, body armor and carrying assault rifles as a matter of course. The second amendment types who saying being able to own a gun is the only way to avoid a police state may end up forcing one on the rest of us.

I mean, what conclusion should we draw?

There is that sort of irony that Europe has stronger gun control, and better health care if you are shot.

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