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The Fascination With Assault Rifles; America Under Siege

Updated on January 30, 2014

Earliest Recollections

If you pay much attention to billboard advertising in your travels, most any marquee at some point in time is announcing a gun show where you can buy a broad range of weapons and even participate in concealed weapons classes. What is somewhat disturbing about these events, however, is the transformation they’ve underwent over the past several decades and what these changes may possibly signal with regard to how Americans view gun ownership and gun rights.

Like most other young boys growing up in the 60’s, I too was fascinated with guns and couldn’t wait until the day that I could own my own hunting rifle. It was a symbol of being inducted into the realm of manhood in many ways and reached the very core of what it meant to have the tools to be a hunter. I never gave much thought to the particular style of my first gun, how it looked or how many shots it fired. In fact, it turned out to be a gun only capable of firing a single shot but that didn’t matter because it nevertheless had the capacity to kill the animals normally hunted in the area where I lived. All of my friends had similar guns, nothing particularly extravagant, and we all hunted together throughout my teen years and beyond.

In my early twenties, I had a brief career in law enforcement. It was steady income and in some regards established a sense of discipline in me that, for the most part, I had resisted in my earlier years. I recall sitting at home and staring at the new handgun I had just purchased as a duty weapon. As I held it in my hand, I began to realize that it could very well be the tool that one-day could save my life if the circumstances ever arose. I stood aiming it at the wall several times, working to increase my comfort level with it for later use at the practice range. While doing so, the thought also hit home that it was also the tool that might well take the life of someone else if the circumstances ever arose.

It was a very defining moment for me, forever changing my views about the merits and responsibilities of owning and using a gun. I also noted after only a few months on the force that many fellow officers demonstrated a different sort of appeal for weapons in general and unlike the friends of my youth, were extremely fascinated by guns that demonstrated significant firepower and that looked imposing. It was Eastwood’s Dirty Harry phenomenon, the display and use of a gun meant to overstate the definition of deadly force. For certain officers, it also very clearly seemed to display an element of compensation as well. Strapping on such weapons made them stand more broadly in the shoulders, walk more determined and confident.

Recognition Of A Problem

I left law enforcement and soon entered college to earn a degree and seek a profession with less risk involved. Interestingly enough, as I stored away my gun-belt and duty weapon, I never gave second thought to somehow needing it. In fact, I had been counseled several times as a police officer for failing to carry my off-duty weapon. The need to have a gun under such circumstances simply didn’t seem vital to me or necessary in the instance of a problem. I never felt as though I was in an environment so dangerous that it required the sort of vigilance and constant protection of a handgun and the Houston area in the state of Texas certainly qualified as a densely populated metropolitan area. Surprisingly, my perspective in that regard had no detrimental effects upon my performance whatsoever as a police officer. In fact, during the three short years I worked in the profession, I became highly decorated with numerous awards and commendations for service in the line of duty.

While in college, I nevertheless kept in touch with several officers I had worked with and on infrequent occasion we attended gun show events or hunted together. It was at this point in the late 80s and early 90s that I noticed a change in the trend of guns being displayed at the shows. I was amused, but at the same time astonished, by the type of weapons on display and for sale. While the broadest extent of the guns were pistols, hunting rifles and vintage guns, a number of the weapons were military grade spin-offs. One of particular note that I recall was a XM-18E1R grenade launcher, a forerunner to the modern M32, that fired very respectable rounds at its target, comprised of shells that were explosive of all things. While such ammunition for the gun was not available at the show, it nevertheless sent my mind reeling at the thought of who would actually need or even want to spend their money for such a weapon that had no civilian application.

Indeed, that grenade launcher was most formidable in appearance and it was this characteristic alone that drew my attention to the behavior of the small crowd gathered around it, each taking turns handling it. In fact, I recognized the grenade launcher as one being heralded in an action movie at the time called The Dogs of War, starring Christopher Walken. During the film, Walken was using the launcher to single-handedly kill dozens of enemy soldiers and knock down walls of buildings with it. The gun represented near unstoppable firepower and in the film, sent the enemy running in all directions in the attempt to escape it.

The men, and even some women, at the gun show were all admiring the launcher, each drawing forth a broad smile as they tucked it up against their arm in a manner necessary to use it, looking at the others with an obvious sense of bravado. Indeed, even to simply hold such a gun made them all seem to extract an element of that weapon’s impressive nature. As I stood watching the transformation in each of them, it was the look of invincibility that was most apparent. Even though they laughed while demonstrating their own technique in holding the launcher, I could see an element of truth in their expressions, the desire not only to own one but the fanciful opportunity to see the reaction in others if they were to draw it out with the intent to use it. They even spoke of such theoretical events as they all broke into laughter, each time the version of the encounter changing as the launcher was passed among them. It was all too clear to me, however, that their reflection afterwards was one of giddy intoxication from the sensation of holding that grenade launcher.

Momentum In Full Swing

As the years passed, I began to take a more active interest in watching the transformation unfold from my first observations at that gun show. As subsequent shows arrived to town, I noted that the theme of the show was becoming less concentrated in the area of traditional guns used for hunting and more toward paramilitary type guns and paraphernalia. Indeed, people were quite intrigued by all sorts of different guns, knives and even gear associated with military combat. I was absolutely entranced by the vast number of people pouring into these shows for the opportunity to actually own these weapons. Of particular note, was the fascination that people had for assault rifles and as they held them in their arms, I readily observed their familiar expression and excitement that I had originally witnessed in the crowd handling the grenade launcher several years earlier.

The variation on the assault rifles was extremely diverse, a multitude of calibers, magazine capacity, bipod attachments, folding stocks, military scopes, laser attachments other features, all serving to raise the interest and appeal by persons shopping them. It literally appeared as though these people were all making their choices based upon the increasing diversity and firepower capability of these military grade weapons as though they might actually need it.

Further to my surprise, I noted a number of father-son groups that weren’t at the counters where those single-shot rifles were collecting dust, the same type that I once had as a boy myself. Instead, these fathers were fitting their sons with a military style rifle that had reduced caliber and limited magazine capacity. Imagine that the tradition of buying your son his first gun has transformed from a perspective of weapons meant for killing animals in the context of hunting to one that has garnered an appeal for weapons that are purposely designed for combat and killing people.

Today, gun shows are tilted almost exclusively in the direction of peddling military style weapons and gear to an audience who appears to have nothing short of lust for these guns and the kind of power they represent. You can even take classes to carry concealed weapons, replete with instructors who provide lessons in how to shoot center mass of human targets in order to best utilize the stopping power of handguns and their respective ammunition. The craze of assault-weapon ownership has penetrated the consumer market to such an extent that even your local Wal-Mart has a selection of assault rifles for purchase.

Increasing numbers of people are carrying concealed handguns in states where it’s lawful to do so, as well as outfitting their homes with variable levels of military grade firepower. It’s a rather twisted version of keeping up with the Jones’ and it begs the question of what is driving this trend in spite of the fact that there is no corresponding level of threat demanding it.

Fear Where There Is No Danger

Raising A Culture On Assault Weapons

Contemplation Of The Cause

Gun activists all react with the same sort of venom that some religious zealots do when you challenge their somewhat circular logic. When posed the question of why they particularly need an assault rifle, gun rights activists quickly retort that it is their constitutional right and also one that they feel is somehow under threat of revocation. In other words, they are stampeding in order to purchase special weapons that they believe are under threat of prohibition. They must get them before they are no longer able to do so.

If discussion is raised about the particular manner in which killing sprees by mentally disturbed individuals are carrying out these acts of violence, activists are just as quick to espouse the National Rifle Association’s familiar clause “guns don’t kill people, people do.” While that statement may ring true from a purely technical standpoint, it’s more accurate of late to amend the slogan to say that people who kill people are now able to kill a lot of them at once with military assault rifles.

It’s a brand of distorted logic used not simply to justify ownership of such weapons, but to demand the unrestricted free trade and access to such weapons by anyone with the desire and ability to purchase them as an inalienable constitutional right. If you challenge any aspect of the rights and perspectives of pro gun activists, they respond with a characteristic landslide of statistical data about crime and guns that includes a smattering of real-world examples of everyday citizens that were robbed or killed, who would otherwise be alive today if they had only been equipped with a gun.

Such a point is clearly arguable since most people who have joined the ranks of carrying a concealed weapon would likely fail in the instant of need. Having been a police officer, the mental image of getting the jump on the bad guy isn’t anywhere near the reality of having to do it in real life in instances where hesitation or unfamiliarity can cost you your life. In the minds of the gun activist, their arguments are not simply a statement being made as justification, but an overwhelming defense to any opinion that threatens their sense of power by virtue of owning and brandishing such weapons.

Pro gun activists are also inclusive of extremists like the bunker crowd, families who live in remote compounds and stockpile guns and ammunition in anticipation of the well-worn belief that the government is going to rise against and enslave them, taking away their rights to the freedoms granted them. Much like the end-of-the-world prophets, however, these extreme perspectives simply get kicked along with the dust of another year without incident and simply tend to reflect paranoid delusion. It doesn’t help the argument for gun rights when a portion of their support is openly militant toward its own government. It’s like pyromaniacs joining up with conservationists in support of forest fire prevention.

Is the average gun owner this extreme? Hardly. The differences between gun owners and pro gun activists are not all that blurred. Most gun owners are just your average run-of-the-mill hardworking citizens who willingly adopt the social theme du jour. They can rationalize their reasons for buying assault weapons as merely practicing a contemporary tradition and one that in their opinion is not harmful to anyone.

Average gun owners certainly don’t advocate violence, or even form unusual bonds to the merits of owning such weapons. In other words, they own them as adornments and trinkets for conversation. They usually keep them in a safe and on occasion, will bring them out at the family reunion or gathering of friends to show them off much like they would a new car. They even on occasion will engage in target shooting as a pastime or use them for the sport of hunting. To them, it’s just a unique looking gun and they own it as part of the movement to demonstrate their freedoms to do so, more in the interests of amusement. It’s a symbolic statement. Nothing more.

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The Semantics Of Argument

The real question, however, is where this trend is actually taking us as a nation. In the truest sense we are a people who are crafted by, and bound tightly to, democracy and although explicit examples might regularly contest it, we believe in non-violence and principles of a civil society. We seek to draft communities with safety in mind, where we can raise our children and protect them from people or circumstances that would do them harm. We seek to create an environment of civility for our families, wherein we can realize the American dream in whatever context it can best offer.

We intend all of these aspirations to manifest in the absence of the tools of violence. Among the numerous incidents and with no less respect to their victims, in the wake of the Sandy Hook massacre, a tragedy originating from an otherwise peaceful community, we heard recommendations in the aftermath that included arming teachers with guns and equipping the nation’s children with bulletproof backpacks. Imagine that an incident involving the use of a high-capacity assault rifle wherein dozens of little children were mercilessly slaughtered is rebuffed by suggestions of remedies that are in many regards, accepting of such circumstances as an unpreventable eventuality in the future. In other words, remedies were designed to deal with the existence of the problem rather than eradicate elements comprising the problem. It is likewise suggested that the resolution to the problem is to introduce even more guns into environments where they don’t belong.

How many individuals must die at the hands of “people” who have access to weapons with extreme firepower? Is it truly rational to even for a moment believe that the entirety of these random massacres have absolutely no element of their outcome born out in the use of high capacity weapons that are common to nearly all such events? Can we really isolate the cause to the people using them to carry out the act? Does the occurrence of other killings using weapons less capable than assault rifles actually somehow mitigate all the massacres in which the assault rifles were used as some element of proof that it’s the person and not the particular weapon?

If we wish to target blame for killings using assault rifles, then there’s but no question that we can limit it to the people responsible for using the gun. But that’s part of the reason that this argument becomes locked in a struggle. We are permitting the argument to be focused on the blame, when maybe we should more accurately be directing our efforts to the cause. Pro gun activists and the NRA alike are quite staunch in their position that the people who used assault rifles in all of these tragedies are alone responsible for the deaths and injuries of the victims. To that extent, there is likely full agreement as a matter of pure common sense. But in the quest for actual resolution of the problem to prevent it from occurring again to the extent possible, then it has always been the practical approach that to solve a problem, you must avoid blame and instead define the cause, two very potentially different factors.

Is a mentally disturbed person responsible for their actions? In most cases in this country, the law exonerates such people of the willful intent, negligence and even recklessness of their actions, regardless of nature or outcome. As a civil nation, we put into place such laws in the interest of prejudicial concern for the welfare of such people, who for reasons beyond their control place themselves in the same peril of retributions imposed by society for persons otherwise competent to abstain. It reaches to the deepest place within us, however, when actions by such people extend to horrific and unimaginable proportions and whereby we are afforded no peace or closure as a result of directing both blame and retribution. Are we simply relegated to acceptance of such a reality that not only dishonors the people directly impacted through loss of their loved ones, but also the masses of people yet to be potentially subject to the same risk?

If we accept the contention by pro gun activists and their organizations that people, whether mentally disturbed or fully competent, are to blame for the deaths of so many innocent people in all of these tragedies, then where do we begin to meet at the table to discuss addressing the actual cause, which is a clear distinction from any element of blame? There are some instances in the portrayals of life where restriction from access is necessary for the good of society. In particular, we’re speaking here about restrictions to the access and availability of things that by their intended design are capable of invoking imminent peril upon persons having no equal rights to access and availability, or conversely any active avoidance of such things and thereby creating an inescapable vulnerability.

Said another way, in order to have a society that demonstrates equality and provides protection to everyone, it is a direct contradiction, moreover an invalidation, of any element of constitutional right or law that exposes persons to imminent harm who cannot avail themselves of the same right. Children and certain others exposed to the harm and imminent peril that assault rifles can create in the hands of any person so inclined, do not have the legal right in this country to access, own or use such weapons of equal force in order to defend their lives.

It is not a rational objection to such an argument that legal adults are responsible for the care and safety of children because in the instance of the problem being discussed, it is purely self-defense that must be rightfully accessed in order to offer all manner of hope and means necessary to repel and survive exposure to such conditions, regardless of who is responsible under the law for another person’s safety.The question is raised whether gun activists who aggressively oppose restrictions of assault rifles merely do so in their own best interests rather than those of the public at large.

The fascination of owning assault rifles is much like the dominion held fast by persons addicted to drugs; to maintain the emotional sensations they derive from their habit, they would readily sacrifice any other element of importance. In much the same way, staunch gun activists often appear relatively unconcerned about the risk of availability of assault weapons to persons who would use them for harm to others and are more primarily concerned with protection of their constitutional rights to bear arms.

It is generally a contradiction for a society that strives for non-violence to arbitrarily create it in its midst. While personal protection is the right of every person, have we reached too far in defining the methods by which such protection is afforded? If the demonstrated firepower of modern assault rifles is being defined as necessary for personal protection, then what does this say about the perception these gun owners have regarding the safety of their environment? Is it truly a reality that the daily lives of people are at a point of risk where free access to, and use of, military assault rifles is a requisite to achieve safety?

And what of the use of assault rifles as a form of entertainment? Target shooting and the sensation of firing a high cyclic rate assault rifle is clearly appealing to many gun owners. Some even make it a family outing, if such an event can be construed as plausible. Interestingly, in observation of persons using such weapons at a target range, the emphasis has transformed from one of traditional accuracy to one imposing the greatest destructive force upon the entire target. Does the premise of a day out with the family to shoot assault rifles as a form of entertainment really suggest the direction we’re headed? Have we become that destitute for something constructive to do with our lives?

The steadfast resistance to restriction of these guns by activists is not merely a force to be reckoned with at the political level and through grassroots organizations, but also suggests a deeply embedded human characteristic as well. Most people are quite passive in the context that as long as something is available, then there is no compelling need to necessarily have it.

There is a broad range of perspectives within this behavioral realm as well, some stockpiling to excess and others seeking but one or even none in order to satisfy their relative comfort levels. Let any circumstances, however, bring forth the suggestion of limited availability or restriction from access and you will witness the headlong rush by people to make certain that they obtain it before supplies are gone, even if the item is impractical. This innate behavior is compounded in the instance of assault rifles because the acquisition of such weapons is also born out in the right to bear guns for protection from oppression by domestic or foreign assault. It is a mixed platform where activists have a variety of positions to argue, all seemingly to their own advantage.

America Is Speaking Louder

The Bigger Picture

The literal siege of this nation by the landslide marketing and acquisition of military assault rifles has effectively painted us into a corner. Certainly no one wishes to see little children or even adults helplessly gunned down by someone using an assault rifle. How badly we all wish for a resolution that will bring change to such circumstances is quite fractured because of all the self-interests involved.

We would rather clad our children in bulletproof Kevlar garments and put a gun in the hand of our teachers than to unselfishly restrict our gun ownership to weapons that actually have more prudent and worthwhile applications such as hunting and entertainment. We would rather invoke political obstruction to change in our present course by whatever means necessary rather than make any measure of sacrifice for the benefit of civilians at large, potentially at risk of imminent harm or death as a result of the existence and free access to military assault rifles in this country.

Indeed, the battle presently being waged says a great deal about progress we’ve made in the past several hundred years, moreover where we’re potentially headed. I’ve personally witnessed no signs of the government preparing to oppress my freedoms. In fact, the nature of bureaucracy in our government would, at best, be able to mount such an effort at a pace so hideously slow that it would be entirely ineffectual.

As a people united, we absolutely must face up to circumstances that render us more harm than good and work collectively to stem the tide of hypocrisy in our beliefs and practices that are coming under increasing scrutiny by the rest of the world. We have been hailed in many regards as the front leader in numerous areas of global affairs, but we have been swept up by our own passions at times and our voice as a nation of late is speaking more to the diminishing presence of qualities expected by such leadership.

America has truly happened upon change that is unbecoming. Our nation is under siege not simply by the pressures of fractured interests, but more critically by the sacrifice of what is most essential to our beliefs as Americans. We must be able to strip away the veil that conceals our message and realize that it’s not the retention of actual guns that keeps us free, but rather the passionate retention of the spirit originally defining such freedoms that cannot ever be contained or controlled.

We’re not at risk of oppression but rather condemnation, a far worse fate, for even the oppressed can hold fast to their faith. We are losing our faith in who we are as a nation and what we represent to the world. If we haven’t the ability to protect and defend our moral responsibilities as human beings as much as our constitutional rights as Americans, then we have no constitution worth protection. This problem is not about the President in office or Congress. It’s about us, the American people.

Our nation is evolving. Our true strength can no longer be projected from the barrel of a gun, but rather in our courage to walk the path toward the next chapter of what this great nation’s constitution was not only designed to preserve, but to also cultivate. To the absolute reaches of what it means to be American, we are compelled to walk this path toward our destiny and overcome the forces of lesser persuasions that would have us act any differently.

We begin to turn the page with the voice of one person, with a courageous step forward by another and with the collective momentum of every single American with the same message.

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