(This piece was originally published in late 2016. How much has changed? One thing: I have since fired a gun, with my son, at a shooting range.)
Rat a Tat Tat
By Patrick F. Cannon
My son Patrick has a small collection of firearms, which he showed to me during a recent visit with him in Florida. He keeps them locked away, but enjoys going to the shooting range to see if he can hit the broad side of a barn. On at least three occasions, I’ve tried to join him, but fate has always intervened. Most recently, there would have been an hour wait for a firing position, an hour we didn’t have.
I was particularly interested in firing two in his collection, a Browning .45 caliber semi-automatic pistol, and an M1 Carbine. When I was in the Army, I had occasion to qualify with both, as well as the standard infantry weapon of the time, the M1 Garand; and the submachine gun affectionately known as the “grease gun.” I qualified with the Garand (used during World War II and Korea) as a “Sharpshooter” during basic training. Only “Expert” was higher, so I did OK.
I ended up in the Signal Corps in La Rochelle, France. There I was issued a Carbine, with which I qualified at a former German Army indoor shooting range, which was near one of their submarine pens at La Pallice, the port just south of La Rochelle. The pen, by the way, was the site for the film Das Boot, and is still there, the roof pockmarked by Allied bombs that never penetrated.
In mid-1962, I was transferred to another signal company and sent to Ft. Irwin, California, in the middle of the Mojave Desert. It was combat support company, and I worked in a signals van. I was issued with both a Browning .45 and a grease gun. The idea here, I decided, was that if the Ruskies broke into the van, you would grab your grease gun and pull the trigger, with the hope that you would hit something, if only the ceiling. The pistol was reasonably accurate at 25 yards. At the same distance, you were lucky to hit the target at all with the grease gun.
In any event, when I qualified with it in the late summer of 1962, it was the last time I ever fired a gun. I don’t own one, and have no wish to own one. If I did, I’m sure I could pass a background check, as would my son, who is what we could call “a responsible gun owner.”
If you’re good at math, you may have noticed that I haven’t fired a gun in 54 years, which makes me just as qualified as anyone else to comment on gun control. By the way, I learned that roughly 40 percent of Americans own guns, and 20 percent own 65 percent of them. Like my son, many Americans own multiple guns. I don’t want to get bogged down in statistics, but most murders are committed with guns, with the actual firearm murder rate fairly consistent at about 3.6 per 100,000 population. The majority are committed by criminals against other criminals. And while our murder rate is not the highest in the world, it is high compared to the countries in Western Europe, for example.
Recent mass murders have brought these issues to the fore – who should own guns, and what kind? The members of the legendary National Rifle Association (NRA) largely agree that background checks are appropriate, but their supposedly elected leaders, personified by their doctrinaire front man, Mr. Wayne LaPierre, fear that any kind of control will lead to a mass confiscation of guns from everyone except the police. The only thing more absurd than this contention is that some people believe it.
You may be surprised to learn that many people in countries like the United Kingdom actually own guns. To do so, they must apply for a license and pass a background check. They must also state a reason, which might include hunting, sport shooting or even, in rare cases, self protection. Just like a driver’s license, they have to renew from time to time. I imagine if you’ve committed a felony since getting your license, renewal might be a problem. By the way, in a recent year the gun murder rate in the UK was 0.06 per 100,000.
The following sensible proposals would no doubt bring the braying LaPierre out of his stall spouting righteous indignation:
- All gun owners to have a background check before receiving a permit to own firearms. The permit to be checked against a data base by any seller, including at gun shows. All sellers and re-sellers would have to be licensed.
- Those not eligible for a permit should include felons, and people diagnosed with a specific mental illness, such as schizophrenia.
- No one on the “no fly” or terrorist watch lists could get a permit, although they must be told the specific reason they are on either list, and have the right of appeal. There are too many instances of US citizens being on one or the other of these lists in error, and having extreme difficulties in getting their names removed.
- Background checks must be thorough, with at least a full week permitted to complete them. It’s difficult to think of any valid reason for needing a firearm sooner.
- I suppose it makes sense to ban assault rifles, if only because they can accommodate large clips. If that can’t be done, perhaps it might be sensible to ban clips that hold more than 10 rounds. Since automatic weapons are still banned, target shooters and hunters can make no convincing arguments for larger clips. Does it really take more than 10 rounds to kill Bambi?
I’m afraid I have no hopes that any of this will pass at the Federal level. And any immediate effect is highly dubious, since it’s estimated that 340 million guns are already floating around the United States. Any impact of tighter regulations would take decades to be felt, and would have little immediate effect on the illegal trade.
In any event, while the Republicans might support some meaningless symbolic gesture to mollify the public, their fear of the NRA will prevent anything meaningful. After all, this is the party whose leaders are lining up to support Donald Trump, forcing one of the most respected conservative voices, columnist George Will, to leave it after more than 40 years. He won’t be the last. Nor should he be.
Copyright 2016, 2021, Patrick F. Cannon