Confessions of a (Liberal) Assault Weapon Owner

| January 10, 2013
 

Guns fascinate me, always have. The house where I grew up contained some guns, locked away except for rare, thrilling viewings. I didn't shoot often in my youth, but I always found it exciting, dangerous and transcendent in its contained chaos.

As I've aged, and as my politics have become increasingly left-leaning, my interest in firearms has grown. I own three guns now, and I use them only for making holes in paper. One of them is an assault rifle -- the same type that killed 12 people in a movie theater in Aurora, Colo., just this last summer.

I keep thinking about getting rid of it, and then I keep discarding the idea. And I keep thinking about my relationship with guns, a relationship that's big and complex and roiling with conflicts I haven't resolved.

Guns retain a near-mystical romance for me. They're one of the few things left in my adult world that inspire simple, basic excitement. It probably sounds silly or irresponsible to admit, but guns bring out an innocent, childlike wonder tinged with fear, at least in me. And I'd venture to bet that almost every gun owner, especially the vocal ones, likes their guns for the same reason. I very much doubt that many of them would admit it, but I'm confident that it is true. Gun ownership in adulthood is a shortcut to a simpler time, an indulgence in boyhood fantasy and fetishistic gear worship. To a lot of people, I would imagine this is a horrifying idea. But in my mind guns are in the same school of fetish item as cameras, pocket knives, cigarette lighters or flashlights. Carried to a lethal extreme, admittedly, but cool gear nonetheless. And regardless of how we worship, lots of us have a gear-altar somewhere in our lives.

Guns can also be immensely satisfying. There is something innately human in the mastery of a mechanical device. To hold and understand a purpose-built machine, composed of so many moving parts, is fascinating. The fact that the machine contains explosions and emits such light and noise is pretty amazing.

Then there is the practice of target shooting. It is deeply meditative. To be done well, it requires singular focus, a clear mind. I've found that my shooting performance deteriorates significantly the more I think about it. It improves equally dramatically when I can compartmentalize and put away extraneous thoughts. When everything's working, there is a deep, quiet harmony of hands, eyes and breath. Shooting becomes an apolitical practice.

Trouble is, the politics come crashing back as soon as I step away from the firing line.

As I mentioned, I'm turning into a liberal as I age. I think we should all have access to health care and food and, most importantly, education. I'm also a big fan of the Constitution. I like the fact that I'm allowed to own guns. I don't like the fact that people go to prison for nonviolent drug offenses. I don't support the NRA. I voted for Barack Obama twice. If the government wants to take my guns away, I will give them up.

In the wake of our two most recent horrific mass shootings, and the death of my childhood friend Kevin Ebbert in Afghanistan, I've thought more than a little about surrendering my guns voluntarily.

I have two semi-automatic pistols. I bought the FNP-40, a black plastic and steel handgun that looks like one you might see on the hip of a police officer, in 2009. At that point, I had finally negotiated a fragile truce with my wife, who grew up decidedly anti-gun. I settled on the .40-caliber mainly for its ubiquity, but also for its stopping power (read: lethality) as a personal defense round. I bought an FN because it is an old, storied brand, it has clean, balanced lines, and it's less common than a Glock, Beretta, or Sig-Sauer. (I occasionally nerd-out on esoteric things.)

The next year, I bought a 1911-A1, chambered in .45 ACP (Automatic Colt Pistol) because I wanted to own such an iconic weapon, and I knew it was extremely comfortable to shoot. This gun was the standard-issue military sidearm for decades, and it has been made culturally indelible in print, movies and television. Anyone who has seen a gun depicted in media in the last 100 years has likely seen a 1911. Mine is stainless steel, bright silver with a dulled shine. 

My third gun is the hot-button, the one that has given me the most pause. I built it in 2011 with components from Smith & Wesson, Alexander Arms, and the now well-known Bushmaster Firearms. It is an AR-15 clone chambered for a weird round called the 6.5 Grendel. It looks every bit what it is. The gun lobby prefers to call these guns "Modern Sporting Rifles," but that's a semantic dodge. It is an assault rifle. Contrary to popular perception, my version is completely legal in the state of California. Californians can build, buy, sell and own AR 15s, AK 47s, and a wide array of other military-type rifles, provided they are equipped with a "bullet button" (a mechanical device designed to limit reload speed) and are registered with the state Department of Justice. It is illegal to own magazines with a capacity higher than 10 rounds, which applies to pistols as well. My rifle has an element of practicality, as the high-velocity 6.5 millimeter round could conceivably be used for medium-sized game hunting. But really it's a pure indulgence: It looks mean and makes astounding amounts of noise. That's why I wanted one.

With all of these weapons, and with any others that have passed through my hands since childhood, I've never fired a shot in anger. I've never put a bullet in a living thing. I could and would defend myself with a gun as a last resort, but to me that's a tertiary benefit.

If giving up my three guns would arrest the despair and violence that are coming to characterize modern America, you can have them. I'll concede that in Australia, the absence of assault rifles (and all other semi-automatics) seems to have curbed mass killings. But I worry that scapegoating the guns is a dangerous oversimplification. Getting rid of them is a Band-Aid on a sucking chest wound that we as a society need to address immediately. There is a sickness, an infection of ignorance, at work here that is uniquely American. And it will continue hurting us, even if getting rid of all the guns slows it down.

I'm not an apologist for the notion that "guns don't kill people, people kill people." High capacity rifles with rapid rates of fire are made for killing people. I've got one, and I don't use it to kill, but that doesn't change its intended purpose. I've sat with that for a long time, and I'm still not sure I've arrived at any sort of conclusion.

I feel torn about owning an AR 15 because it will always be the rifle of killers, plain and simple. But I also feel torn about a national media that makes celebrities of cowards who kill innocents. And I feel torn about a country that actively ignores the rampant depression, anxiety and mania that are consuming its young men.

Gun prohibition may be the answer to our violence problem, but only if it is part of a sweeping reform in education, mental health care and looking out for one another. Without those improvements, we're treating symptoms and not actually addressing the deadly, sinister ills at their root.

 

John J. Bennett, who owns a car repair shop in Eureka, reviews films for the North Coast Journal.

 

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Comments (23)

Showing 1-23 of 23

Dude, empower your mind - stop searching to elongate your manhood with assault weaponry. To twist your statement I would say: "Eradicating marijuana grows may be the answer to our moral responsibility problem, but only if it is part of a sweeping reform in education, parenting, and looking out for one another." So the next time a stoner utilizes his/her impaired driving skills to injure or kill an innocent person remember instead that the next time a felon steals your assault rifle or obtains another and fails to utilize moral responsibility - kills or injures innocent people remember how thrilling assault rifle ownership is for you. My fondest hope is that President Obama bans the sale of assault rifles to civilians / large capacity ammunition clips / and requires background checks in all circumstances and settings via Executive Order to circumvent the NRA bought and paid for Republicans in Congress and misguided civilians who think faster and more lethal is better re: guns outside law enforcement and the military.

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Posted by tim on 01/10/2013 at 5:46 PM

AR15 rifles are no more evil or dangerous than any other semiautomatic rifle. We have a history of people who don't understand these rifles trying to ban them because they look like the weapons in the movies and on the battlefield. Quite frankly, this doesn't make any sense at all. I realize the anti-gun crowd means well. It's unfortunate that their actions only harm law-abiding Americans, and in such a multitude of different ways. Thanks to their efforts our constitution is eroding, our schools are unequipped to protect our children, and a culture of blaming inanimate objects has shifted outrage away from the murderous monsters that deserve it and placed it on those who simply want to exercise their constitutional rights to engage in sport and ensure the safety of their families with the tools of their choosing.

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Posted by b on 01/10/2013 at 9:03 PM

AR15 rifles ARE as evil / dangerous as othor semiautomatics are. People try to ban them because they ARE like weapons in the movies and on the battlefield.
Quite frankly, you don't make sense at all. The anti-gun crowd DOES mean well. Law abiding Americans won't be harmed. Outrage has expanded to include NRA induced lunacy in our society that has enabled murderous monsters access to military assault WMDs. The NRA led right wing needs to understand the world won't unravel if the only folks shooting 100 rounds in 10 seconds are police and military personnel on active duty.

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Posted by Tim on 01/11/2013 at 4:59 AM

I have an ar on order "just because" when the liberals in California do get their way, I will already own one! Diane Feinstein is the best gun salesman in America!

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Posted by Business hippy on 01/11/2013 at 6:06 AM

How will your life change when you are forced to surrender your AR 15? Will you feel less safe? Will your weekends be ruined? Will you now fear for your life?

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Posted by JJ on 01/11/2013 at 7:06 AM

I will never have to surrender my gun. "Pre ban." Learn gun laws so you don't sound like such a dumbass. Please!!!

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Posted by Business hippy on 01/11/2013 at 7:39 AM

The intent of the 2nd amendment was for the citizenry to be able to defend itself from a tyrannical government. If our govt. is intent on removing our self defense against it, doesn't that make you thoughtful? If you are comfortable giving all of your self defense to a liberal govt., would you be as comfortable giving it to a conservative one? What type of enslavement do you chose? Which type of tyrant are you wanting? As it is now the population has almost one gun for every person in this country. By limiting the type of weapon you can possess, the govt. is in essence limiting the populace 's ability to repel an attempt by a tyrant to subdue it. Self defense on a small scale is the immediate concern, but the bigger picture is ?... You can't against legislate fear. A horrendous event does not justify a national stampede. Just like 911, we need to let the emotion dissipate. Not even attempting to sweep this lat shooting horror away, but there will always be people who will always find a way to cause great harm and fear, and unfortunately notoriety, by doing terrible acts. Guns, explosives, chemicals, are NOT the the motivators in these events. People are, and the common denominator is usually that the person is not functioning rationally. Don't join the lemming stampede.

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Posted by growleymom on 01/11/2013 at 8:26 AM

The writer wrote, " I like the fact that I’m allowed to own guns.". It's not supposed to be quite that way. The Bill of Rights were restrictions on federal government. It's not that you're allowed to own guns. They're not supposed to be allowed to take them from you.

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Posted by Fred Mangels on 01/11/2013 at 9:34 AM

Check out the FBI’s crime statistics, available on their website http://www.fbi.gov/stats-services/crimestats Table 20 under the Violent Crime section of the Uniform Crime Report has data for what type of weapon was used for homicides for every state in the US: http://www.fbi.gov/about-us/cjis/ucr/crime-in-the-u.s/2011/crime-in-the-u.s.-2011/tables/table-20 In California during the year 2011, there were 1790 homicides, 1220 by firearm. Though 866 of those murders were committed with handguns, only 45 were with rifles of all types, and regardless of magazine capacity. Interesting to note are the numbers of homicides with knives or cutting instruments 261, “other weapons” such as blunt objects 208, and the number of people killed by “hand, fist, feet, etc” with a footnote that includes pushing in this group of 101. Feel free to look the data up yourself, but it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see that in California for the year of 2011 you were more than twice as likely to be killed with a hand, fist, foot, or pushed than by a rifle of any type and regardless of magazine capacity. Out of all 50 states in Table 20 of the FBI’s Uniform Crime Report on Violent Crime showing the types of weapons used in the known murders committed in the year 2011, there are only 4 states where the number of murders committed with a rifle out number the murders committed by ‘hand, fist, and foot’. These numbers are easy to find and interpret. During the past forty years, 1982 to 2012, there have been 70 mass shootings in the US, leaving 543 people dead. That is less than the combined numbers of people killed in California by the three categories in the above Table 20 of “knives and other cutting implements, other (non-firearm, non-knife) weapons, and hands, fists, feet or pushing” 261+208+101= 570 in last year alone. “Assault weapons” are not the problem. But they sure are a convenient scape goat that allows politicians to ‘do something’. It is much more difficult to fix the economy in a way to open more opportunities for the lower and middle classes, or to improve the educational system in such a way as to instill the types of values in our children and each other such that we will be good to everyone, and reciprocation of that love to be willingly a prolific and generous thing.

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Posted by Jeremy Webb on 01/11/2013 at 4:00 PM

Hey Bus Hip - know anything about Dianne Fienstein? Harvey Milk? Gabby Gifford? Ronald Reagan? Jim Brady? Walk in their shoes b4 stepping on their actions....dumbass.

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Posted by Tim on 01/11/2013 at 4:27 PM

Hey Tim- How am I stepping on their. Actions? Every time Feinstein starts talking about banning guns, people buy guns it's simple. No disrespect to anyone who has been harmed by a firearm

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Posted by Business hippy on 01/11/2013 at 5:19 PM

So, this proves what, beyond the fact that gun nuts are dangerous?

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Posted by Buzz on 01/11/2013 at 5:46 PM

Uh-oh, you're a leftist and a gun nut? You're not on any "medications" are you? That would mean you fit the profile of several of the serial mass killers.

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Posted by rockribbedrushy on 01/12/2013 at 4:40 AM

you're an idiot. Include your penis size for the "rest of the story".....

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Posted by Stan on 01/12/2013 at 9:54 AM

I am not a gun nut or leftist. I simply enjoy assukt rifles and don't want to lose the right to sooypt them. No medication here. And I'm not sure what my penis size has to do with this but I'm guessing 7.5 in. Flacid.

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Posted by Business hippy on 01/12/2013 at 10:43 PM

I keep hearing about 'common sense gun control'. But gun control laws make no rational sense to me at all. I am not a gun owner, I barely know what end of the gun goes bang, but I can do research. I looked at murder rates for the UK and Australia. In both countries their murder rates continued to climb at the same rate for a decade or more with no effect from their gun bans. This is not advertised when they smugly recommend it for the U.S. Murder rates are lower in the U.S. than they've been in 40 years, but gun ownership is at an all time high. When I look at murder rates and even gun violence rates in U.S. states, there is no connection between strict gun control and lower rates or loose gun control and higher rates. These things are all true, but I'm confused as to why they are never brought up by the media. Graphs are too boring? I'm surprised anyone in Humboldt would think that gun control could have a positive effect. We can all look around and see how well 'drug control' laws are working. It only effects dweebs like me who wouldn't know how to buy a drug that doesn't come from a pharmacy.
I can only conclude that gun control laws are political show that turn law-abiding people into felons.

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Posted by botias on 01/13/2013 at 8:44 AM

Business Hippy is drooling on his keyboard. That may account for his typos.

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Posted by Buzz on 01/13/2013 at 2:09 PM

Jeremy, I've heard of that too. Just be careful about rape stats. Under-reporting and ignoring of rape reports that are made has been a huge problem historically. Increases in reported rapes may actually represent progress in that area in recent years and not an increase in rape. It's difficult to know.

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Posted by botias on 01/14/2013 at 2:58 PM

I appreciate your honesty. Thank you. No lectures or opinions. Just appreciate your open honesty.

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Posted by Sandy Gonnerman on 01/14/2013 at 7:23 PM

fails to utilize moral responsibility. If you own a gun and do not take steps to keep it from being stolen, like buying a gun safe like I did 30 years ago so I do not arm scum, then you have no right to own a firearm. I am a responsible gun owner

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Posted by Brian on 01/15/2013 at 10:31 PM

Please do some real reporting and look into what type of medication these kids were on and for how long. And if you cross reference how long, and with what drugs, then look at the negative side effects that come from these drugs. You should be able to paint a better picture of who these people are. And yes take guns away and they'll just use cars or the next weapon they can think of. Oh ps there's a report in la times today about a widow is sueing a doctor from the shooting in aroua, CO.

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Posted by Rob on 01/16/2013 at 9:59 AM

According to Obama's own Department of Justice, so-called "assault weapons" and "high-capacity" magazines are the single LEAST used type of firearm in any type of violent crime, accounting for only a fraction of 1% of homicides in the US. of all guns owned, they are the MOST likely to be used only for lawful purposes, and the least likely to be used illegally. And in those very few instances where they are used to murder, the death toll is not any higher than when other types of weapons are used, despite the uneducated claims about their purpose or ability to kill in large numbers. The shooter at Virginia Tech used two sub-compact handguns with standard capacity magazines and killed more people than any other mass-shooter in US history. So targeting "assault weapons" isn't about saving lives, because Obama's own best data show it will never save even one. It's about attacking gun ownership where he thinks it's weakest because he can exploit the ignorance of his followers about the reality of violence in the US. Too bad he doesn't have the courage to put aside his partisan attempt to score brownie points in the culture war rather than actually use this opportunity, paid for with the lives of 20 small children, to actually do something to reduce violence in our society.

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Posted by Rob on 01/28/2013 at 5:49 PM

I agree with Rob. Further evidence: Senator Feinstein recently introduced a new "assault weapons ban", and the day after that, refused to stand with Maine Senator Bernie Sanders in reining in the filibuster far enough to keep the Senate Republicans from dooming her bill by simply placing a hold on it. She knows it won't pass, but she wants the votes of people who don't put the gun issue in context with other political issues. For instance, big oil has given her way more money than the NRA has given out to anti-gun legislators. (No, Joel, I'm not a paid NRA lobbyist; just trying to introduce some perspective.)

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Posted by James Flower on 01/30/2013 at 10:19 PM
Showing 1-23 of 23

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