The Pickup Truck and the Tommy Gun

by John Médaille on December 28, 2012 · 61 comments <span>Print this article</span> Print this article

in Articles,Culture, High & Low,Politics & Power

pick up truck

During the Republican primary, Newt Gingrich joked that “you can’t put a gun rack on [Chevy] Volt.” Newt was, of course, trying to identify himself with a rural culture while distancing himself from “tree-hugging” liberal urbanites. Whether he was right about who really respects nature, he was certainly correct to pick the gun rack as a symbol of the farmer, the rancher, and the hunter. It is an apt symbol because it is never a mere show. The gun rack is the most practical way to carry a shot gun or a hunting rifle in a pickup truck, and the pickup the most practical vehicle for the chores that are a part of the farm and the ranch.

But why have a gun at all, and why have it so constantly at hand? The reasons, I suspect, are partly practical and partly cultural. The farmer and the rancher do indeed have to deal with varmints that harm their crops and kill their livestock. And the gun recalls a time when hunting was a significant addition to a family’s diet, and being a good hunter was part of being a good father and provider, and still stands a symbol for these things. The gun, like the pickup, was entwined with country life. Hence, in the pickup truck you would find a shotgun or a rifle to perform real tasks and recall real memories. It was not a culture of the gun, but the gun was part of the culture.

Because the gun had a real use, it had real limits. Hence, there was one thing you would never find in the pickup: a tommy gun. Such a weapon would have no real use on the farm and hence no place in the pickup. The tommy gun comes from another place, a place as far from the farm as one can get. It was not a place of life and growth, but of death and destruction. General Thompson developed his gun during the depths of the Great War as a “trench broom” in the naïve belief that the Germans would allow one to saunter up to their lines and sweep their trenches clean.Although it was developed too late for the First World War, Thompson’s gun was a technological achievement, a killing machine capable of firing 600 rounds of heavy ammunition per minute from a 100 cartridge magazine. It was an ideal instrument of mayhem.

It was not the cowboy, but the gangster that would make the weapon famous and fix its place in popular culture, most notably on a certain St. Valentine’s day in Chicago. Those who were in the business of mayhem found a use for the weapon, but the weapon had no place on the farm; the farmer already contends with all the mayhem nature can dish out. No doubt the rifle and the shotgun were used to dispatch the occasional cheating wife or interfering lothario, but the rancher rarely had to dispatch a whole group of rivals at once.

But while the rancher’s rifle was grounded in reality, those who buy one of the descendants of General Thompson’s gun live in a different world. In general, they are neither soldiers nor gangsters. Aside from those who merely admire the artifacts of advanced technology, the users generally dream of using a handgun to stop a murderer or using a submachine gun to bring down a black helicopter from the UN, one on a mission, no doubt, to demolish a Christmas crèche. In first scenario, a handgun is unlikely to make anyone safer, since use under stress is vastly different from use on the firing range. The second scenario is actually more serious, since the owner of the gun is likely to see himself as a defender of freedom, and he very likely is, more so in the act of buying the gun than in using it. It is the defiant ownership rather than actual use that is important.

But it is neither as a weapon of self-defense nor as a tool to defend freedom that the Bushmaster 223 is marketed, but rather as a cure for erectile dysfunction. But how else could it be marketed? To the Rancher, the rifle is a tool; to the suburbanite the machine gun is a toy, and men need to find an excuse when they buy toys, and a manly excuse is the best of all.

We can blame the problem of mass shootings on either guns as some liberals do or on anything but guns, as the President of the NRA did. And he is certainly correct. The problem is not, and cannot be guns. The problems must be and always are mental illness, a culture of violence, depression, family breakup, and what have you. But what LaPierre will not admit is that guns make every other problem worse. Mental illness with guns leads to the slaughter of the innocents; depression with guns leads to self-slaughter. These are all needless deaths without benefit of clergy.

As Mark Shea has noted, the two sides have entered a kind of looking glass war on this issue, with “left” and “right” positions reversed. The right argues about absolute “rights” and abstract principles, while the left argues about prudence and body counts. “Liberty!”one shouts, and “Dead children!” the other replies. How should we argue? The problem is not guns, but our relationship with the gun. We live in two cultures and there are two relationships we might have. In the one, the weapon was a useful tool and engendered a respectful relationship. Receiving a rifle was a rite of passage for a farm boy, and before he could shoulder a shotgun he already had a great deal of respect for it, and certainly did not confuse it with a toy. In the other culture, there is nothing but confusion.

Where there are natural limits, there is little need for positive law. But where these limits are absent there is a place for law to shape the culture. We can and should license the gun owner and tax the gun and its ammunition, with stricter requirements and higher taxes for more lethal weapons and for ammunition whose only point is to cause massive trauma to living things. Those who want only a shotgun or a bolt-action rifle need only a little training. Those who want a handgun need much more, as such weapons are tricky to use and dangerous in misuse. Those who want military weapons need military training. And this is a perfect place for progressive taxation, a progression based not on income but on lethality. There is nothing like a hefty tax to discourage overuse. And certain kinds of ammunition need to be severely taxed.

I have some experience with the M-16, which is why I have no desire to own the Bushmaster 223, its “civilian” variant. I put civilian in quotes because I cannot imagine a civilian use, other than taking down the aforementioned black helicopters. And let us be very clear about the use. As part of the research for his weapon, General Thompson paid careful attention to the ammunition, firing various calibers into sides of beef to determine which would do the most damage to living tissue, and settled on the .45 caliber. But the General was wrong; it is not the heavy caliber that does the most damage, but the small bullet with the higher charge that is designed to cause massive trauma. The 223 ammo, with its light bullet, comparatively massive charge and high velocity, is designed to do a backflip when it strikes human flesh and to proceed through the body butt-end first, doing a kind of pirouette as it travels and tearing up as much tissue as possible. When it strikes bone, it either travels along the bone to exit the body in unexpected places or shatters to send shards in all directions.

When the children were brought out of Sandy Hook, they were made to close their eyes. I think I know the reason. If you have once seen these wounds you can never stop seeing them, and it is something no one should see at any age. Although all weapons kill, those who have some respect for the human body ought to consider how they kill and what they leave to bury.

Law is a tool to shape culture, among its other uses. We no longer have many farmers or ranchers, but we have many who are only a generation or two from that culture, and have ties of history and affection to the soil and hunting is a connection. These are the people least likely to need help from the law to shape their culture. But the rest of us, who have little natural connection with either the ground or the gun, and whose minds are formed by television and movies and “Grand Theft Auto” do require guidance. For the real “mancard” comes not with absolute freedom, but with respect for proper limits and acceptance of proper guidance. It is not the gun we need to change, but our own relationship with it, and the kind of guns we find useful and socially acceptable.

{ 61 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar Michael Umphrey December 28, 2012 at 1:18 am

I didn’t feel included in the “we” of this post. I have a rifle and a truck, and I live in rural places. I bought a Glock handgun last week, because it does seem a useful tool in the world I find around me. Not long ago, the volunteer ambulance I belong to was dispatched to a stabbing. A man had entered a house–out in the country–and stabbed the homeowner in his bed more than 60 times. He was dead. He also cut the man’s wife’s throat. She lived, though it was dicey for a while. Not much later, there was Newtown. Similar things happen rarely but regularly.

Only recently I have I felt that a handgun was a proper and useful tool that both prudence and responsibility argue for me to carry. I don’t really want one. Shooting is boring and annoying, and somewhat costly. But being ready seems important.

Also, I’m no longer as likely as I once was to look to the state for guidance. I belong to voluntary associations and a church, and I really would prefer not to receive instruction from the state–it has such a poor track record. The state, it seems to me, increasingly wants a servile populace. That’s another good reason to own a gun.

I take the Second Amendment as a natural extension of my natural right to life–I have a right to defend myself. My relationship with the Glock is similar to my relationship to the rifle. Neither has a thing to do with “absolute freedom”–whatever that is. Both have to do with care for things that are precious and a sense of self-sufficiency, which is part of my contribution to my family and my community.

I’ve never been in a situation where I would have drawn a gun if I’d had one, and I don’t expect to be in any such situation in the future. Neither do I expect to agree to “proper limits” as long as people like Senator Feinstein keep making clear that a completely unarmed citizenry is a real goal of her tribe.

avatar Ron Phillips December 28, 2012 at 5:15 am

Black helicopters: ask anyone in Somalia, or Yemen, or Pakistan about using any hand-held weapon against armed aerial forces. The helicopter carrying Seal Team 6 was the only helicopter of that size brought down in the entire history of the Afghan war. Most of the time, we lose 1 or 2 small choppers a year to hand weapons, and in 50% of those crashes there are at least some survivors.

As far as “who uses guns badly,” there’s this: http://www.jhsph.edu/news/news-releases/2012/webster-white-paper.html Conclusions: keep guns, especially high-output guns, out of the hands of people that have a substance abuse and/or domestic violence history, especially young people with that history.

avatar HappyAcres December 28, 2012 at 7:13 am

The author’s faith in The State is frightening.

avatar Greg December 28, 2012 at 3:11 pm

>In first scenario, a handgun is unlikely to make anyone safer

Except, that there is actual research which shows that concealed carry does make us safer.

I know that doesn’t fit in with the folksy musings thing, but there it is.

avatar Ron Phillips December 28, 2012 at 5:49 pm

Greg: could you please provide a link? I can’t find anything that provides evidence — lots of things that offer that opinion, but none with measurements.

avatar John Haas December 28, 2012 at 10:13 pm

This is the most thoughtful, cliche-free thing I’ve read on the topic. Thanks.

avatar Siarlys Jenkins December 29, 2012 at 4:20 pm

In short, we need to stop treating guns as toys, and treat them as useful tools. Now, is there a way to take them out of the hands of those who think they are toys, without infringing the rights of those who know they are useful tools? Whatever one thinks of Michael Umphrey’s dissertation, it seems to me he does understand that guns are tools, not toys, and has a thoughtful overview of how to use them.

avatar Greg December 31, 2012 at 1:03 pm

https://www.google.com/search?q=concealed+carry+research

Hotly contested, to be sure, as for any politically charged topic. But the best that critics can even really (dubiously) *attempt* is to argue for no effect.

avatar Anymouse December 31, 2012 at 10:04 pm

The big problem with this debate is not the faith in the state, but the simple fact that I do not trust the kind of state we have here. And ultimately, if our urban culture cannot handle guns, then that is what must be dismantled most urgently. After all, it will be people from the culture itself who must engage in the process of dismantling gun ownership.

avatar Ron Phillips January 1, 2013 at 5:51 am

@Greg — so, no ” actual research which shows that concealed carry does make us safer” after all, then?

avatar Greg January 1, 2013 at 12:38 pm

I’m not going to find it all for you. John Lott is a good place to start.

avatar Daniel January 1, 2013 at 5:09 pm

The author seems to be calling for more bureaucratic regulations. Ironic considering the site for which he writes. Do they not [regulate] what is written?

avatar Ron Phillips January 1, 2013 at 6:16 pm

@Greg: You said, “there is actual research which shows that concealed carry does make us safer.” Don’t look up any for me, just post the research you were talking about.

avatar John Médaille January 1, 2013 at 6:57 pm

If you are looking for support of the “handguns save lives” thesis, John Lott is not only the place you have to start, he is the place you have to end, since nobody else can confirm his rather inflated numbers.

avatar Greg January 2, 2013 at 6:32 am

No, that is not so, Mr. Médaille.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Lott#Concealed_weapons_and_crime_rate

James Q. Wilson, for one, agreed with Lott’s research. (Note that in doing so, Wilson was dissenting from a NAS review that found “no credible evidence that the passage of right-to-carry laws decreases *or* increases violent crime.” [emphasis added] )

As I pointed out, expanded concealed carry either helps or at worst (i.e. with plenty of statistical gymnastics trying to *avoid* the “helps” conclusion) doesn’t hurt – those are the credible positions you can have now, after research. Letting law-abiding people protect themselves does *not* lead to more crime – on that much all serious researchers agree.

Getting back to your thesis, surely the telos of guns in earlier times also included deterring and repelling human aggressors, not just animal aggressors?

avatar Mike West January 2, 2013 at 1:56 pm

I have some thoughts. One, is that I remember seeing an original advertisement for the Thompson Submachine gun. It showed a cowboy, complete with hat and, chaps, standing on his front port with his Thompson at his hip, facing down a gang of outlaws. The company seemed to think that farmers and, ranchers were the best potential customers. It also seems that that market didn’t pan out.

Interestingly, I’ve read that the proper way to shoot an automatic weapon is via short bursts and, not in a stream of bullets. The burst lets the shooter stay on target and, avoids the muzzle jump that would happen with a stream. Semi-automatic weapons function in a similar way. You can only fire one round at a time, although rapidly and, you could probably hit more of your target with semi-auto fire than with what people think of as the advantage of fully automatic.

A semi-automatic weapon, which provides rapid fire (and is not such a problem, as long as the ammunition supply is low) combined with the ability of the gun to accept a detachable magazine (which provides rapid reloading) is at the heart of the issue. While M1 Carbines and, Browning Hi-Power pistols were for sale to the public after WWII, we didn’t seem to have an issue with mass shootings, or gangsters shooting each other. In the 1970s, the issue was with handguns, specifically cheap ones called “Saturday Night Specials.” Criminals seemed to go for what was cheap, not what would cause the most mayhem. Today, however, we live in a different society and, if such guns are available to me, they are also available to criminals and, crazy folk.

I would disagree with your assertion that handguns are tricky and, dangerous in misuse. Revolvers aren’t tricky and, are no more dangerous than longarms, although they can be concealed easier.

We already have a system in place that controls dangerous guns and, has strong evidence that those guns are not a danger to society. Fully automatic weapons are controlled and, apparently, the only crimes with such weapons came from two law officers! We could put all semi-automatic weapons with detachable magazines, along with military style calibers (9mm, 7.62mm, 5.56mm, etc) in the same category. If you want such a gun, or want to keep what you own, follow the rules for fully automatic weapons owners.

avatar Michael Umphrey January 2, 2013 at 4:25 pm

Since I think the left is playing a long game, I see phenomena such as the repeated confusion of terms such automatic, semiautomatic, assault weapon, and detachable magazines by pundit after pundit as part of an intentional strategy aimed at the eventual goal of disarming citizens. Though you do define the terms carefully, you end up precisely at the correct opinion for the moment–supporting Feinstein’s proposed ban on most handguns–with current owners merely fingerprinted and entered into a database.

Probably most handguns now in use–and certainly most intended for concealed carry–have detachable magazines. Banning detachable magazines is in effect a ban on handguns–the rest of the technical talk is merely blather. Under Feinstein’s proposal, my little Glock 27 with its 9-round magazine would be banned, but Dirty Harry’s Smith & Wesson 29 .44 magnum–a revolver–would not.

After people in their studies find positions that they are comfortable with, they will still face the political problem of “selling” their position. In that arena, the real obstacle is millions of people such as myself, who do not trust the Feinsteins of the world at all and who see the problem of gun violence as properly addressed through character education in real families and real communities rather than through the imposition of solutions crafted at the center by experts.

Since the international left has had much more success in Europe than here it’s relatively easy to see what they want and where they are headed. I believe the push in England now is to ban kitchen knives with long blades and sharp points. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/health/4581871.stm It’s already illegal to carry a pocket knife with a blade longer than 3 inches.

Once those are rounded up, surely we will be able to live together like civilized beings.

avatar Mike West January 2, 2013 at 9:57 pm

I think you do make a point. I’ve seen the hosts on MSNBC rambling about handguns in general and, Lawrance O’Donnell went on with two guests about how you were more likely to kill youself and, a loved one. They didn’t seem to think much of the need for self-defense. I’ve also heard Austrailian and, British police bureaucrats say that self-defense is not a justifiable act. With that type of mentality behind the current push, I’m probably wrong to think I can compromise, because it will only open the door for future bans. Revolvers are handguns and, will be attacked next. Shotguns are actually hand held artillery, so they’ll go. Hunting rifles are the highest powered guns and, simply tools for snipers. I’ll have to send emails to my local representives voicing my opinion.
While I do stand behind my previous post as making sense, we aren’t dealing with friendly foes. I’m not a member of the NRA, but have defended them by saying that they understand the long term remifications of compromise with that “tribe.” They currently seem to have control of the debate in the media.

avatar ddent January 3, 2013 at 10:40 am

How do the Swiss justify and maintain automatic, not semi-automatic, but full auto in their homes with, apparently, no Columbines, no Sandy Hooks, etc. I think, as usual, when the media, academia and ‘elected’ officials frame and conduct any debate, especially debates on ethics and natural law, the basic issue of what kind of society has been foisted and inculcated into the community by Hollywood, Madison Avenue and Harvard that inevitably lead to these results, never seems to be addressed, let alone resisted.

avatar John Médaille January 3, 2013 at 10:43 am
avatar Mike West January 3, 2013 at 1:23 pm

How many mass shootings did they have when they did allow the guns to be stored at home? I read recently that the ammunition was stored in a sealed canister and, they could not open it without orders and, there were serious consequences for doing so on ones own.
How many gun owners in the US are without illegal incident compared with the murders and, suicides and, accidents?
I would think it’s millions to thousands, respectively. I would use that information in my search for a solution. I think the battle for gun control is going to be much harder than the pro gun control crowd thinks. A solution has to include the gun owners and, shooters and, their responsible use of guns. Gun control folk like to talk about guns on the street, which is wrong, since mine are either on me, or stored away. Much different places than those used by criminals.

avatar Mike West January 3, 2013 at 4:34 pm

Here is an interesting challenge to many pro-gun constitutional arguments.

Mr. Bogus argues that James Madison drafted the Second Amendment to assure his constituents, that Congress could not use its newly-acquired powers to indirectly undermine the slave system by disarming the militia, on which the South relied for slave control. ”

http://www.saf.org/LawReviews/Bogus2.htm

THE HIDDEN HISTORY OF THE SECOND AMENDMENT
Carl T. Bogus
University of California at Davis Law Review
31 (1998): 309.

Of course, he’s a specialist and, may be focusing on one cause at the expense of the others. But, it’s full of interesting information and, arguements.

avatar ddent January 3, 2013 at 5:20 pm

The main point of my comment was not Swiss arms or armories or whether or not it they did, do or don’t, it was, once again, ” I think, as usual, when the media, academia and ‘elected’ officials frame and conduct any debate, especially debates on ethics and natural law, the basic issue of what kind of society has been foisted and inculcated into the community by Hollywood, Madison Avenue and Harvard that inevitably lead to these results, never seems to be addressed, let alone resisted.”
If we acknowledge that sex porn, soft or hard, elicits concupiscence, and that huge, unconscionable amounts of profit are generated by its purveyors, with unbelievable damage to the community, then why do we refuse to acknowledge that violence porn will also elicit its own concupiscence, that of a desire for mayhem and violence, from which large sums of profit are generated by the purveyors of that porn and unbelievable harm done to the community. But the first time anyone raises the issue, those concupiscence purveyors (who inevitably fund the debate framers) start screaming, “It’s our constitutional right – freedom of speech!” But because we are so hooked on television violence and porn, we sit back and mumble, well, they’re right! Got to control them guns, but not them images.

avatar John Haas January 3, 2013 at 6:12 pm
avatar Nicholas Glenn January 4, 2013 at 12:25 am

http://world.time.com/2012/12/20/the-swiss-difference-a-gun-culture-that-works/

Switzerland still has a high level of gun ownership and citizens can legally buy semi-automatic rifles. The government issued ammunition is the only thing stored at an armory, and that has only been for 5 years. They have a superior culture is the reason they don’t have as much gun violence. They also still have a republic, God bless em.

avatar Greg January 4, 2013 at 5:42 am

John says:
“How do the Swiss do it? They don’t. Guns are stored at the armory.”

But the article that he linked to says:
“Everyone in Switzerland serves in the army, and the cantons used to let you have the guns at home. They’ve been moving to keeping the guns in depots.”

OK … so the Swiss *were* having massacres before they made those changes, then? Because if not, you haven’t actually defused the Swiss example at all.

avatar John Haas January 4, 2013 at 11:06 am

Perhaps not the best time to bring up the Swiss. Despite all their guns, the guy was brought down by the professionals:

http://worldnews.nbcnews.com/_news/2013/01/03/16317129-three-women-killed-after-gunmans-drunken-rampage-in-swiss-village?lite

avatar Daniel January 4, 2013 at 12:53 pm
avatar ChevalierdeJohnstone January 6, 2013 at 2:26 am

Right, the 223 is a real killer round, that’s why all those ranchers, farmers, and hunters carry their 223 Remington-chambered rifles when deer hunting. “…backflip when it strikes human flesh…” – what are you drinking? The fragmentation effect is with 5.56 NATO, not 223, and it’s unreliable anyways.

I can think of several civilian uses for an AR-15 variant, which is the proper term for one of these rifles. And Bushmaster isn’t even the owner of the AR-15 trademark.

They make great target shooting rifles for those needing/wanting a higher capacity magazine than a standard off-the-shelf .22 rifle. If you need help understanding why having a higher capacity mag is useful, clearly you have no business joining a conversation about firearms.

They also make excellent varmint shooting rifles. The 223 is a varmint round.

The AR-style rifles have the benefit of working, yes, exactly like a military issue rifle, except that civilian versions are semi-automatic only. This is why so many veterans purchase AR-variants for private use, so that they do not have to retrain and relearn on a new system. Did you know that American settlers used to use the British military-issue Land Pattern Musket for hunting? Imagine, the Brown Bess, being used by civilians to feed their families. Que horrible! There oughta be a law against using the same proven, workable design for multiple applications.

You claim that “guns make other problems worse”. So if someone is sociopathic and immoral due to the declining morals of society, and decides to use a firearm to (illegally) kill someone else, who is to blame? If a mentally ill person uses a firearm to kill themselves, what then? At what point does the firearm’s agency enter into the equation? You are, after all, imputing moral agency to the firearm. You’ve attached a verb to it: it is “making” problems worse. Care to list the causal process involved? By this logic, penises cause rape, though vaginas must be equally culpable. After all they were just sitting there, practically begging to be used!

Professor Medaille, I invite you to re-examine your rather uninspiring straw man of an argument. Whatever your experience with the M-16, you appear not to have retained the knowledge of its proper use as a tool.

avatar Michael Umphrey January 6, 2013 at 3:29 pm

The propaganda machinery, aka Democrat talking points, will continue using “assault weapon” and “high power” to emotionalize the issue and win over the low-information voter. It will remain unclear what an “assault weapon” is, and it won’t matter at all that the Bushmaster is a relatively low-power rifle compared to most deer-hunting rifles, or that functionally it is the same as many–maybe most–hunting rifles in being a semi-automatic.

I have confidence that said propaganda machine can get 51% of voters to believe anything.

I used to favor “reasonable” restrictions on guns, because there are crazies out there. Paying close attention to the “conversation” has led me to favor removing what restrictions we now have, because I see utopian ideologues do intend to eliminate private ownership of firearms and they are more of a threat to human flourishing than are the crazies.

I favor freedom–which for me includes a commitment to humane liberal education for all who will have it. I’ve developed an appreciation for the wisdom of phrases such as “Congress shall make no law” and “the right…shall not be infringed.”

avatar John Médaille January 7, 2013 at 11:36 am

“The right shall not be infringed”? Does that mean there can no limits? Not on arms like grenade launchers, anti-tank weapons, or surface to air missiles?

The problem with those who “favor freedom” is that what they really mean is that they reject limits. But freedom depends on accepting limits, and the point of a liberal education is to learn where the proper limits lay. It is Liberalism that preaches we should not accept reasonable limits because we should reject reason itself as an infringement on freedom. On this point, it is wise to take the Delphic oracle to heart: “Know thyself, o man, that thou art not a god.” For those who are less than gods, freedom lay in reasonable limits and suitable bounds.

I need no instruction on the damage that the M16 round does, for I have seen it, and yes, the Bushmaster uses this round. Its purpose is not to shoot paper targets, but to cause the most horrific wounds imaginable. Can it be used for varmints? You bet, especially if you want the varmint killed and field-dressed in the same operation. There’s automation for you.

It is convenient for some to locate the argument within a “no limits” or “no guns” dialectic; it allows one to stand on one’s “rights,” and to reject all limits as wrong. But I thought rights were connected with obligations, and extended no further than those obligations. Those who will not accept reasonable limits from legitimate authority will end up with endless restrictions from illegitimate authority; indeed, that is modern history in a sentence. In my experience, those who are quickest to pound the table to demand that the state give them their “rights” are also the first to pound the table to demand state action on their “wrongs.”

avatar Greg January 7, 2013 at 12:49 pm

John Médaille: “The problem with those who “favor freedom” is that what they really mean is that they reject limits.”

What gives you the right to tell us what we “really mean”?

Actually, *we* are the ones who tend to be constrained by limits … it is our opponents who use the union mobs and “occupy” mobs to accomplish their aims, who “never let a crisis go to waste”, who pass huge legislation so they can find out what is in it, who misuse the courts to implement their policies when they can’t pass legislation, and so forth.

It’s the freedom-loving law-abiding folks who are generally operating within the (necessary) handicap of (needed) limits.

avatar Michael Umphrey January 7, 2013 at 11:12 pm

I don’t reject limits. I just don’t think the left’s view of “reasonable” is the same as mine. I simply don’t believe that the goal of the left generally is not to disarm the citizenry.

If people were of the same culture, they would have an easier time agreeing on what “reasonable” means. Without a common culture, common ground will be increasingly contested–the middle tends to disappear. Language works less and less well.

Do I think a person should allowed to carry an automatic rifle into a courtroom? No. Do I believe a person without a criminal record should be allowed to buy a handgun without subjecting himself to government surveillance and to carry it most places he goes? Yes.

The argument at present really isn’t about banning banning grenade launchers or missiles. If it were, I would cheerfully suggest that reasonable limits should be discussed. But the argument at present is about fingerprinting me and monitoring me if I want to keep my Glock. So at present, I think it’s freedom that needs to be advocated.

avatar John Médaille January 8, 2013 at 4:52 pm

Well, Michael, I’m glad we cleared that up. From your “Congress shall make no law…” comment, I concluded you would accept no laws. No it seems you will. Good. Then, it is just a prudential matter of where reasonable limits lie and where reasonable lines should be drawn.

At no time in human history did everybody agree, much less have a common culture. Dialectic and rhetoric were always necessary and, thank God, always will be. As for where a reasonable limit lies, that is a prudential matter about which reasonable men can disagree. I think it not unreasonable that if one has a weapon of terrible effect, both quantitatively and qualitatively, I don’t think it unreasonable that he have some training and have his weapons registered. That seems to me to be prudent.

avatar Michael Umphrey January 8, 2013 at 6:55 pm

If we’re having a philosophical discussion, I think the discussion of reasonable limits is important. If we’re having a political discussion, I get a little less reasonable. This is because I’ve concluded that good faith discussions, about this and other issues, aren’t likely in contemporary America. As I said earlier, the problem now is mainly one of trust, and there’s no quick fix and no verbal solution.

I don’t think I’m alone. I think the lack of trust is the fundamental political question. We have reached or are near the limits of what talking can accomplish. It’s a bad place to be.

avatar John Haas January 9, 2013 at 12:57 pm

Reading Mr. Umphrey’s rather sad comments raises a serious issue that we in America have been ignoring too long: We can either appease people who are clearly paranoid, or we can have a rational conversation about policy prescriptions, but we can’t do both.

We can’t include anti-Galileans in NASA’s operations; we cannot pause to satisfy the questions of astrology-devotees as we try to analyze international affairs; and we surely can’t hand over the Centers for Disease Control to the homeopaths and crystal-healers.

The same is true here.

Moreover, we should seriously consider whether its wise to allow people who harbor such paranoid delusions to own guns. While their first amendment rights to speech and assembly need to be respected, of course, at a minimum we do need to establish some boundaries regarding what kinds of ideas are treated with respect among serious conversants.

avatar Richard January 9, 2013 at 7:31 pm

I was really disappointed in this essay on a number of levels. As someone who bought, read and appreciated your book on distributist economics, I find it somewhat inconsistent that you advocate decentralized political and economic power, yet would centralize the power of the sword. I read this essay carefully a couple of times and came to the simple conclusion that your New York City roots are showing. In spite of your supposed paean to farmers like me with truck and tractor guns, fact is you don’t just don’t like guns and do not trust us to make our own decisions.

avatar Daniel January 9, 2013 at 8:15 pm

Amen.

avatar Michael Umphrey January 9, 2013 at 9:38 pm

Heh. What you need now is a clinical-sounding label–something similar to “homophobe”–to attach to people who disagree with your political views. “Paranoid delusional” really won’t do–it’s too obviously name-calling. To continue feeling that only you and your buddies are capable of serious conversation, something that sounds more medical might be useful.

But you do illustrate my main point–that we may be at the limits of talk. What comes next–after you’ve diagnosed your opponents as crazy and stripped them of legal rights?

avatar John Haas January 9, 2013 at 9:59 pm

“I used to favor “reasonable” restrictions on guns, because there are crazies out there. Paying close attention to the “conversation” has led me to favor removing what restrictions we now have, because I see utopian ideologues do intend to eliminate private ownership of firearms and they are more of a threat to human flourishing than are the crazies.”

“Paranoid delusion” fits just fine.

avatar Michael Umphrey January 9, 2013 at 10:20 pm

I suppose name-calling is a sort of surrender. I don’t think either reason or evidence is on your side.

The support for my conclusions can be found in the published writings of the ideologues themselves, and in the history of what has been attempted and accomplished in other nations by people of a similar ideological bent.

Partly it’s just rhetorical analysis–when people advocate moves that aren’t reasonably related to the goals they say they are pursuing–the talk about “assault rifles” and removable clips doesn’t lead to changes that would make much difference–it seems reasonable to suspect that they are either dishonest about their goals or not very thoughtful.

And then there’s the issue that the current administration–the agent pushing for “reasonable” limits–is the most dishonest administration in memory. I doubt you will try to argue that they are honest and forthright. It doesn’t seem delusional to distrust people who repeatedly tell lies.

avatar John Haas January 9, 2013 at 11:06 pm

First of all, Mr. Umphrey, I have neither labeled anyone, nor “name-called.” I’ve described ideas–not persons.

I stand by my description of these ideas.

The idea that, in the United States–with it’s right to gun ownership written into the very letter of the Constitution, with its 200+ years of judicial support for such ownership, with its long and wide tradition of individual (not militia) gun-ownership for purposes of hunting, sport, and self-defense, with its growing numbers of 2d Amendment supporters in BOTH parties, with its 88+ gun-owners per 100 citizens, and with its approximately 300,000,000 guns already in circulation–the idea that the federal government is going to eliminate the right to own guns and strip citizens of their already-owned weapons is, simply, delusional. The most we have ever done at a federal level is the so-called “Assault Weapons” Ban which grandfathered in such guns already owned.

But it’s not even a matter of “trust.” It’s a matter of logistics. We can’t afford the effort to deport 12 million illegal aliens, let alone confiscate 300 million guns.

Comparing the US to other nations is equally misguided, even delusional. The US is different. We might even say “exceptional.” I’ve heard that term somewhere. No other nation protects free speech in its fundamental law the way we do; so with guns. Hence, we find ourselves where we are. For good and for ill.

There are ideologues of all kinds, saying all kinds of things. What power do they have?, is the question. Ask Code Pink how much sway they have over the Obama administration when it comes to the surge in Afghanistan, drone strikes, and the prosecution of those who engaged in torture.

As for “the most dishonest administration in memory,” I suspect we’re getting to the paranoid, misinformed, heart of the matter.

But leave that alone. Suppose they are. Who cares? We have a complicated, checks-and-balances, form of government. If Obama wants to confiscate all the guns, all John Boehner has to do is refuse to bring the bill appropriating the funds to do so to the floor.

Boom.

Problem solved.

No?

Bring on the paranoia, then . . .

avatar Michael Umphrey January 10, 2013 at 12:12 am

That’s better. Gracias.

I’m not persuaded. I read a fair amount of history, and you are welcome to think that being wary that what has happened before might happen again is delusional. I wouldn’t expect a sudden huge move such as you describe, which I agree would fail. I expect incrementalism, in part because those who favor “fundamental change” have discussed, openly and on the record, the efffectiveness of that approach.

The logistical problems you discuss have been met and dealt with before–nothing insurmountable there.

It’s not merely my paranoid imagination that we ignore the Constitution more and more these days, or that rule of law is neither widely understood by the citizenry nor faithfully followed by officials.

My point was not that a seizure of guns is imminent. I agree with you that an all-out attempt made to disarm America today would fail. It’s not time yet. My point was that many who argue for increased control of guns are not forthright about what they really want.

Feinstein herself said that she would prefer an outright ban on all guns on Sixty Minutes in 1995. http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=blXkl9YVoHo I’ve heard similar sentiments expressed by others several times. I believe that many who speak more circumspectly in public harbor similar feelings. The current crisis appears to be orchestrated in part to inculcate similar feelings among more people. The language is often sloppy and inflammatory–I take it as propaganda.

Your faith is charming. I think it’s naive.

avatar John Haas January 10, 2013 at 1:33 pm

“The current crisis appears to be orchestrated . . .”

Ahh. Sandy Hook-trutherism, eh? http://www.salon.com/2013/01/09/the_worst_sandy_hook_conspiracy_theory_yet/

avatar Greg January 10, 2013 at 1:40 pm

John Haas: “Moreover, we should seriously consider whether its wise to allow people who harbor such paranoid delusions to own guns.”

Yeah … what would *ever* give Michael the idea that anyone is after his guns? :)

If we’re going to engage in amateur blog comment psychiatric diagnosis (as you did), may I wonder aloud why you can’t even see yourself actually advocating what Micheal thinks in his “paranoia” that you are advocating? Making Michael’s belief *accurate*?

Do you really not hear yourself? Do you really not realize that you are advocating (albeit incrementally) what you are advocating?

avatar John Haas January 10, 2013 at 2:49 pm

I hear myself fine. There are categories of persons who probably shouldn’t have weapons. It’s a question worthy of consideration whether those who harbor paranoid delusions regarding the government, viz. that it’s rolling out a systematic plot to disarm the population (including staging fake massacres to alarm the citizenry?) in order toultimately deprive them of their civil rights (in effect enslaving them?) are one of those categories.

avatar John Haas January 10, 2013 at 10:15 pm

The Onion’s getting very, very good, btw: “Noting that the massacre was “almost a month ago” and that all of the victims had been laid to rest, the frustrated [NRA] lobbyist said he couldn’t help but think the nation’s continued efforts to mourn victims and its protracted discussions of gun control were “a little much” at this point.

““I get that this horrible thing happened and all these kids are dead now, but honestly, how long are we going to keep talking about this?” the gun advocate said as he scanned a recent editorial on weapons permits, adding that “enough’s enough, you know?” “Everywhere I go it’s Newtown this, Newtown that. Meanwhile, it’s 2013, and we’re still talking about some shooting that happened last year. Seriously, move on already.””

http://www.theonion.com/articles/frustrated-wayne-lapierre-thought-murder-of-20-chi,30813/

avatar Daniel January 11, 2013 at 8:07 am

John Haas, do you know what a straw man fallacy is? And you know what a fallacy is in an argument? Basically, your point is only rhetorical and since it is a fallacy it is essentially sophistry.

avatar John Haas January 11, 2013 at 9:52 am

Thanks for your concern, Daniel, but listening to our gun-loving, government-fearing friends over the past several weeks, I’d have to work a lot harder than I have to come up with something that qualifies as a “straw man” in this debate.

avatar Michael Umphrey January 12, 2013 at 2:08 am

It’s more of a straw cartoon than a straw man.

My point was not that I feared government but that I distrusted the left. Those are quite different things, in my mind, and you’ve not made much progress in persuading me I’m mistaken. I distrust them largely on the basis of what they have said and done, beginning with the intellectuals from the Frankfurt School. Could the Revolution truly be brought about if we could change the sexual morality of Americans?

To be honest, I do have a sort of fear of government–precisely, I think, the sort of fear that the Founders had. Like them, I have a strong believe in the necessity of good government to the good life, and like them I think that rule of law and limits on government, along with other features such as rooting legitimacy in consent of the governed and establishing a separation of powers–both within the federal government and between the federal and state governments–and various other measures (largely mucked up by progressive reforms beginning early in the 20th century) are good ideas.

Speaking for myself, I don’t love guns. I’m not fond of loud noises and my preferred pastimes have more to do with photographing nature or reading than with feeling the harsh recoil of a big bore handgun. I also don’t love fire extinguishers and tire jacks, but I know their uses and keep them at hand.

Your wild theory about the Connecticut shootings being staged by the government was new to me. I took it as some sort of illustration of the paranoid delusions that you continue to talk about. I’m sorry you feel surrounded by crazies who need to be disarmed.

avatar Michael Umphrey January 12, 2013 at 2:16 am

One way you could alleviate my distrust, which you call paranoia, is to explain to me in clear terms precisely what purpose a national data base of gun owners would serve? In what way would such a data base have affected what happened in Connecticut? Who wants that information and for what purpose? How would it solve the problem of mass shootings?

I would like to hear an answer that rings true.

avatar John Haas January 12, 2013 at 11:57 am

Mr. Umphrey, as you stated in your first response, “The state, it seems to me, increasingly wants a servile populace. That’s another good reason to own a gun.” I’m not sure what you’re implying there, if anything, but it sounds as if you’re sipping some serious Liddy-juice to me.

As for your appeal to the Founders, it has some merit. Way back in the day, Elbridge Gerry warned us, “What, Sir, is the use of a militia? It is to prevent the establishment of a standing army, the bane of liberty . . . Whenever Governments mean to invade the rights and liberties of the people, they always attempt to destroy the militia, in order to raise an army upon their ruins.” Surely, we can agree that this is a situation that bears watching. Perhaps you are right: Perhaps the international left is slowly unrolling its plot to disarm us. Maybe they’re even planning to establish a standing army? It’s possible. Let’s just hope they never get their hands on any of those flying machines . . .

avatar John Haas January 12, 2013 at 4:01 pm

As for “my wild theory” about the growing number of Newtown truthers, they’re hardly as few and eccentric as you and I might wish.

“Prof: Newtown didn’t happen: Blames Obama for ‘hoax’”

http://www.examiner.com/article/prof-newtown-didn-t-happen-blames-obama-for-hoax

And, after all, are you so far removed from them? You say you can’t trust the proponents of gun control, that they secretly have a plan to incrementally restrict guns till they’re banned altogether, and that behind this plot is the “international left” and, somewhere lurking within that, the Frankfurt School (which may or may not be a branch of the Illuminati?).

If you’ve swallowed all that secretive nefariousness, why wouldn’t someone believe that this cabal might engage in some “false-flag” or staged massacre operations to move the process along a little?

avatar John Médaille January 12, 2013 at 4:16 pm

I do wonder how many of the people who invoke “The Frankfurt School” have ever taken the time to actually read Adorno or Habermas? FWIW, here is what Benedict XVI said of them in Spe Salvi: No one and nothing can guarantee that the cynicism of power—whatever beguiling ideological mask it adopts—will cease to dominate the world. This is why the great thinkers of the Frankfurt School, Max Horkheimer and Theodor W. Adorno, were equally critical of atheism and theism. Horkheimer radically excluded the possibility of ever finding a this-worldly substitute for God, while at the same time he rejected the image of a good and just God. In an extreme radicalization of the Old Testament prohibition of images, he speaks of a “longing for the totally Other” that remains inaccessible—a cry of yearning directed at world history. Adorno also firmly upheld this total rejection of images, which naturally meant the exclusion of any “image” of a loving God. On the other hand, he also constantly emphasized this “negative” dialectic and asserted that justice —true justice—would require a world “where not only present suffering would be wiped out, but also that which is irrevocably past would be undone”[30]. This, would mean, however—to express it with positive and hence, for him, inadequate symbols—that there can be no justice without a resurrection of the dead. Yet this would have to involve “the resurrection of the flesh, something that is totally foreign to idealism and the realm of Absolute spirit”[31].

avatar Michael Umphrey January 12, 2013 at 5:46 pm

I have read Adorno and Habermas, though I had Marcuse more in mind. I find them very challenging, and I learned things from them. I sometimes share their criticisms of the way the world has thus far been. I’ve found it enlightening and useful to wander in the wilderness with them a bit.

I do come out of the woods a different place than they do, and I’m not a fan of where some, influenced by them, have gone with their ideas.

It’s when political activists try to impose intellectual theories on the rest of us that I balk. I’m not a great admirer of the New Left–either its goals or its tactics. What should I think of Jerry Rubin and Bill Ayers? I think the influence of the Frankfurt School has been subversive of good things and destructive of traditions and beliefs for which it has no adequate substitutes.

What I have in mind specifically are Marcuse’s speculations in *Eros and Civilization* about how removing any sense of morality from sexuality might undermine the psychological basis of capitalism and make America, finally, vulnerable to revolutionary forces. The larger issue that connects these various threads is the sense that society can and must be re-engineered in the light of the theories of Marx and Freud. Intellectuals must be in charge of the allocation of all resources, including hand guns.

And, John Hass, it’s not secret nefariousness so much as published and accessible history.

avatar siberian husky January 12, 2013 at 9:16 pm

Wow, wonderful, this site looks like Democratic Underground :)

avatar John Médaille January 12, 2013 at 10:03 pm

Mr. Husky, we do our best. As you can see.

avatar Russell Bixler January 13, 2013 at 3:09 am

Did the nations of Eastern Europe free themselves from the Soviet Union with small arms?

avatar siberian husky January 13, 2013 at 8:16 pm

As an Eastern European i can tell you one thing : unfortunately not . :(

avatar Kristopher S. Pierce January 17, 2013 at 8:16 pm

I agree one hundred percent with what Mr. Medaille is saying here. I cannot fathom how people can see restrictions on certain types of very destructive guns as some kind of Constitutional crisis.

Furthermore, I am troubled by the association that is often made between guns and God by critics of the Republican Party. I am a Republican. But I am not a gun enthusiast. I never have been. It is my Christian convictions about the common good that color how I approach this issue of gun control. If that puts me at odds with my fellow Republicans and conservatives, so be it. Not all Republicans(or gun owners, for that matter) are against sensible gun restrictions.

avatar Daniel Broaddus January 17, 2013 at 10:33 pm

Mr Pierce,

How are your convictions (Christian) that “color” your view on gun restrictions any less troubling than someone’s Christian conviction to own a gun (specifically one that you think should be restricted)? Perhaps I’m missing something here, but you seem to condemn something that you are in fact guilty of yourself (allowing Christian conviction to shape your opinion in the “gun debate”).

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