(This is mostly complete, it just needs a tidy edit)
In the last few months, I have read an awful lot of articles and watched far too many YouTube videos about gun ownership. I didn’t set out to do this at all; it’s just that I sometimes read articles about guns and they link to other things – And somehow 2 or 3 links down they always seem to turn into a rabid political mess.
One of the things I notice is there appears to be an enormous chasm between the two sides. More often than not the two sides don’t even seem to be talking about the same things. There is no consistency of terms, no attempt to understand what each other is saying and the whole thing is so emotive that it is all essentially gibberish.
I was curious whether I could say anything new or present a middle-of-the-chasm view of all of this. I don’t have an agenda and I certainly don’t expect to change anybody on either side’s minds but I may be able to at least say something to the people who don’t have an opinion already. There is no conclusion to this, no tied up loose ends and no solutions. I have no political agenda and I am not a miracle worker. It also ended up too long – Sorry!
First off – I am a gun owner. I have a lot of guns of all shapes and sizes and I know some of the mentality of other gun owners. That being said, I am also a Brit and although I am an unusual one in that I grew up with guns and don’t find them particularly alien things; at the same time, I don’t have any of this North American mindset about them. I had air guns from a young age, I have shot various weird things over my youth and from university age onwards I shot handguns at a range and owned a number of legal compressed-air handguns that didn’t require a range. I am well trained in the use of handguns and passable with rifles and shotguns.
After the two big modern gun-bans in the UK following the Hungerford and Dunblaine massacres (1988 and 1997 respectively) there was a change in the law and then a huge police recall of guns that were now illegal to own. People who owned guns that had been banned were forced to take them to police stations and there were triumphant press photographs and videos of the guns being crushed or melted down by their thousands … And here we hit the first problem of understanding between gun and none gun people – Guns are expensive. I would estimate that the average price of my handguns is about $1,000 each and when you see a million guns being crushed, that means a billion dollars of people’s hard earned money has just been removed from them with no compensation or right to refuse. The vast majority of these people were completely law abiding people; members of clubs who shot at pieces of paper and whether you approve of the sport or not it’s hard to approve of the way this was handled – And this is obviously one thing that North American gun owners are scared of happening.
In January 2004 there was actually a third gun ban in the UK covering “Air guns chambered for self-contained gas cartridges” – This was the first time I had been directly hit by one of the laws. Since the 1988 and 1997 acts, European law had decreed that the UK government couldn’t actually take my guns off me and crush them because this was illegal – The government wasn’t going to buy them off me so they made a law that said I could licence them under a section-5 firearms certificate with the added restriction that I could not use the guns, sell the guns (not even to somebody else with a section 5 FAC), lend the guns, let anybody see the guns or in fact, do anything at all with them except keep them locked in a safe that had to be inspected every year or so by the police. I could simply keep them until the administrative hassle and cost of keeping them became so annoying that I simply sent them to be crushed. Because I am belligerent and we are talking a few thousand dollars worth of guns here, I kept them and eventually I just took them to another country where they are now perfectly legal.
I don’t know what the answer to this problem is – I don’t pretend to know but I do know there is a huge hypocrisy here and it is useful to paint gun owners as demons so that people won’t want to defend some pretty basic human rights that stops a government just stealing people’s formerly legal possessions. The hypocrisy comes in the fact that the UK is the sixth biggest arms exporter in the world – So logic could just say that maybe they should have sold the guns they confiscated and used the money to compensate people. It’s hard to defend crushing billions of dollars worth of guns by a government that makes a fortune selling the exact same items around the world. And this matter would be even more hypocritical in the USA.
So let’s travel across the Atlantic to the northernmost country of North America, Canada. Canadian gun laws are somewhat odd and have changed recently so I will summarise them. There are essentially three types of guns (we are just talking about guns you can carry here, I am ignoring canons, howitzers and the like until we start talking about the USA): Long-guns (rifles, shotguns etc), Restricted weapons (most modern general-purpose handguns) and Prohibited weapons which is everything else – Prohibited weapon licences generally exist just for people who owned these guns before the laws changed (Canada didn’t generally just crush things) but people are allowed to use them, sell them to other people with prohibited licences and sometimes even will them to direct descendants. A lot of these guns are war souvenirs and historical collectors’ weapons so it makes sense.
Until last year, all of these guns had to be registered but Harper’s Conservative government, realising there was a huge division between country people and city people in Canada, decided that abolishing the registry for long-guns was a big vote grabber and so they got rid of it. As I am writing this, Quebec just lost their final appeal to keep their data of long-gun ownership so as of now, all the former data has been destroyed. This does NOT affect registration and restrictions on other types of guns, just most hunting rifles and shotguns.
Now there really does seem to be quite a gap of understanding and experience between Canadians who live in cities and Canadians who live in the country about long-guns. I fall very much into the country camp myself I think – A long gun is about as much of a dangerous weapon as an axe or a chainsaw and they are just there as tools to be mostly ignored until they are useful. Country folks can’t see why you would want or need to register a shotgun any more than you’d need to register anything else. The most illegal thing they are likely to use it for is taking a pot-shot at the 4-wheeler drivers using their fields as race-tracks (which isn’t going to kill anyone). City folks only ever see guns on TV and the TV has a very odd relationship with reality at the best of times.
Handguns are a different matter. There is still a registry for handguns, you need paperwork whenever you transport one and you can only transport them very locked up, with ammo completely separate and you can only transport them on a direct route to and from the destination (which is nearly always either a government approved range, or a gun-shop). Nobody complains about this, there is no real history of a handgun being a tool in Canada and there seems to be no will or perceived need to use handguns for self-defence. The only people who have handguns other than the police are people who target shoot and those people have very little to do with the general population of long-gun owners really.
There is a problem that I come across sometimes, in that the Canadian laws make no sense at all on some issues. Legend tells than when they decided to classify some guns as Restricted and some guns as Prohibited, somebody from the government went through that year’s “Gun Digest” and picked out all the dangerous looking photos and prohibited them. The laws also haven’t kept in any way up to date to the point where you can look at two functionally identical guns by two different manufacturers and one will be a long gun, and one will be prohibited. My AR-15 in .22 is prohibited whereas identical ones in both .22 and .223 fall comfortably into the long-gun category. I have NO idea why and that can often be a problem. There is also a magazine capacity issue (the number of bullets a gun can hold) which often makes no logical sense at all either. Also any handgun shooter of any skill simply won’t understand magazine capacity laws in general at all anyway.
Again in Canada, gun ownership seems to have been politicised to the point where gun owners are now considered to be Conservatives and non gun owners generally Liberals. For what it’s worth, in North American terms I would probably be considered a Socialist/Communist so this doesn’t always work; and frankly it is painful to speak to a lot of people I meet in the gun community here. The problem is that the Conservatives are seen as the party who understand guns and the views of gun owners, and the Liberals are the people who want to take them off us. As a side note, I wonder why Canada doesn’t have a Socialist party and how a Liberal can be “middle of the road” if there is no party on the left, but that’s another topic altogether.
Speaking as a handgun shooter I find another thing rather odd – I have noticed that when I put up photos of myself using a bow and arrow, people tend to like it and ask actual questions; and yet if I put up a photograph of myself with a gun I get generally negative and pre-assumptive comments. I can’t find any actual figures to back this up but my educated-guess is that historically, handguns have killed very few people; bows and arrows have killed a lot more, swords, axes, stones, lumps of wood will have killed more again. Even looking at long guns, “assault rifles” and automatic weapons we are probably not adding huge numbers to the amounts killed – Artillery and bombs kill a hell of a lot more people in wars than guns.
And now let’s finally wander into the United States of America – A country in which I have never lived so I can only go on what I have seen. But I have seen a lot and heard a lot on both sides, so I am going to at least pretend I can attempt an overview. I can’t claim to be unbiased about the USA because there is a lot of stuff I don’t understand at all – But I will try to discuss some possible misunderstandings.
First off I am going to set some premises:
I am going to take the stance that the USA has a very odd gun culture which is driven by politics, fear, a complete unwillingness to compromise, history and probably most importantly, capitalism and advertising. It’s like the tobacco industry gone completely wild. Arms companies in the USA make a phenomenal amount of guns of all shapes and sizes and they sell them both abroad and domestically. It is a huge business.
Americans, unlike Canadians and Europeans have a culture of being able carry guns. I would conjecture that this is mostly due to over a century of gun-advertising as opposed to any actual need to do so but I may be straying from my neutrality by doing so.
The Second Amendment (which allows the general populace to bear arms and if necessary to form militias to overthrow a tyrannical government) is terribly written and hasn’t been changed for centuries; and this is in a country where some people would be more than happy to follow Leviticus to the letter if legislation didn’t stop them from doing so. Apparently laws that people like are set in stone, and laws that people don’t like are nonsense to be fought over tooth-and-claw. Of course, it is illegal to form militias to overthrow the government in the USA now and it is illegal for states to secede, but that doesn’t seem to stop people trying to uphold the first part as absolute gospel.
Human life seems (to us folks looking in) to be pretty cheap in the USA – The country as a whole seems somewhat obsessed with bombing foreigners into the dark-ages, States execute criminals that include kids and the mentally ill and people who own guns for self-defence seem to think that it is perfectly fine to kill somebody who is committing a crime. And boy, does Hollywood loves guns! On the flip side, the reasons given for invading counties like Iraq tend to include comments about protecting the freedoms not to be executed without trial and such; and I am all too aware of the obsession with labelling people as “illegals” to both dehumanise them and justify actions against them. The police carry (and often use) guns, Criminals carry and often use guns. It seems an odd mess over there and gun sales keep on going up. It could be suggested that all of this is in the interest of the companies that sell guns, and all of this is essentially advertising that is creating a self-feeding situation in which the only winners are the people who sell guns to the domestic market – Be they blue-chip gun companies, Mexican drug lords or street gangs.
And now for some balance – Even with all this said – A lot of people own guns because they want to own guns; not because they want to create a militia to round up all the Mexicans in their town and gun them down over open graves – In fact, I have never personally met an American who would want to do that (though sadly, I have read a lot of crap from ones who do).
Guns are fun – This seems to be something that the anti-gun lobby just can’t get into their brains. Guns ARE fun, they are beautiful pieces of engineering and to many, beautiful historic art – and they are wonderful to shoot. You point them at cans on a fence and there is a rush of satisfaction in blowing them up from a distance. I don’t care what images the anti-gun people will try and associate with this but when I am blowing up milk cartons of water with a .44 Magnum I am never thinking “Wow that could be a shoplifter’s head!” – I am just not and I very much doubt are most American gun owners. When you let off or watch a firework display and the carefully timed explosions create an explosive Son et lumière in the night sky are you thinking that you could be pointing these at a village in Afghanistan, or that the same technology and timing is what makes sabot and cluster bombs so effective? I doubt it.
A lot of handgun owners (and long-gun ones too) like to plink at things – This is non-specific target shooting, cans, golf-balls, water filled milk-cartons… It’s just fun shooting. It’s better to have a gun that holds a lot of bullets for this because it’s a pain in the arse to keep reloading. This is why I like bigger magazine capacities and it’s why most recreational shooters do too. Bullets are quite heavy and bulky and if you are carrying a gun hidden in your belt all day it’s probably best not to have 30 bullets in there. A Glock with a 30 round magazine may look cool in the movies but it’s not exactly very practical. Those things are generally for people who don’t have a clue how to shoot a gun and very doubtfully own it legally anyway. It’s very much a case of advertising over practicality.
On this same issue, I was watching a Youtube video that professed that a young girl had “OWNED” an anti-gun protestor by explaining why she needed a high-capacity magazine on her AR15 rifle that she kept for home defence. She cockily explained that because of the danger of all the people breaking into her house, to both rob and rape her, she needed at least 30 rounds in case she missed with the standard 5 or 10. As a gun owner and shooter, I was probably more appalled by this than the non-shooters who may think that she indeed has a point. If she is missing with 29 rounds, then where are these missing bullets with a range of a mile, in her built up area of wooden houses going? Why is this girl (who quite obviously can’t shoot) even allowed to have a gun and why isn’t she learning to shoot it?
When gun-owners talk to one another in forums devoted to self defence they NEVER talk about stuff like this – They want stopping power with just a very few accurately placed rounds from a concealed weapon that won’t hurt bystanders at all – They may be nutters, but they are generally pretty responsible nutters. It is a big mistake to lump these two groups together.
Stockpiling of ammunition can make people look somewhat deranged to the outside world and this is something I have been thinking about quite a lot lately too. A lot of the traditional view of stockpilers are the militias and the preppers who seem to think that they need 100,000 rounds of ammo for the end of the world or the day the government invades their stockade. I don’t think that is why most people stockpile.
There’s a few things about ammo I should explain to non-gun people. Firstly it’s not cheap. It’s made of brass, and powder and lead and manufactured to very exacting engineering specifications and what’s more; modern guns are demanding more and more exacting ammo. A round of 9mm was about 30 cents a couple of years ago, a round of .45 maybe 50 cents, and when you are looking at things like .44 Magnum rounds then you are talking a dollar or two per shot. Over this last year, ammo prices have gone somewhat mad and ammo is a surprisingly good investment – If you’d bought 100,000 rounds of ammo a couple of years ago, you could probably make 50-100% return on your investment if you had shopped and sold well – And that’s maybe a $50,000 profit in a couple of years. There IS a financial sense in stockpiling for investment.
At the moment in the US there seems to also be an issue with availability – Whether this is a deliberate shortage or an effect of the stockpiling I don’t know but it’s creating a situation where if people can get ammo then it’s well worth them buying more than they usually would simply because they may not find it available or cheap again for a while. Of course this all compounds and it’s creating more and more shortage and stockpiling. What will probably happen next year is that people will sell off their surpluses and things will calm down again. But yes.. Ammo isn’t cheap and it’s worth buying it when you find it cheaper than usual – Often at gun shows you can get a good deal on 1,000 to 10,000 rounds which seems a lot, but when you bear in mind that to keep quick and accurate with a handgun you should be shooting well over 1,000 rounds a year at paper targets – It’s not that strange at all.
Oddly I found myself accidentally stockpiling a while back – As the US prices started to go up I decided it was a good time to buy much more ammo at the lower prices than I usually would, and even cheap .22 plinking ammo I would find myself over-buying because the big stores were saying that they may have problems getting much more in the summer season. I would have hated to be out of plinking ammo so I bought much more than I usually would. I guess it can happen to anyone and it doesn’t mean that that somebody is stockpiling it for the end of the world or the next Russian Zombie invasion.
One little aside is that because of the price of ammo I have noticed that people at the places I shoot are shooting a lot less – I sometimes go to the range and don’t even bother getting any guns out at all if there is somebody there to chat to and drink tea with and I think this happens a lot in the shooting world (especially in Canada) – Even when I was at University I used to go the range for peace and quiet and to get away from the world – It’s a calm disciplined environment and a lot of shooting is rather like Yoga with a hefty recoil. But, as ever.. I digress.
The subject of “assault weapons” is one that only seems to come up in the USA – And it is one that I can see would annoy gun owners. I don’t know what an assault weapon is, and the only people who seem to know, in their own heads what an assault weapon is, are the anti-gun lobbyists. This really seems to be a big case where neither side understands the other side and neither side wants to do so. My assumption was that an assault weapon was a fully automatic rifle (a sub machine gun in other words) but this isn’t the case – Those are banned by law in most places in the USA anyway. As far as I can see, an assault rifle is just something that looks like it’s a military weapon. I may be missing something here but I have read a lot to find out.. And that seems to be it. Now Canada has a LOT of surplus military weapons – The most popular long-gun here may be the SKS which is a Russian post WW2 military rifle with a built in fold-away bayonet. It looks similar to the AK47 but without the big banana magazine and it’s not fully automatic. Nobody in their right mind in Canada would consider an SKS to be an “assault weapon” but by US anti-gun standards, it probably fits the bill perfectly.
Whilst the argument’s language and imagery is all about these mystical “assault weapons”, the meat of the argument is simply about magazine capacity and nothing at all to do with the gun that takes the magazines. A Canadian SKS can only hold 5 shots but it would be trivial for anybody with any gun skills and a few everyday tools (as in most gun owners) to modify it to take more. The anti-gun lobby doesn’t seem to understand guns and gun-owners enough to have a clue what they are really arguing about and the gun owners simply think that the other side are stupid.
As mentioned before the big problem with any of this is that criminals tend not to be law-abiding citizens. If you take a gun magazine that holds 30 rounds and you put a rivet into it to limit it to 10 – Then a law abiding shooter will probably not remove the rivet. Even if the legal shooter DOES remove the rivet (which anyone in Canada will tell you does happen, despite protestations that it is completely impossible), they are certainly not doing it for any dodgy reasons – They just want more shots at their tin-cans before they have to reload. The spirit of the law has gone wrong here because everybody knows that if somebody is going to go and commit a crime with a gun then they are not going to think twice about using illegally sized magazines or unregistered weapons. Of course thinking like this then encourages an imbalance between the newly restricted pro-gun-carry brigade and the unrestricted criminals and people who wouldn’t have dreamed of putting more than 10 shots in a gun before suddenly start wanting 30 “just because someone is trying to stop me”. Personally, I don’t think it’s even a real issue at all – A street kid who needs a 30 round magazine isn’t going to hit me with a well aimed shot; in fact testimony shows that they miss with all of them from very close ranges simply because they have never practiced and will be probably be shocked from being deafened with the first round too. Handguns are a lot harder to shoot than most people think. I, on the other hand, can hit them with a single shot.
There are many more issues that I haven’t covered – The ownership and popularity of companies in places like Nevada where you can go and shoot machine guns or bigger for fun – and as I said before, it is fun, and you can see that by the popularity of these places; despite the price. Should those be legal?
Then there is the “antique gun” issue where in places like the UK, a 100 year old gun is considered an antique and not a weapon – This means that the handgun I shoot every day has been technically legal in the UK for 2 years now (the Government Colt .45 Auto was first made in 1911) and even if I am not nitpicking (I think they specifically legislated these types of weapons as illegal regardless of age now in response to this), then one of the other guns I shoot a lot which I find to be a devastatingly accurate and very powerful weapon is perfectly legal in the UK as an antique and is legal to shoot modern-reproductions on ranges too. Whilst the UK government may think that a black powder Colt revolver can’t kill people; I would imagine a whole Hollywood Western industry and one hell of a lot of dead Indians and soldiers would beg to differ on that matter. Whilst a 6 shot Colt may not be the weapon of choice to hold up a bank, it still works pretty well (much better than a converted gas-revolver in fact, which was what I had that they banned). This all being said of course – If you don’t want to go that legal, expensive and quirky route to commit your criminal acts; then you could always just go and buy an illegal gun from half the pubs in Manchester for a few hundred quid and use that instead. It has the advantage that it’s cheaper that way too.
I decided this needed a photo, partly because I haven’t put a picture up in ages and partly because this was so long that you probably need a break!
(*) I am using the phrase “guns” because generally lay-people on both sides will understand this term. In a lot of circles a gun is more about artillery than something you carry (that is a firearm) – But I don’t want to confuse things using alien terminologies because that’s part of the problem. The same with bullets…