(FYI: Be sure to click through the links as you go and then read them after you finish the article)
Last week marked the anniversary of one tragedy and, due to unspeakably horrible events that unfolded on Friday, saw the birth of a new one. Coincidentally (and unfortunately), both these tragedies involved the use of guns.
Friday was the 150th anniversary of the last day before the withdrawal of troops from a bloody battle in the American Civil War: the Battle of Fredericksburg. In that battle, fought over roughly a week’s time, the Union suffered over 12,600 casualties when their five assaults on the Confederate position on Marye’s Heights failed. The Confederates suffered over 5,000 dead, wounded, or missing during the engagement. Over 186,000 men, most of them armed with rifled muskets—capable of killing a man accurately within 500 yards—that could be fired roughly three times in a minute. So many rounds of ammunition were spent during the battle that one man, Private William McCarter of the 116th Pennsylvania Infantry Reg., Irish Brigade, was shot a total of 5 times; three wounds were serious. Following the battle McCarter found another 36 spent rounds in his equipment (which he carried into battle) that had nearly struck him.
Also on Friday, and quite traumatically, there was a mass shooting incident that I’m certain everyone reading this blog is familiar with; twenty children and six others were massacred at the hands of a mentally unstable individual. This individual forced his way into school with three extremely accurate weapons: a Bushmaster XM-15 rifle, a kin of the US Military’s M16 assault rifle, and two handguns (10mm and a 9mm). He shot all of his victims mercilessly—having fired between 50-100 rounds—and multiple times (his final victim had been shot 11 times). Many of us have had to come to grips with this difficult tragedy in our own ways, trying to explain to our children what has transpired.
Some may say that the two events are completely different; after all, the soldiers who fought at the Battle of Fredericksburg had signed up to face death, were prepared to make the ultimate sacrifice, so surely these two events don’t share any relevance. If only that were the case. What these two terrible and bloody situations highlight is a very pivotal function of the sorrow we all now are experiencing in the wake of Newtown: Guns are made to kill.
It seems like a simple statement of fact. Over the past few days, however, there is a push back on this fact. I’ve heard bizarre statements like ‘guns are a deterrent’, but are they really? I’m not so sure. After all, in the wake of Sandy Hook, gun sales soared. But for what purpose? Is that something we should be championing? Adding yet more guns to a volatile situation is not going to suddenly lower the threat but, as the statement implies, add to it! We live in a culture where ‘manliness’ and ‘guns’ go hand in hand, where the company who manufactures the same rifle that was used in the brutal murder of innocent children can boast an add campaign that suggests that your ‘man card’ can be given only once you own one of their ‘amazing’ killing machines.
So what do you think will happen when two or more armed people (who are not as well trained as your average infantryman) find themselves in an emotionally-driven, high-stakes encounter with another gunman? Do you think that pulling out a gun of their own will suddenly make the situation less intense or more intense? Think carefully about the way you answer, because usually in such situations, time is not on your side. People make split-second decisions with a weapon, that we know is made to kill things, and if they react without thought–as even trained soldiers will occasionally do (we even have a word for it: friendly fire)–someone is going to get hurt. The whole argument that ‘if someone at Sandy Hook other than the shooter had a gun, maybe there would only be one casualty–the killer–is a stupid one. Here’s a revelation for you: this is how gangs operate and we all know how well that works out for innocent bystanders (it is called a ‘gun-battle’ or a ‘shootout’–you know, like the old west–and even trained officers will occasionally find they miss their intended target–sometimes more than once).
That whole ‘deterrent’ line seems to me like a gimmick someone invented to cover up the fact that the gun, often carried loaded, is meant to kill. A gun’s deterrent is not in its having, but in its killing. We arm our soldiers with these sorts of weapons because we hope that they kill more people than the other guy. Having more guns is only going to cause more violent gun-related deaths. Owning a gun is not akin to a nuclear missile crisis–as if just the thought of the other person having one is going to stop someone else from using theirs.
Just today I was reading a post which stated, confidently, that 37 people may die a day due to guns, but “1200 people are saved every day by the lawful use of a gun”. I’m not sure which part is more frightening: (a) that someone thinks 37 deaths a day is acceptable to brag about or that (b) there is a way to measure how ‘lawful’ practices can save lives? Are we supposed to feel better that almost 85 million Americans didn’t kill someone today? Because I’m sure the Sandy Hook shooter’s mother, who owned the guns and acquired them legally, never shot anyone either. And look what happened to her.
The fact that so many own a gun is not comforting to me. How many gun owners lock them up or hide their ammunition? How many guns are stolen from these ‘law abiding’ citizens and how many fall into the hands of criminals? You’ve never heard of someone filing down a serial number? And what of those ‘law abiding’ gun owners, anyway (the ones who don’t let their guns get stolen)? How much does it take to push someone with a gun over the edge? Because I hear that fatal road rage incidents are a thing now. And sometimes those shooters miss too.
It’s all a lie, folks. It is a sleight-of-hand trick. Because those 37 deaths a day are caused by someone with a gun who probably was one of those 85 million the day before, and the day before that. The Sandy Hook shooter–that scum that he was–did not fall into the category of ‘murderer’ until he pulled the trigger. That is how it works. So don’t be fooled by those pro-gun lobbyists, those ‘pro-second amendment’ people, clinging to their weapons of destruction ‘just in case’ our government should turn all ‘King George’ on them.
Remember the Battle of Fredericksburg? Remember the Civil War? Remember how that all started? Right, you guessed it: the ‘will of the armed populace’ got together, grabbed their guns (the confederates were generally not issued weapons–they brought their own) and fired on a fort. And as a result of their ‘will’ to save themselves (but not the slaves!) from what they felt was oppression (even though they held their slaves in bondage!) over 620,000 Americans died. These two tragic and unnecessary incidents, Sandy Hook and Fredericksburg, happened because someone had both the will and a gun.
There is a reason why the saying ‘live by the gun, die by the gun’ exists. It used to be ‘live by the sword, die by the sword’, but then people started bringing guns to knife fights. At one time, the gun was carried because the frontier was wild and untamed: everything out there was trying to kill you and you had to defend yourself–not by showing it and deterring an attack–by killing them first.
The guns we used to have when the 2nd Amendment was installed was a humble (compared to a Bushmaster) flint-lock musket or pistol that could be fired once, then had to be reloaded, and your chance of hitting the target was 50/50 because rifled barrels were not common. Today, our handguns–legal handguns–are accurate, fire up to 15 rounds in seconds, can use different types of deadly ammunition, and are concealable. These are not the guns of our founding fathers. These are the guns wrought by war. Guns today are the product of death and it is death that they deal.
Now, let me be clear. Maybe banning all guns is the wrong move. Maybe we need some level of personal protection–maybe, though I am not convinced. After all, when there are no guns in private homes, there are no guns for criminals to acquire illegally. They’ll have to either go about it the legal way and register the gun and subject themselves to background checks or they’ll have to go even deeper into the underworld of the black market. But keep in mind, the black market exists all over the world. Crazy people exist all over the world, and somehow only 14 mass school shootings have occurred worldwide since Columbine. In the United States we have managed to double that figure (32 total) in the same amount of time. That tells me something; we are doing something wrong.
Coincidentally a mad man attacked a school in China on Friday as well, as Joel Watts brings attention to, but instead of a gun the crazed man brought a knife and stabbed 22 children. Guess how many died there? Zero.
Maybe we need better and stricter gun laws, maybe we need to submit all potential gun buyers to a certified and credible psychologist before granting them permission to purchase a firearm. Maybe we need to ban certain types of guns: percussion cap, breach-loading muskets work great for hunting and modern variants are very useful–so is a bow and arrow (just FYI). Shotguns should perhaps be limited to one per household and handguns should be banned entirely, along with semi-automatic and automatic rifles. This is what I think is appropriate. Certainly many will disagree. That’s your right. The good thing about disagreements is that they aren’t hurting anyone–that is, so long as the other person doesn’t decide to pull out a gun.
Filed under: Belief, Life, Philosophy, Society | Tagged: Civil War, gun control, Sandy Hook | 11 Comments »