Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Tin-can plinkers vs. public safety

  "Many people like to get larger capacity magazines simply to save time reloading while they're at the range.

   "When you're paying by the hour for range time, a lot of people do feel the need to stock up as much as possible."

   America wouldn't want to infringe on anyone's range time. That costs a pretty penny. So of course Republicans in Congress will fight to the death a limit on the capacities of killing machines.

   The above quote from a Virginia gun dealer is contained in Lethal Passage, Erik Larson's penetrating 1994 examination of the firearms industry and the culture that makes it click.

    For his book, Larson followed the path of the Cobray M-11/9 which ended up in the hands of a 16-year-old who killed a teacher at school. He would have killed dozens if the gun hadn't malfunctioned.

   Faulty merchandise. What an embarrassment for the makers. But they got their money, and their middle man did, too. So all was well ultimately.

   Talk about embarrassments: In Larson's reporting you read all about people who make carnage their most important product.   

   Consider the gun dealer who advertised a "Whitman Arsenal": a seven-piece set of the exact weapon models Charles Whitman took up into the University of Texas tower in 1966 when he killed 16 and wounded 32.

    Larson demonstrates that what the gun lobby calls a grand struggle against oppression actually is a battle over profit margins. And don't forget that range time.

   Second Amendment rights? Nah. Sum it up with two "C"s — commerce and convenience.

    "Gun manufacturers have little interest in saving lives," writes Larson, "although they struggle to convey the image that they are the last defenders of hearth and home."

     Parents everywhere should have appreciated what American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten said the other day when the National Rifle Association, intoning to a trumpet chorus, said the best route to safer schools was for each to train and arm a volunteer among the staff or faculty.

     Said Weingarten, "We must leave those decisions to the people who know our schools best — not those acting as a proxy for gun manufacturers."

     That's you, National Rifle Association.

      Now we see the merchants of death — sorry, folks, but you make it too easy — fighting reasonable steps like those taken by Colorado and Connecticut lawmakers who voted to limit magazines on firearms.

     For guns that can fire blindingly excessive rounds and easily can be converted from semiautomatic to automatic, Larson has a term he prefers instead of "assault weapons."

    He calls them "spree weapons" — as in, "The 20-year-old went on a killing spree inside the elementary school."

    "Spree" is a more sporting term, more in keeping with what guns are about — plinking cans, obliterating targets, imagining federal agents at the door out to take away one's spittoon.

     It was telling that in both Connecticut and Colorado, the key issue wielded by the gun lobby wasn't public safety at all but good ol' commerce. In Colorado, Magpul Industries, which manufacturers large-capacity magazines, has said it will leave the state. The same with gun manufacturers who've threatened to flee Connecticut.

    What a thrill to hear policymakers say to these players: "Hasta la vista, baby."

       Both legislatures voted for universal background checks. The gun lobby's chief argument against that is that they don't work. The Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research has multiple studies to demonstrate that they do.

    But let's face it. The whole argument comes down to our partners in crime — convenience and commerce — and Uncle Jed having a right to sell his AR-15 in the driveway without "gummint" interfering.

    Just so we understand what this is all about.

    Longtime Texas newspaperman John Young lives in Colorado. Email:


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