Monday, August 15, 2011

Lets get real for a minute.

The other day I was reading about how the Whitehouse (well the BATFE, actually) wanted to require registered gun dealers in the United States to report purchases of "military grade" weapons when sold more than two at a time to a single purchaser. This is supposed to help the government stem the tide of weapons moving south into Mexico. I'm sure most of you who know me know that my first reaction to this would be "get real", and to be hionest, it was. But more to the point, I was really put off by the term "military grade" when talking about weapons. What exactly is a "military" weapon? I know that sounds simple, but really, its not.

This whole issue goes back a lot farther than just this Mexican drug war. "militarized weapons" have been a hot button topic in the United States evern since the 1960s, when firearms technology allowed for a truely radical divergence between classic, civilian firearms and modern military hardware.

First of all, let me get some history out of the way, but I will be quick. Up until the 1930s, the service weapon of an American infantryman was little different from a classic hunting rifle in the United States. The Springfield 1903 rifle, and its predicessor, the Krag-Jørgensen (domestically called the Springfield Model 1892-99) were bolt action, high power rifles little different from commercially available civilian sporting and hunting weapons of the day. Only with the advent of the M1 Garand repeating rile  in the 1930s did the military start to offer modern infantrymen more than a 'hopped-up" hunting rifle. But even still, the eight-round M1 and its sucessor the twenty-round M-14, were semi-automatic weapons firing high-powered .30 caliber bullets, making automatic fire almost impossible because of the potent revoil of the large bullets. It wasn't until the begining of the conflict in Vietnam, and the introduction of the Armalite Rifle model 15 (militarily known as the M-16) that the infantryman was given truly automatic fire. The M-16 used a smaller bullet with much higher velocity, sacrificing range and kenetic energy for rate of fire and a larger magazine (30 rounds). The M-16 has been the staple of US military weapons ever since its full adoption in the late 1960s, and today it and it's various civilian models have been at the center of more than their share of contravercies about firearm's regulations.

I'm sure all of this seems old hat to some of you, but I wanted to at least build a common base before I make my point here.

I would like you to take a look at this gun for a moment.

It is comercially marketed as a "Ruger Ranch rifle", and it fires the .223 caliber rife round. Its too small for any serious hunting, but as 'varment gun" and "plinking rifle" the round is cost effective, accurate and powerful enough to make even a respectable cyote run for its life. Additionally, the hardwood stock and clean lines are popular with a number of outdoorsmen because of its solid build and having enough weight to mostly adsorb what recoil the round offers. It has a removable 5-round magazine, and iron sights that have been demonstrated to be very accurate well past 300 yards. This is available in wall mart for just over $600 the last time I checked.

Now, I want to show you another weapon.

Also produced by Ruger, this is a tactical upgrade of their "Mini-14" rifle, a moderinized version of the previously mentioned M-14 battle rifle, though redesigned for the venerable, but smaller, NATO 5.56mm rifle ammunition, the same rounds used by the military's M-16 and M-4 series of rifles. The bolt-on ramp on the top allowes for various scopes to be attached, while the shorter ramps on the side and bottom allow for attachments such as flashlights, forward grips and lasers. The butt stock uses a teliscoping mechanism that allows the rifle to be shortened or lengthened, both for the shooter's comfort, and for ease of storage as well as use in tight quarters. The mazagine is a 20-round detachable box that can be quickly changed out. This particular model can be fitted with an automatic setting, though for the civilian market it is available in semi-automatic only.

So, do you see it yet?

If not, let me spill the beans, you're looking at the same gun. The NATO 5.56mm rifle round is international name for the .223 caliber we use here in the states. Both of these weapons use the same barrel, firing mechanism, trigger and iron sights, and have the same range and fire power. The "Ranch rifle" is marketed for farmers, so it comes with a 5-sound magazine, but there are plenty off 20, 30 and even 100 round magazines available for it that can be fitting without modifying the weapon at all. On top of all that, the hardware on the second weapon, the mounting ramps, pistol grip and adjustable butt stock are commercially available online, without any regulations or background check needed. In fact, you can walk into any Wal*Mart superstore and purchase a small bi-pod for about $30.

When people use the adage "gun's don't kill people, people do", its not some trite, overused retort. Rather, it is a realistic concept that reminds us that it is people who make weapons dangerous. With semi-automatic weapons, the rate of fire is literally limited to how fast a person can pull the trigger. With only a little practice, controlled semi-automatic weapons can actually be more lethal than full automatic because you are able to more accurately place rounds on target without over-saturating and waisting ammunition. Furthermore, most magazines (European and American) are designed for simplicity of use and ease of function. In short, a shooter familiar with a shooter familiar with his weapon will probably take at little as three seconds to drop an empty magazine and load a new round. My reason for pointing that out is to show you how laughable the "10-round magazine" myth is. Sure, in a pitched gunfight with trained opponents, the time taken to change out a magazine might well be exploited to the shooters demise. However, in a lot of cases, the shooter is simply able to reload and keep going when he is faced with civilian targets.

This is why the two weapons you saw above are equally dangerous. It doesn't matter how much hardware it had clamped onto it, or what size the magazine is, both weapons are equally capable of being formidable killing tools, expectingly when pitted against unarmed or untrained opponents.

So, when someone "up top" says "we are only after military grade weapons", we really need to ask them "how do you define 'military'?", and then ask them "What about all of the other weapons out there?"

Thursday, August 4, 2011

A bit about a plane, and a lot else.

A few weeks ago, I was fortunate enough to be able to visit the Smithsonian Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center Air & Space Annex in Northern Virginia. While there I had an interesting conversation with a small group visitors who I ran into near the World War II exhibit. This isn't necessarily a rant, but I did want to point out some facts from the conversation, and editorialize on those facts.

First of all, the group I ran into was composed to five people, two girls in their early twenties, Two men in their thirties, and a man in his mid forties.

1) No one recognized the Enola Gay on sight.

Comment: This isn't as bad as some might make it sound. The plane is huge, and from the single vantage point we were standing, there were no identifying placards around. A one minute walk would have put us at the nose of the plane, and a huge display about it, its crew and its famous mission. However, the B-29 is a very distinctive shape, and the images of the plane dropping the bomb over Hiroshima are very common, so I was a little disappointed as the obliviousness.

2) When pointed out, none of them recognized the name "Enola Gay"

Comment: Sight recognition aside, this plane is one of the most iconic in world history, and one of the most written about in school textbooks. I was bothered, to say the least.

3) When I commented that this was not a replica, or a reproduction, but was in fact the very same plane that single-handedly took the world into the atomic/nuclear age, there was a reverent look of shock from all five people. One of the girls was even heard to say "Oh my God" under her breath.

Comment: This was good, in my opinion. I know too many people who have little to no respect for the surviving artifacts of history. To have the complete, undamaged aircraft on display for the public to see is a milestone for history, posterity and the public good. I was actually touched that these people understood this.

4) There were slack-jawed, heart-stopped-for-a-moment, "I can't believe that", expressions when I commented that the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki weren't even in the top ten for destructive bombing raids during world war two.

Comment: This bothered me, but I wasn't really disappointed in any of the five people in question. Politically, socially and militarily, there is little doubt that the missions over Hiroshima and Nagasaki were amongst the most important in the allied war effort. However, these grand facts have conspired together to overshadow the massive, dedicated military offensives that went into the bombing of other major cities in Japan and Europe. Historians can debate motives and results from now until dooms day, but the fact that none of these five had heard of the fire bombings of Dresden or Tokyo, or their causes, effects or the lessons learned (then and now) truly saddens me.

5) After I explained about several other bombing campaigns, one of the girls looked at me and asked "Why is it that they don't teach us this stuff in school? You would think this would be considered important?"

Comment: This was a major uplifting moment for me because that one girl cut through all the politics of the moment, and of history with a very direct question. And that type of question can, and should lead to other questions, and those can, and should lead to true, useful education. What these people may, or may not have had in terms of historical knowledge, this one girl made up for in insight.
And for the record, my answer was "Frankly, because we don't know to ask when we are kids. Its really up to us to teach ourselves that type of thing these days, but the good thing is that we have the tools to do just that unlike ever before."

And Finally,

6) one of the men cut me off at that point and rather brusquely cut me off. "I appreciate the comments, I really do, but we are on a schedule here."

Comment: I talk to much, but you probably already knew that.