Sunday, February 17, 2013

Gun in 60 Seconds

As we slowly drag some of America's less-evolved citizens toward the reality that the Second Amendment is not Holy Writ, I've noticed a number of very specific bad debating tactics that the NRA likes to use.

There's all the usual suspects: attacking the messenger ("you liberals hate guns! And the Constitution!"), the slippery slope argument ("if they ban assault weapons, next they'll ban all guns!"), and on and on.

Most of them are pretty easy to combat, if you know what you're talking about. And let's be real: if you are required to accept "the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed" without any limitations, then the Second Amendment isn't restricted to guns, either. Nuclear weapons are "arms," and therefore all citizens should be allowed to own them.

Since even the most conservative member of the Supreme Court says that there can, in fact, be limitations on gun ownership, maybe it's time for somebody to put a muzzle on Wayne LaPierre and let the adults talk.

But on that subject -- knowing what you're talking about -- there is one little thing that bothers me. In blogs and on talk shows, I keep hearing people making obvious, blatant mistakes that occasionally get them in trouble. So let's put a little reality into our side of the argument. Here's some little facts relevant to the gun debate that you should probably know.

Guns aren't difficult to understand, nor are they difficult to use. Literally any idiot can learn to use one, and most of them can learn to use them very well. (Here's where I want to follow up with "...for example, look at the Marines," but my son is a Marine now, and I've promised to be good.) However, just like any other hobby enthusiast, there is a certain amount of specialized knowledge involved.

To put it another way, gun nuts are like LARPers or comic book geeks: they have specific terminology, and a knowledge of trivia that is unique to their hobby, and if you get any of it wrong, they'll scream like little bitches and try to say that you don't know anything about the subject.

Trust me: having carried one for 21 years, I'm reasonably familiar with the subject, and it isn't rocket science. So here's the least you need to know.

Always be sure that you're using the right terminology. We want an "assault weapons ban," not a ban on assault rifles.

There's are important reasons for this, and most of them have to do with the legal definitions of these two terms. See, an "assault weapon" is a generic term, and can be expanded or contracted to cover a multitude of sins.

An assault rifle, on the other hand, has a very specific definition (and yes, I'm using Wikipedia here - it's the most accessible source I found, and it is at least getting this part of the debate right):
An assault rifle is a selective fire (selective between automatic, semi-automatic, and burst fire) rifle that uses an intermediate cartridge and a detachable magazine....

Assault rifles are categorized in terms of using an intermediate cartridge power that is between light machine guns firing full power cartridges, which are intended more for sustained automatic fire in a light support role, and submachine guns, which fire a lower powered pistol cartridge rather than a rifle cartridge.

Fully automatic fire refers to an ability for a rifle to fire continuously until the magazine is empty and no rounds remain; "burst-capable" fire refers to an ability of a rifle to fire a small yet fixed multiple number of rounds with but one press of the trigger; in contrast, semi-automatic refers to an ability to fire one round per press of a trigger.
I could go on about the difference between the full-auto sear (a little metal piece on the inside of the M-16 that allows it to keep firing until you run out of ammo), and the burst-fire sear (which I thought was an awesome innovation when it came out), but all you really need to know is that replacing a sear isn't difficult.

More than that, though, there are conversion kits that make it even easier. So don't let anybody try to tell you that it takes some kind of mystic metalwork to convert a civilian AR-15, which is an assault weapon, into a functional assault rifle. A couple of pliers, a small punch (I usually ended up using a small screwdriver) - there are specialized tools that make working on an M-16 easier (like a barrel wrench), but damned few of them are required.

There are other terms that drive the gun hobbyists crazy: the bullet is the metal bit that flies out of the gun. The whole thing, including the casing, the powder and everything, is a shell, a round, or a cartridge. Never call it a bullet.
For some reason, this makes them crazy (or "crazier, maybe).

Also, don't say "clip," say "magazine." This is another of those stupid pedantic things that make spittle fly across the room. A clip can feed ammo into a magazine - a magazine feeds ammo into a weapon. If you really care enough to read about it, go here - but otherwise, just avoid it.

They also can get really cranky about the word "gun" - it's a very generic term that covers everything from handguns to Howitzers. Just so you know.

(Overall, I find the whole thing funny - it's like listening to comic nerds screaming "You don't even know the relationship between the Golden Age and Silver Age Superman! Why should we listen to you about anything?" But I find a lot of things funny, even when nobody else does.)


(If you want to get even farther into the argument, here's a piece I ran across in gathering links for this post. I tend to avoid DailyKos just out of habit, but the writer gets into a lot of the tactics and terminology that might come in handy for somebody.)

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