On Guns

I’m writing this in response to a column by Bob Somerby in the Daily Howler. He doesn’t seem to understand how guns work, which to me seems like not understanding the difference between a Mazda Wankel rotary engine, a super-efficient 4-cylinder fuel-injected engine, a steam engine, a turbine engine, or a V-8. (Hint: I don’t mean the red vegetable juice!)

But then again, perhaps that just means Bob and I paid attention to different things growing up.

However, given that he taught in Baltimore, I’m a bit surprised that he didn’t learn a bit more about the weapons that were used to kill students there….


Me? I’ve owned a rifle or shotgun since I was a kid, and I grew up on a farm, and when I lived for about two years on a kibbutz and occasionally pulled night duty, they would give me an Uzi or a bolt-action rifle dating from their war of independence …

Sometimes I hunt deer and other critters (sometimes even successfully; venison is pretty good, but you have to get rid of all the bones and fat).

I’m a white guy over 60 who has spent part of my life on a farm.

While I never thought that the racist — no, fascist — cretins of the NRA spoke for me, they seem to be getting crazier and crazier. When I go out to the Clark Brothers’s gun shop out near Warrenton VA to do some target practice ahead of deer season, I am incredibly offended by all the far right-wing posters they have all over the place. Those are some crazy m****rf****rs running that place; I don’t think any of them should be allowed to own guns, if you ask me.

Guns are incredibly dangerous weapons. Handguns in particular are more lethal to their owners and their families and loved ones than they are to any potential criminal. But apparently “self-defense” is where the growth in sales has been over the past 40 years, because hunting is getting harder and more expensive every year.

Take me for example. Since I don’t live in any State, the cost of a hunting license is (to me) quite steep. I live in the District of Columbia, so an out-of-state deer- or duck-hunting or fishing license in PA, MD, VA, WV, or DE costs hundreds of dollars per year, which along with the ammunition and the time lost from work, ends up not such a great bargain in supposedly free wild venison. Especially since I’m not equipped to butcher it myself and I have to pay one of my wife’s rural cousins to cut up, butcher, wrap and freeze the meat.

Most of the places I grew up in and later hunted in nearby Maryland have now turned into subdivisions where you can’t hunt with a gun, and, you know, it gets frigging cold out there standing all by yourself, silently, without moving, for hour after hour, waiting for a deer to come by close enough for a clean shot. I’m afraid of getting frostbite on my injured hand (table saw accident, I’m afraid).

I think that hunting has a place, especially given the absolutely phenomenal jump in the numbers of wild deer, wild turkeys, and other game animals over the past 50 years all over the Eastern part of the US. Where my brothers and I NEVER saw deer tracks on our old farm in Clarksburg, MD or when we used to hike through the woods back in the late 1950’s, those areas are literally lousy with lice-ridden and tick-infested deer today. You can hardly walk 200 paces without seeing deer tracks or deer poop, and I often drive right past a flock of resident wild turkeys when I go up to my club’s astronomical observatory on a ridge in Northern VA. So, given the huge and increasing numbers of deer and turkey caused by the abandonment of much marginal farm land, I think that hunting should be allowed to continue. (And I also think that residents of DC should be allowed to purchase in-state hunting licenses in any of the states I just mentioned!)

But Wayne LaPierre’s idea that having armed guards and policemen at schools will somehow stop mass murderers is at best foolish. Many urban schools already have them (DC certainly does), yet black and Latino students are gunned down by their peers with unfortunate regularity, while white kids commit suicide with their parent’s handguns with even greater frequency. In DC, the armed guards at the schools are often kind of a joke. Some have a tendency to try to become inappropriately close to students. It appears that there has been a decline in homicides in general since a high point in the early 1990s:

homicides by weapon type


Guns should be locked up by their owners, with the ammunition somewhere else, to slow down potential suicides or murderers, given them some time to think, so they will stop, and so that children cannot get to them. People who have suicidal tendencies or are otherwise mentally unbalanced (you know, people like Wayne LaPierre or Adam and Nancy Lanza) should not be permitted to be around guns.

We should NOT be letting ordinary citizens walk around with loaded, concealed weapons. If we do, then every argument at work, while shopping, or in a bar has the potential to turn into a murder scene. There are countries like Somalia or Yemen or Iraq where nearly everyone owns a fully automatic assault weapon. Not exactly wonderful places to live, but easy places in which to die.

That means some sort of mental/emotional evaluation of everybody who owns, or wants to own, a gun. Including me.

That’s fine, though. I even know how to pay for it:

Let everybody out of jail who was ever convicted on any sort of marijuana charge. Give them free and full pardons, restoring all of their civil rights. Give them back their houses, cars, boats, and any other possessions or monies that were seized from them. Delete any arrest records for any of that, or for stupid, trifling offenses like violating probation secondary to a drug offense.  After all, marijuana is the least dangerous drug known in human history. Aspirin, Tylenol and antibiotics, while clearly necessary and helpful in many cases, in fact can and do kill many people; but weed, while in constant use for thousands of years, has ZERO direct fatalities in all of recorded history as far as I can tell.

A quote:

3. The most obvious concern when dealing with drug safety is the possibility of lethal effects. Can the drug cause death?

4. Nearly all medicines have toxic, potentially lethal effects. But marijuana is not such a substance. There is no record in the extensive medical literature describing a proven, documented cannabis-induced fatality. (my emphasis)

5. This is a remarkable statement. First, the record on marijuana encompasses 5,000 years of human experience. Second, marijuana is now used daily by enormous numbers of people throughout the world. Estimates suggest that from twenty million to fifty million Americans routinely, albeit illegally, smoke marijuana without the benefit of direct medical supervision. Yet, despite this long history of use and the extraordinarily high numbers of social smokers, there are simply no credible medical reports to suggest that consuming marijuana has caused a single death. (my emphasis)

6. By contrast aspirin, a commonly used, over-the-counter medicine, causes hundreds of deaths each year.

7. Drugs used in medicine are routinely given what is called an LD-50. The LD-50 rating indicates at what dosage fifty percent of test animals receiving a drug will die as a result of drug induced toxicity. A number of researchers have attempted to determine marijuana’s LD-50 rating in test animals, without success. Simply stated, researchers have been unable to give animals enough marijuana to induce death.(my emphasis)

8. At present it is estimated that marijuana’s LD-50 is around 1:20,000 or 1:40,000. In layman terms this means that in order to induce death a marijuana smoker would have to consume 20,000 to 40,000 times as much marijuana as is contained in one marijuana cigarette. NIDA-supplied marijuana cigarettes weigh approximately .9 grams. A smoker would theoretically have to consume nearly 1,500 pounds of marijuana within about fifteen minutes to induce a lethal response. (my emphasis: three-quarters of a ton of weed in a quarter of an hour!!! That’s utterly impossible!)

9. In practical terms, marijuana cannot induce a lethal response as a result of drug-related toxicity.”


US Department of Justice, Drug Enforcement Administration, “In the Matter of Marijuana Rescheduling Petition” (Docket #86-22), September 6, 1988, p. 56-57.

I would also recommend releasing all of those who have been convicted of possessing, manufacturing, cultivating, transporting, or merchandising any other drug as well, whether it be fully illegal drugs or diverted prescription drugs. If they shot or robbed or beat up or kidnapped someone in the course of an illegal criminal enterprise, they should stay in jail. But merely growing or selling or making or using or holding illegal or unlicensed prescription drugs? Or violating parole later on? Let’em go, pardon ’em all.

Instead, start training programs in things like welding, hydroponics, electrical work, plumbing, and basic math and business skills so that they can set up year-round marijuana cultivation centers. And mellow out while making a decent, legal, taxable, living.

(BTW, I’m quite serious: I found it to be very difficult to find local courses in, say, welding. A three-day 10-hour introductory course in MIG welding cost me $375, and by no means am I anywhere near being a certified welder of any sort! Almost no local high school or community college now offers any such course any more; I had to find a local, private glass/metal shop that does instruction on the side.)

If you release all those prisoners, you will now have an enormous number of prison cells that are empty. Billions of dollars no longer need to be spent on prison guards, prison construction, parole monitors, and so on.

Then we could also offer medical help, for free, for folks who are strung out on things like Oxycontin, morphine, Demerol, meth, heroin, and other really dangerous drugs.

And, if anyone really wants to purchase a gun, we can actually do a serious background check (I wonder if I’d pass) and give them some real training and target practice and lessons on how to track and find their prey if they want to hunt.

Now if they really want to use it for self-defense, and they have a good, persuasive reason, then they need comprehensive training in ‘shoot/don’t shoot’. A friend of mine, quite experienced with guns, paid a few hundred dollars some years ago for a couple of days of such training. He said the number of innocent mock ‘people’ that he ‘shot’ during the course of the training was horrifying. What’s more, he also missed quite a few mock ‘shooters’ who would have killed him had they been real.

So the idea of an untrained teacher or movie-ticket-taker keeping a handgun in her purse or waistband, on the lookout for the next mass murderer, is nuts. What’s far more likely is that the gun would go off accidentally, or get stolen.

But Bob, while it’s true that the definition of an ‘assault rifle’ is somewhat semantic, and it’s true that Lanza’s .223 Bushmaster was a semi-automatic and not a full automatic, that difference was not enough to prevent Lanza from killing nearly 30 people in a short time. But you could have looked it up at Wikipedia.

Published in: on December 22, 2012 at 3:35 pm  Comments (1)  
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One CommentLeave a comment

  1. Great article. Not sure about the details in the offered solution but you demonstrate the kind of fresh thinking that will be needed to ever solve this problem. The trouble with living in a country that has a deep seated paranoia (we must all be heavily armed for self defense because there are people out there who want to kill us and we can’t trust our government ever to do anything right, let alone protect us) is that change will only ever be incremental and the increments will be small. Our paranoia extends to a fear of Big Government so we want it kept relatively powerless and fractured into 50 smaller, more controllable governments. In that way we can defend ourselves better if some part of government goes rogue. It’s all bizarre! Where does this paranoia come from? Until we understand this and treat it we will never solve the problem.


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