From Ibsen to my Modest Proposal on guns

Whenever I get carried away on a comment response, I turn it into a post to make the most of the effort. And since I really haven’t been all that provocative the last few days, I thought I would share, more visibly, my Modest Proposal on the problem of gun violence in America.

On a previous post, Tom Fillinger complained thusly:

I find it disturbing that most of the time on this site – – anyone who disagrees with the majority perspective found on this site is an “ideologue”.

Good decisons are based on differing opinions (Peter Drucker).

So I responded as follows

What “majority perspective,” Tom? Whatever it is, I don’t seem to share it, based on the arguments I have here with my friends on the left and on the right…

I wouldn’t go so far as to quote Ibsen’s Dr. Stockman and say, “A minority may be right; a majority is always wrong.” I really embraced that when I was 17, because the Raskolnikovian arrogance of the statement appealed to my young ego.

Still, all these years later, while I have greater respect than I did for a majority’s view (40 years will do that for you), I very often don’t share it. And even when I do agree broadly, I argue about the nuances. That’s because the finer points tend to get sanded away on the way to making an idea acceptable to a broad audience — lowest common denominator and all that.

I forget — what were we talking about? Oh yeah: Guns

See, there’s one of those things where I can’t agree with the majority, if the majority is either the nuttier gun lovers (the ones who think more and more people should pack heat all the time) or the peaceful folk who seem to faint at the smell of gun oil.

Guns are dangerous as hell, by their nature (gun advocates say many things that make sense, but they are at their silliest when they try to deny the inherent danger imposed by the devices, a danger that all sensible weapons training is designed to minimize) — they are wonderfully engineered to combine maximum deadliness with minimum effort. (As Elvis Costello put it, “It only took my little fingers to blow you away.”) In this sense, the AK-47 is the most perfect gun (actually, a rifle) in history. For minimal effort (almost no maintenance, little upper-body strength, making it ideal for child soldiers in Africa) it puts out maximum firepower. Anyway, these qualities of modern firearms cause me to wish them to be in the possession of as few people as possible.

It’s like — back in the early 80s, I had this great, extended conversation with Al Gore, who at the time was styling himself an expert on arms control, and he borrowed my legal pad to sketch out the problem with MIRVs. The problem? They produce exponentially greater chance that a warhead — actually, many warheads — will hit targets. This increases global insecurity far more than if you have single-warhead vehicles.

Well, we exceeded critical mass on guns long ago, and I don’t think we can put that toothpaste back in the tube (hold on, maybe I can come up with one more metaphor to throw into the mix… mmmm… how about mousetraps and ping-pong balls?), which is why you don’t see me getting behind gun control efforts very much. They seem sort of futile.

The best gun-control efforts I’ve ever heard of is those where the cops buy up guns and destroy them. Because that’s the problem — too many guns exist. But those efforts are like trying to empty the ocean with a leaky bucket.

See, it’s not about law-abiding citizens having guns vs. criminals having guns. The problem is that there are too many guns. It doesn’t matter who initially buys a gun. As long as it exists, it is subject to being stolen (it’s a favorite item for burglars). The only way to keep guns out of the hands of criminals is for there to be many, many fewer guns — say, about 1% (just a wild guess, but I doubt I’m far off) of the number than exist now. Then, you’d have a true economic scarcity. The price on the street would go way up, but that would be because they were harder to obtain, and that would be a good thing.

But I see no way to get there. The political — and, yes, constitutional — barriers are way too steep. You can nibble at the problem, but how do you solve it? I have no idea.

Well, actually, I have one idea, which is not entirely original (although you don’t hear it much): Ban the sale and manufacture of ammunition. I don’t see anything in the Constitution about THAT. Then, of course, we may see the incidents of pistol-whippings go up, but shootings would eventually become a thing of the past. Anyway, a baseball bat is a better bludgeon than a gun. Ammunition is the problem. Take away ammo, and a pistol is a very awkward hammer. And since it’s a consumable, gun owners (law-abiding and criminal) would eventually run out.

Criminals — indeed, anyone who uses guns violently (and most people are shot by friends, family and acquaintances, not by the proverbial dangerous stranger, and of course the presence of guns in domestic disputes make the difference between battery and homicide) — tend to be impulsive. They’re not going to manufacture their own ammo, the way many serious sportsmen do. So this would quickly reduce, and eventually eliminate, most violent crime involving guns.

Of course, the political barrier to this idea would be just as great as the one with guns. The gun-lovers would go, “Hey! Wait a minute…” and then get really ticked at what they would perceive as an end run — we know this because, of course, I’m not the first to bring it up. But as for the Constitutional question — well, I’d love to see it tried in court, if only as an intellectual exercise.

Anyway, do you consider my position on that to be “majority?”

30 thoughts on “From Ibsen to my Modest Proposal on guns

  1. jfx

    I once had a strange conversation with a friend whose father kept an AK-47 in the house. This man was an avid hunter, and he owned quite a few rifles and shotguns. But he needed this AK-47 purely for “self defense”, according to my friend. I asked my friend if he thought it would be okay for a person to own a rocket launcher, or a tank. No, that would be ridiculous, he said. I guess we found the line. Assault rifles are OK. But rocket launchers are over the line. I know people who own grenades. You just never know when you’re gonna have to frag a burglar.

    It’s so easy to stretch the 2nd Amendment into a grotesque pretzel. Why can’t I own a suitcase nuke? I should be able to drive through the Vista with a suitcase nuke in my trunk. Without a permit. Why? Liberty! 2nd Amendment! Don’t Tread On Me!

    I’m not sure you can have a rational debate with people who abuse original constitutional intent for the sake of gratifying a weapons fetish. Prohibition of ammo, or high-capacity magazines, will only perpetuate an intense black market and a proliferation of Ruby-Ridgers. There are certain things that give off such intense visceral gratification that chaps of certain affinities and predispositions gotta have ’em: drugs, whores, guns…iPhones…

    Won’t have to worry about quaint little AKs for too much longer, though. Energy weapons are right around the corner. Get ready for the National Railgun Association.

  2. Herb B

    Sounds like a suggestion about as effective as prohibition. A lot of guys, including in my own family, load their own ammo. So how do you prohibit casings, powder, etc.?

    I’m around too many Europeans and friends that have lost loved ones with weapons (like a friend’s son who was shot in the back of the head just because he was standing in the wrong place at the time) to share my relatives’ enthusiasm.

    I can only long for the day when guns will be beaten into tractors, and rocketlaunchers into hedgeclippers (Isaiah 2:4, with a few liberties taken in the translation).

  3. Nick Nielsen

    My question is (and has been), if law-abiding citizens should have free access to their arms of choice, how do you determine who is a law-abiding citizen at the point of sale?

    The only answer I ever get is that the right to self-defense is an intrinsic right not subject to discussion. After over 30 years since the first time I heard it, I still don’t understand what it has to do with firearms.

  4. bud

    The second ammendment is the only one that makes specific use of the word – “regulated” as in “well regulated militia”. So why is it so difficult to pass laws that regulate guns? Seems pretty unambiguous to me.

  5. bud

    I had a discussion once with a collegue at work about guns and drugs. He was very adament that marijuana was very dangerous but that guns were vital to protect one’s home. I asked him what would cause him more anxiety if he knew something about his next door neighbor: (1) if the neighbor was growing marijuana in his basement or (2) if the neighbor had a large stash of assault rifles. Without hesitation he said he doesn’t worry the least about guns. But he would be aghast at the notion of his neighbor growing pot.

    We never discussed these issues again. If you can’t see instantly that a large quantity of guns represents a serious threat and that pot is pretty harmless then it’s best not to bother trying to convince you of that obvious fact. Simply put the gun people are just not going to recognize any dangers inherent with guns.

  6. Scout

    They would just argue that the ammo is intrinsically part of the gun and thus, also covered by the 2nd amendment, I suspect.

    The idea that we need more people carrying guns is about the most ridiculous thing I have heard in a long time.

  7. Juan Caruso

    Shall we dismiss from our open discussion volumes of solid evidence supporting higher violent crime rates in areas with strict anti-gun laws?

    Shall we also pretend there is no connection between our matured “Lawyer-Political Complex” in the U.S. and the perpetuation of laws that encourage rather than discourage recidivism?

    Finally, if we choose any urban area in which we actually have a job and/or residency, and we ask each lawyer with whom we are personally acquainted whether they
    possess a handgun, we may be very surprised by many discouraging our possession. When a law-abiding citizen kills a felon engaged in a single violent act, it not only prevents discourages crime, it eliminates work for at least three lawyers (judge, prosecutor, defendant’s attorney).

  8. NC Marksman

    So what are your feelings on the federal government sponsored Civilian Marksmanship Program(CMP) ?

    I’ve purchased items for years which include everything from military rifles to .30-06 armor piercing ammunition which will penetrate 1″ plate steel.

  9. Brad

    NC Marksman, the stated aim of the groups sounds fine to me: “a national organization dedicated to training and educating U. S. citizens in responsible uses of firearms and airguns through gun safety training, marksmanship training and competitions…”

    I don’t see what that has to do with the purchases you mention…

    And Juan, I’m not seeing what your observation has to do with the subject at hand. Sounds like you’re arguing against conventional, established gun control efforts. My premise is that such efforts are pretty futile…

    And what IS your beef with lawyers? I don’t get it. Seems really, really deep-seated. Most of us make lawyer jokes, but you never seem to be kidding, at all.

  10. NC Marksman

    What the purchases has to do with my comment is that the CMP does what you state, but also sells weapons, ammunition and accessories to civilians. So I’m assuming that you don’t have a problem with a government organization supplying US citizens with guns and ammunition. I’m just trying to find where you draw the line. You seem to have problems with gun stores and gun shows supplying weapons to citizens, but are fine with a government sponsored program doing exactly that and supplying certain types of ammunition that can not be purchased through retail vendors.

    I’m just upset that I missed out on the rare find of .30-06 API (Armor Piercing Incenderary). The prices of those cans went through the roof on the open market.

  11. Juan Caruso

    “Ban the sale and manufacture of ammunition. I don’t see anything in the Constitution about THAT.”

    Please, Brad, considering your statement (above), how is anyone to come to a single conclusion that the underlying premise of the “subject at hand” is merely “conventional, established gun control efforts are pretty futile..?”

    Point Two (yours): “And what IS your beef with lawyers? I don’t get it.”

    Have you ever googled “Lawyer-Political Complex”? My guess is that you have not.

  12. Brad Warthen

    NC, you say, “So I’m assuming that you don’t have a problem with a government organization supplying US citizens with guns and ammunition.”

    You’re assuming that on the basis of WHAT, exactly?

    And where does THIS come from? “You seem to have problems with gun stores and gun shows supplying weapons to citizens, but are fine with a government sponsored program doing exactly that and supplying certain types of ammunition that can not be purchased through retail vendors.”

    Say what? Who said anything about sales of guns by gun stores or gun shows selling weapons, or with a government-sponsored program doing the same? Not I. I haven’t thought about such things, much less expressed opinions on them.

    By the way, since you bring up the subject — are you saying this CMP is a “government-sponsored program”? Perhaps it is, but I didn’t run across that in a quick glance at the website you linked to. It looked to me to be a “federally chartered 501 (c) (3),” which to me suggests private non-profit. Although I’m not one of those lawyers Juan dislikes; nor have I read everything on the site, so I can’t say for sure.

  13. NC Marksman

    It’s implied in your comments about guns and ammunition in the hands of US citizens. Who supplies the rifles for CMP? The military. Who supplies the ammunition? The military. Who supplies the bayonets, magazines, stocks, barrels, and receivers? The military. How many other gun stores does the military supply?

    You are the one talking about getting weapons and ammunition out of the hands of citizens. How do you do that without first closing down legally operated retailers?

    It’s not difficult to see that you’re strongly anti-gun. I’m pro-gun, so I say you sit and stew about gun sales in America and I’ll go order another 1000 rounds of .45 ACP.

  14. Brad

    Could anyone point out to me where I was “talking about getting weapons… out of the hands…” of anyone. In fact, I wasn’t speaking about weapons at all, just ammo.

    And even then, I said nothing about taking anything out of anyone’s hands. I’m just proposing not to allow the sale of any more of it — ammo, that is.

    And to go back to Herb’s point, suggesting that my idea would not be effective, because, as he said, “A lot of guys, including in my own family, load their own ammo.”

    Absolutely. I realize that. Lots of sportsmen and people who are into competition shooting do that. The thing is, though, that your average person who commits violence with a gun does not. Most gun violence is impulsive, spur-of-the-moment. My idea is to make ammunition a lot less convenient. As Seth Myers pointed out with humor recently, using a firearm back in the days when the 2nd Amendment was written was pretty inconvenient. An expert with a rifle could take a couple of minutes between shots, reloading.

    What I’m doing is proposing to make it inconvenient in another way. This is not to make it impossible to use firearms. I’m just proposing to make it a little less convenient. I’m proposing to make a person have to plan ahead to use a gun. Since most gun violence is not planned ahead, it should reduce the violence.

  15. Brad

    As to the other part of Herb’s comment, asking whether I propose to “prohibit casings, powder, etc.?”

    Well, I don’t know. I haven’t thought through whether that would be necessary. That would certainly make my proposal more effective, but I don’t know that it’s necessary to cut down significantly on gun violence.

    And that’s the way I look at this. I’m not interested in the emotions or ideology of people who are “pro-gun” or “anti-gun.” I’m just looking at a problem and trying to figure out what would work in terms of fixing it.

  16. NC Marksman

    So you are saying that eliminating ammunition would “fix” crimes committed with guns???

    I propose that we eliminate the private ownership of vehicles, that’s my solution to the problems of carjacking.

  17. jfx

    NC Marksman said CMP is a “government organization”. This used to be true:

    “The CMP was created by the U.S. Congress as part of the 1903 War Department Appropriations Act. The original purpose was to provide civilians an opportunity to learn and practice marksmanship skills so they would be skilled marksmen if later called on to serve in the U.S. military. Over the years the emphasis of the program shifted to focus on youth development through marksmanship. From 1916 until 1996 the CMP was administered by the U.S. Army. Title XVI of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 1996 (Public Law 104-106, 10 February 1996) created the Corporation for the Promotion of Rifle Practice & Firearms Safety (CPRPFS) to take over administration and promotion of the CMP. The CPRPFS is a tax-exempt non-profit 501(c)(3) corporation that has been Federally chartered by the U.S. Congress, but is not an agency of the U.S. Government (Title 36, United States Code, Section 40701 et seq). Apart from a donation of surplus .22 and .30 caliber rifles in the Army’s inventory to the CMP, the CMP receives no Federal funding.”

    Notice that last part about the donated rifles. Text was pulled from here:

    Although this organization sells other items, I interpret the statement above to mean the .22 and .30 cal rifles are the only things being donated directly to CMP from the US government…which would be in keeping with the spirit of the stated mission of the CMP, youth-oriented safety and marksmanship training.

    It is precisely because they are no longer a “government organization” that they can also do side business selling novelty gear like armor-piercing incendiary rounds to weapons fetishists. Merchant of death stuff. Take note of the “Ammo” page:

    The ammunition is of mixed manufacture, dubious origin, and questionable condition:

    “WARNING -Surplus Ammunition All ammunition is subject to deterioration over time. Customers should expect that 5% to 15% of the cartridges in any can may exhibit some stages of discoloration or corrosion or other abnormalities. As with any surplus ammunition, each and every round should be carefully checked before use. Deformed or otherwise suspect rounds should not be fired. These cartridges are aged surplus military ammunition. This ammunition is NOT newly-manufactured, and is sold STRICTLY IN “AS IS” CONDITION, with no warranty expressed or implied.”

    Note the .30-06 at the top:

    Greek .30-06 ammunition HXP (Pyrkal) 192 rds, in enbloc clips and bandoleers, in .30 cal ammo can.

    So, if anybody’s been wondering where to get some old, corroded and possibly deformed or otherwise suspect Greek ammo that might possibly damage your weapon and proximal body parts, relax. Your search has ended.

  18. Doug Ross

    Guns are implements used to perform an action. Some of those actions are violent and criminal, others are not.

    Banning the manufacture and sale of ammunition would be the 21st century equivalent of Prohibition. A whole lot of people would get rich supplying illegal ammo to people with bad intentions.

    I’ve never owned a gun or shot anything more powerful than a pellet gun. But I don’t want in any way to prevent law abiding people from owning them.

    We need harsher penalties for criminal use of weapons. 20 years of solitary confinement for using a gun in a crime would be a good start. Spend the money punishing lawbreakers instead of spending money trying to enforce the unenforceable.

  19. Brad

    NC, a better analogy to what I’m saying would not be “ban automobiles.” It would be, “ban gasoline.” Fine with me. I’m tired of having to buy the stuff. And of course, I love public transportation.

    jfx, that’s the beauty (or the horror, depending on your point of view) of the AK-47. It doesn’t GET corroded or stop working. That Mikhail Kalashnikov knew what he was doing. One of the geniuses of the 20th century. Great story — ordinary soldier, veteran of the Great Patriotic War, who knows the cost of weapons letting you down when you need them, decides to develop a weapon that always works, and he DOES it.

  20. NC Shooter

    jfx – That corroded round in the picture is an example of what you “may” find. In the 10s of thousands of rounds I’ve purchased and shot through CMP, I’ve maybe found 2-3 rounds that were unusable or corroded. Most of the stuff I shoot comes in sealed spam cans and look as new as the day they were manufactured. Occasionally a sealed can loses it’s seal and there may be corrosion, but CMP will do a full replacement if that is the case. The majority of rounds I’ve shot were produced in the 1950’s – early 1970’s with no damage to the rifles.

    The impression I received here when I first read the comments was that those here would prefer the military destroy these rifles rather than donate them to be sold and entered into the civilian world.

    The rifles sold and the ammunition sold is all military surplus. As an 8 year member of the Garand Collectors Assn., I believe I know a little more about CMP than someone who spent a total of 2 minutes on their website. Those here looking for .30-06 ammunition more than likely already know about CMP, they’ve sold millions of surplus rounds to the public.

  21. NC Shooter

    Brad – the AK is one rifle that I’ve never owned, but it’s on my short list to buy in the future. It’s set the standard for all future military rifles. I know many people who are selling off their AR-15’s in favor of the AK-47. I just haven’t gotten there yet… I prefer 800-1000 yard shots to 50 yard shots.

  22. Jesse S.

    Just my two cents.

    First off, cheap ammo really isn’t the problem. Have you tried to buy ammo in the last few years? There is never really any on the shelf. We have a war going on and supplies are still diverted to our war effort (at least the last time I checked, that was probably 6 months ago). It may be cheap, but plinking is more of a 15 minute sport than a two hour event.

    If gun violence is your cause, the solution is the same as it was in the late 80s/early 90s, make it difficult to purchase cheap guns. We did a good job of that with Saturday Night Specials, but the problem is that we never really adjusted for inflation and what was expensive back in 89 is now, like what? The price of 3 new video games or a single refurbished auto part or a third of your mortgage payment/rent?

    I guess my real point is that when I walk into a pawn shop looking for a used belt sander and I see some guy staggering around high on something, the option of a $200 handgun sounds like a very, very bad idea.

  23. jfx

    NC Shooter/Marksman:

    I’m not doubting your experience and authenticity one bit. I’m genuinely curious…obviously everything CMP offers is “military” surplus…but is it “military” as in “USA” military, or is it “military” as in “militaries of the world”. Obviously the .22 and .30 cal rifles are from our boys, but how is the Pyrkal or Aguila ammo provisioned? Is this surplus from trans-governmental weapons swaps way back in the days of yore? Or recent wholesale/outlet acquisitions by CMP outside of governmental channels?

  24. NC Shooter

    It’s US military, but some has been loaned to and returned from foreign militaries. Just about all “US military” owned rifles were sold by CMP decades ago. The majority of rifles now have come from Greece and Denmark. Supposedly Korea is sitting on a huge (as in hundreds of thousands) of M1 Garand rifles, but they want us to buy back the rifles we “loaned” them. Rumors are all over the place on those rifles.

    The .30-06 ammunition is all military surplus. The .22LR and .30 carbine is contracted through CMP from a vendor. I doubt this will happen with the .30-06, because CMP does from time-to-time sell out of available ammunition.

    At times they have regular ball ammunition, at times they have AP, and the one time they actually had API which sold out in a matter of a couple hours. CMP isn’t in the business of making a profit and sells ammunition at prices where they can move inventory as fast as possible. Several who were lucky enough to get API, turned a $150 investment into a $900 – $1000 sale.

  25. Mark Stewart


    You should read the book “The Gun” about the history of the AK-47. It’s interesting, in a grim way. The basic premise is that these things will be killing people long after we’re six feet under.

    Guns manufacturing is something that I wish GM had taken over in the 1950’s when conglomerations became the corporate rage – it would have been great to see someone under-engineer a firearm so that it came to have a useful life of seven or eight years max.

    But everyone’s really off topic; the guns that do the most “harm” to society are the handguns. No militia type war fighting role to speak of, and yet tens of thousands of (mostly) innocent victims later we still don’t see that these weapons kill our friends, family and ourselves out of all proportion to the number used to defend people from attack.

  26. NC Shooter

    General Motors made thousands of rifles, they made the Inland M1 carbines. They last a lot longer than 7-8 years, mine still shoots fine and is 60 years old.

  27. Herb B

    And that’s the way I look at this. I’m not interested in the emotions or ideology of people who are “pro-gun” or “anti-gun.” I’m just looking at a problem and trying to figure out what would work in terms of fixing it.

    Well, maybe, but the idea looks like it has about as much chance of becoming part of history as a science fiction novel. In all seriousness, who is going to tackle this issue in today’s political climate?

    Unless, of course, things get so bad that a strong man has to come along and suspend the constitution and declare martial law. Which has sort of happened before in history, I’ll grant.

  28. Jim

    What you all fail to realize is that the 2nd amendment is also for the protection of the people from a Government gone bad. Hugo Chavez would be a great example. A man is elected president them becomes dictator against the will of the people. The poor unarmed people have no chance against him and his army. If arms were restricted in Egypt the uprising would look like the upraising in Iran where the people are unarmed by law and the government can do what it likes without fear of the people. China is another example Mao took arms away from the people. Also going back in history Hilter came to power with just over 30% of the people supporting him. He took the guns from everyone else. Rocks against guns does not work. Sure you say it could not happen here in America but the founders knew better and that is why there is a 2nd amendment not for hunters or collectors but for the sake of the people.

  29. Mark Stewart


    And yet . . . I don’t have aircraft carrier battle groups, or fighter/bomber aircraft, or cruise missles, or field artillery, or attack helicopters, or electronic countermeasures, or satellite intel, or armored vehicles, or heavy machine guns, or grenades, or, well, you get it.

    This argument was even a non-starter in 1787; although it was possible at the time for “the people” to similarly arm themselves – though never to the degree that a national army could have.

    You’ve watched too many Red Dawn reruns, I think. If you were referring to Libya, and not Egypt, the situation still holds. “The people” don’t need more AK-47 knock-offs, they need aircraft, anti-arcraft missles, attack helos, satellite intel, smart bombs, secure communications nets, etc, etc, etc.

    The Constitution meant for there to be State militias (National Guard units) – not individuals equally armed against the federal army.

    Methinks we have our own radical medrasa problem with regard to the theology of the Second Amendment.


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