Following the mass murders perpetrated with firearms most recently in Connecticut and Oregon … and earlier in Colorado, Arizona, Virginia, Utah, and elsewhere, some at schools, some at shopping malls, some in theaters and at political rallies … we get an outpouring of pleas, arguments, and rants for more gun control. And then the counter-arguments and opposing rants from the Second Amendment and reasoning along the lines of “when swords are outlawed, only outlaws will carry swords.”1
Being a rather logical and obvious person with an inclination toward radical thinking,2 I find all this distressing. I dislike half-measures. I despise symbolic actions. If you are going to Canterbury, then go to Canterbury—or not. Don’t edge down the road toward Greenwich and Eltham, pretending you only want to go there and no further. And don’t take us all to Canterbury by half-measures, death by a cut here and a slice there, as if the ultimate stopping point—death—were not your intention all along. If you mean to remove guns from our society, then say so and plan effectively.
If you want to stop mass killings by crazed, suicidal shooters—and you think it’s preferable to remove readily available guns from society rather than to promote better identification and treatment of crazed, suicidal people—then let’s get serious about this. One more background check, one more registration form to complete, one more prohibition on a certain style or feature or type of firearm will not accomplish the purpose. Trying to legislate by focusing on the particular weapon used by the last mentally unstable person who reached out for the weapon at hand is simply ludicrous. And trying to prepare the American people for a complete gun ban by advocating limits on magazine capacity or additional background disclosures is like trying to go to Canterbury by making day trips to Greenwich.
This country is saturated with guns. The numbers quoted in recent news stories, blog postings, and rants are so diverse that one is left questioning whether anyone knows or they’re all just guessing. A quick stroll around Google on the question “Number of guns in the U.S.?” comes up with dozens of ways to parse the data: number of firearms applications, percentage of gun owners, average number of guns per so many people, number of guns confiscated at airports3—but no solid, believable numbers. So pick a number. Two hundred million guns? Two guns for every three people?
The actual number doesn’t matter. It’s a red herring. No one is keeping count. And the solution is not going to be rounding up the guns by sending out letters to gun owners, collecting the hardware, and matching serial numbers to registrations. At this point in our history and relationship with firearms, the only solution is a total gun ban and draconian measures to prevent their future ownership and use. Here are the required dimensions to make such a ban effective.
1. Repeal the Second Amendment. Hold a constitutional convention and make disarmament a priority. The concept of a civilian militia is meaningless in the nuclear age. The concept of a person’s right to own and carry military-style arms is dispensable in a society where hunting is a little-practiced and dubious pastime unnecessary to the supply of meat on the table,4 and technology has rendered firearms of every type much more lethal than the flintlock pistols and muskets of the 18th century. If these 27 words5 are all that keep alive antique notions of armed cowboys riding the plains and dealing out frontier justice, then let’s abolish them.
But what about natural rights? What about personal freedom? You have the natural right and personal freedom to live an orderly, nonviolent life. You do not have the right to defend yourself with violence because society, in the person of the state, reserves to itself the sole right to defend its citizens, as it reserves the sole right to dispense justice and deliver punishment. By disarming the populace, the state creates the greatest safety and opportunity for all to live orderly, nonviolent lives.
Ah, but what about that phrase “security of a free state”? Doesn’t that suggest the civilian populace needs arms to protect against an overweening government? Isn’t civilian disarmament the first step in every tyranny, from the Soviets to the Nazis and the British National Health Service? Well, yes—except that, whatever weaponry the man in the street can afford and acquire, the government can afford better (courtesy of your taxpayer dollars) and will have an incentive to acquire. In an arms race with Caesar, the average plebian is always going to be outmatched and outgunned. But the notion of defense against tyranny leads to my second point.
2. Disarm the country. No, I mean really. Don’t just take firearms away from law-abiding citizens. Force criminals of all stripes to surrender their weapons. And disarm the government, too, on the grounds that once the people are disarmed, public servants do not need to be heavily armed, either.
Disarming law-abiding citizens is simply a matter of calling in those registered guns. And that will be totally ineffective. Instead, offer an amnesty period of 90 or 120 days during which anyone can turn in any gun to be melted for scrap on the spot. No questions asked. No recording of serial numbers to link the weapon to previous crimes. No suspicion or detention. Just “Thank you, sir. Thank you, ma’am. And cook it, Joe!”
As part of the amnesty period, pass and enforce stringent laws against gun ownership. Discovery of a gun among personal effects or on private or institutional property is an automatic felony leading to automatic confiscation and destruction of the weapon, plus loss of liberty and loss of the property involved. Keep a gun in your car—the car will be impounded and sold. Keep a gun in your home—the house will be acquired by the state under court order and auctioned off. Keep a gun at a business, school, or other public place—and that property will be closed until it can be reorganized and put under new management. Have a gun in your immediate possession, and you go under detention for ten years. We don’t have to put you up in a nice jail or prison, either. You will wear an ankle bracelet, your movements will be tracked within a court-defined perimeter, you will lose all civil rights, and your life will become subject to any number of surprise searches and inspections. In short, gun owners automatically become criminals subject to state supervision as well as effective non-citizens. These rules will not be subject to negotiation, plea bargaining, mitigating circumstances, or other weaselly technicalities. Touch a gun, lose your rights.
That’s just for owning a gun. Use a gun to threaten or harm another person or institution, and you face comparatively harsher punishment. Since we’re trending away from the death penalty in this country, let’s not talk about automatic, summary executions. But certainly the loss of property and freedom associated with gun ownership might be extended to lifetime status. We might also enact laws that provide for exile—if another, more violence-tolerant country will have you.
In the discussion of disarmament, many law-abiding citizens will be made nervous by the requirement that they must surrender their defenses while criminals may do as they like until caught. Law abiding citizens will also feel naked while every public servant—every off-duty policeman, retired policeman, FBI analyst, TSA agent, prison guard, unlicensed security guard, “private investigator,” “security consultant,” and anyone else who can claim justification for carrying a weapon—is allowed to go armed. But under this disarmament plan, no one gets to own or carry a gun. It works for the British, whose bobbies are armed only with moral authority and a whistle.
For those who worry about tyranny and “a free society,” the amnesty and sanctions must extend to public servants in all branches of government. In a society where the most lethal weapon available is a knife or bludgeon, or perhaps a bow and arrow, the police, the FBI, the Secret Service, the Coast Guard, and anyone else operating domestically should be able to exercise their moral authority with just batons, tasers, and judo holds, along with modern surveillance and forensic techniques for observing, predicting, and punishing crimes. Rapid-fire killing weapons should be totally unnecessary.
Soldiers, aviators, marines, and others on active duty overseas will need to be armed to meet the threat offered by their designated enemies. They may train with firearms within our borders under the same conditions that they currently train with bazookas, Stinger missiles, and nuclear bombs: the weapons or their simulation may be used on the range and in practice; otherwise they are kept under lock and key with strict inventory control until the combat unit departs the United States on foreign deployment. If we can keep plutonium and hospital supplies of pharmaceutical-grade opiates off the street, we can seal army bases against proliferation of firearms and ammunition.
3. Disarm the culture. Removing weapons is a first step, but it must also be supported by removing the desire for and glorification of weapons and the violence they support. We’ve already gone a long way in this country to make smoking socially unacceptable by not only limiting places were smokers may practice their vice but by also curtailing its glorification in movies and television.
Screenplays, teleplays, books, video games, and magazines will all need a rating system. No, wait—that would just tell you where the glorification and titillation of gun violence is available. As with smoking, we need eradication programs, education on the dangers and potential damage derived from firearms and other forms of violence, and censorship of the media to prevent gun violence from being depicted in any way, positively or even negatively.
Moreover, remaking society’s attitude toward guns means controlling and eliminating the simulation of guns as well. Not just real firearms, which rely on projectiles propelled at certain high velocities under the impulse of explosive gases derived from chemical reactions, regardless of caliber or mechanism of operation. The ban, confiscation, and penalties must be extended to simulated guns like toy guns, cap guns, pellet guns, BB guns, paintball guns, zip guns, rail guns, and anything else that pushes out a bulletlike projectile—or pretends to—regardless of speed, lethality, or intended use.6
It can be done. We can make the fascination with guns and violence socially unacceptable. We can make the ownership and use of guns, along with threats and displays of violence, subject to crushing legal sanctions. We can make the meanest streets as polite and carefully orchestrated as a Victorian drawing room. Of course, then we’ll also have to stop paving our streets with bricks and decorating our gardens with nice, round river rocks.
Because the same conundrum will still apply: when rocks are outlawed, only outlaws—and mentally unstable people—will throw rocks.
1. Truth in advertising: I own several pistols, favoring the .45 semiautomatic for its power and compactness. My mother was a sharpshooter and member of her school rifle team. My grandfather was a gun collector as well as the county judge. When I was in high school in central Pennsylvania, the first day of deer season saw every boy but me, and more than half the girls, go out for their buck, using high-powered rifles similar to the military M1 Garand. I don’t hunt and only shoot at the range because I believe familiarity with serious weapons is everyone’s responsibility as part of preparing for life in a violent and uncertain world. I also routinely practice karate, which I learned at the university, and that practice includes the quarter-staff and short swords as preparation for improvising non-edged weapons. I’ve also taken fencing lessons to have familiarity with swords, and judo and aikido lessons to understand other styles of self-defense. I study military strategy and tactics. All of this gives depth to my books and writing, among other things. However, if the government decided tomorrow to confiscate my handguns, it would not diminish me in the slightest. The prepared mind of the warrior is paramount; the choice of weapon is secondary.
2. I mean “radical” in the nicest possible way, and shorn—with disdain—of any association with the covert agendas of progressivism, socialism, the Communist Party, or 1960s campus politics. I use the word in the meaning derived from its Latin root, “radix,” the source of our word “radish,” and itself meaning—curiously enough—“root.” You examine its roots to know a thing. And to kill a weed, you must pull it up by its root. To get to the root of a thing is to pierce its plantlike heart. In that sense, I am a radical.
3. I guess this statistic falls under the category of “Oops! Forgot I had that one on me!”
4. If people really, really want to kill live animals for fun, food, and pest control, let them use weapons requiring some skill and stealth: bow and arrow, atlatl, knife, bare teeth.
5. “A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.” That’s it. That’s all it says.
6. For now, we’ll except bows and arrows, crossbows, slingshots, and throwing knives, as they require some personal skill and are not susceptible to rapid-fire use. However, some countries—most notably Britain—and certain jurisdictions like New York City have extended their gun bans to all weapons and their use, similar to the Transportation Security Administration’s banning of nail files and screw drivers as potential weapons. I say, let’s first get the firearms off the streets and out of the culture, then we’ll see what other weapons need to be controlled. The trouble with a total weapons ban is that certain common tools are too easily wielded as weapons. The kitchen knife is an essential tool—try cutting meat with a potato peeler. And construction would virtually cease without the hammer, nail gun, circular saw, and other handy weapons.