The Unbearable Lightness Of Triggers

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A murder of crowds

Antiquated animal group-names make great puns that can rescue a book or even a movie from oblivion. The 1999 ‘a murder of crows’ being the most recognisable example. Other good detective-story alternatives could have been ‘a cowardice of dogs’, ‘a shrewdness of apes’ or ‘a business of flies’. This post is not about any of that. It is about how seemingly our respect for the past, as framed by the 2nd amendment of the U.S. constitution has instigated a continuous case of murder. A murder of crowds. I want to examine whether that amendment is read with actual realisation of what the past contained and what the people who wrote it could possibly have imagined its consequences would be.

Image of a bump-stock, capable of modifying semi-auto rifles to full auto.
Image of a bump-stock, capable of modifying semi-auto rifles to full auto

I like guns. This is perhaps not very liberal of me. I like them because they seem the perfect weapon-type for nerds like myself. The more intelligent you use a gun the better your result. The same can’t be said about a long-sword or a baseball-bat. As a child at the annual fair it was the air-bucks shooting-range that attracted me more than any other activity and I mastered it long before I could read or write. For my reward, with my ‘points’ I always, always chose a new plastic toy-gun which mom refused to buy for me. Year later, with my first (standing!) shot using an Olympic air-rifle I hit a bulls-eye at a distance from where I could only deduce, not see, where the bulls-eye had to be.
When it comes to guns I am not very liberal I’m afraid. I get unreasonably annoyed when cop-shows iterate the same old trope of the good guy hesitating about ‘taking the shot’ because the bad-guy, at point-blank range, has a hostage semi in front of him. It is a setting void of any moral-, legal- or technical impediment to a gunshot-solution and the pretended hesitation doesn’t rime with the reality beneath ‘Black-lives-matter’. “Shoot the bastard, you idiot, he’s right there!!”
Guns fill me with a sense of power and I pride in the illusion that I might be very skilled at them, even though technically I never held a firearm in my life. Which is why I’ve always wanted a serious fire-weapon, a semi-automatic perhaps, with a scope. But I can’t, not legally, because I’m a European not an American, who have the 2nd amendment. I’m sure many of you now pity me: if Europe is ever invaded by the Russians that gun would have given me a serious edge against the enemy, right? Maybe, maybe not.

Self defence

I generally think guns can be owned relatively safely. Provided they are owned locked away, while dismantled and separately from the ammunition. Which is how Swiss discharged service-men keep their state-issued rifle. You should not keep loaded magazines or clips (it is bad for them and it isn’t safe for you or your children). You don’t own a gun ‘for protection’ for the simple reason that owning an assembled weapon is more dangerous than not owning a gun at all. Any situation where you don’t have enough time to assemble a weapon is a situation where you likely are not organised enough to benefit from a gun and you should look to other means of escape, help or defence.
In close quarters, where city-inhabitants (or more than half the world-population) live, many common-objects are actually better suited for self-defence than a gun. Fluids can blind an assailant to allow your escape. A plastic bottle of coke, hold by the top and ‘hammer-thrown’ from point-blank-range square in the face of someone has a good chance of knocking them unconscious, or at a minimum slowing them down significantly. If you use that bottle as a fist-hammer, repeatedly ramming it down on skull, clavicle, carotid artery and nose-bone you may even kill someone. Yet, for all their lethality, neither coffee-mug nor coke-bottle has ever been involved in accidental suicides or friendly-fire incidents. Nor is bringing a bottle of coke to a confrontation a clear sign of intend-to-kill like loading and bringing a gun is. Even speaking offensively, using a knife is a better choice over a gun for all distances between 2 and 6 meters. Although knifes share many of the Intent and Concealment issues that guns ‘suffer’ from. I own several knifes but I rarely carry them on me. There is just no point.
If you add an element of surprise you may assume that an assailant with a knife 20 yards away has a good chance of killing you before you can protect yourself with a gun. You just simply can’t carry guns in your hand like you can do with coke bottles. Therefore, in all self-defence situations are speed, distance, physically-blocking cover and a phone to be preferred over guns and knives.

Conversely, when society breaks down or you find yourselves in a war-zone, owning a gun is a lot better than owning a coke-bottle. It is also very hard to beat a peckish grizzly-bear to death with a fist-hammer. So while, within society, guns are not suitable self-defence tools, it would seem that there are ample valid use-cases for guns complementary to their occasionally cathartic application at a gun-range or in the wild.
I strongly believe that in theory a gun can be relatively safely integrated into your life as long as it’s use is part of a strategic decision not a tactical one. Just like you don’t put your finger inside the trigger-guard unless you’ve already decided to shoot something; similarly you don’t assemble or transport a fire-weapon without knowing exactly when you are going to lock, load, unlock, fire, lock, unload, clean and disassemble it again. Guns should be treated as though you were applying finger-paint, but where, instead of unintended stains, you risked unintended fatalities, starting with your own.

But while I may convince you that there are valid use-cases for using and safe ways of storing guns for you, I can’t make the same case for other people. Even worse, one of those other people is you. You, when you were younger, or after you had been dumped or that time when you had just lost your job or had listened to Eminem. “They say music can alter moods and talk to you, but can it load gun up for you and cock it too? For if it can, [then] the next time you assault a dude just tell the judge it was my fault and I’ll get sued.” To put an even finer point to it, because you might understand that I don’t necessarily trust you, since I don’t even know you; but one of those ‘other people’ is also me! You see, I used to be something of a nerd as well. I used to be picked on a school and made fun off with the boy-scouts. Me too I feared what life would offer me as a teenager and I for one would have welcomed any opportunity to instantly gain adult-like respect in a blazing feat of heroism or perhaps a misconstrued act of grievous violence. In short, I’ve been angry and afraid to a degree that I didn’t necessarily know or cared what the next day would bring, if anything. So yes, with slightly different cards dealt, among-which free access to fire-weapons and ammunition, I also – I might have been a mass-shooter; a murderer of crowds, and I bet in slightly altered circumstances: so might you!

A historical experiment

The Second amendment of the US constitution dates from well before U.S. citizens considered the United States “a country”. Considering how much this very notion would have appalled them compared to today, this should at least indicate how far away, both in time as culture, this early US history is. It dates from when the U.S. constitution was a unique experiment to build a union into which balance of power was codified for the duration. Assuring that not one person could come to rule it as a King but without withholding it the benefits of unified actions against non-members both in a commercial and a military context. In that sense the second amendment has to be seen in conjunction with the first, allowing for free expression, as well as section 4 of the 25th which allows for the removal of a president which is deemed unfit for office by both the vice-president and a majority of the cabinet. Together with these laws the 2nd amendment must be seen as a way to preserve a federation of states that, at the time, was the only(!) state-structure not based on a hereditary monarchy. Doing its best not to reinvent autocratic rule in some other way.

The history of the amendments to the constitution, as necessity to appease anti-federalist forces during the ratification process, supports this view. Anti-Federalists argued that a Bill of Rights should be added while federalists countered that these would make certain interpretations harder. Given their history it is undoubtedly understandable, but we should still think it extremely remarkable, that the architects of the United States desired to construct the union with a mechanism so that a populous rebellion could overtake its lawful rulers! Providing it could form a cause that convinced enough of them to do so. It seems they had the (in hind sight correct) notion that perhaps the system they were designing for democracy could contain systemic problems and required a type of last-ditch back-stop before returning to the same autocratic rule they had just freed themselves of. This is an idea so far removed from our current understanding of democracy that it is positively shocking and could today serve as the anti-definition of democracy. Today, perhaps, but back then, was it really? One man, One Vote! One man, One musket! Obviously this was an attempt to guarantee the former colonists the very means with which they had gained their independence and preserve the non-totalitarian state-structure of which they were the only existing example. This can be gleaned from the interpretation of judge Thomas M. Cooley, an 19th C. authority on constitutional law, arguing that the right was not a collective one:

“It might be supposed from the phraseology of this provision that the right to keep and bear arms was only guaranteed to the militia; but this would be an interpretation not warranted by the intent. The militia, as has been elsewhere explained, consists of those persons who, under the law, are liable to the performance of military duty, and are officered and enrolled for service when called upon. But the law may make provision for the enrolment of all who are fit to perform military duty, or of a small number only, or it may wholly omit to make any provision at all; and if the right were limited to those enrolled, the purpose of this guaranty might be defeated altogether by the action or neglect to act of the government it was meant to hold in check.(underlining is mine).

It is clear that armed citizens, whether they were part of a militia or not, were the violent means by which the authoritarian state had to be prevented. Counter to what most leftish liberals say I tend to agree with the right-wing NRA view and recon that the right to bear arms was not intended by the founding fathers to work on a collective level alone (but it can be interpreted that way, which is absolutely the prerogative of the present citizens to do so, I believe). Given the context I am convinced the founding fathers imagined every man (literally ‘Man’, excluding ‘Woman’, so there’s that) to own a firearm.

So here is the crux of the argument I am making against guns:

  • Weapon-technology is the single most revolutionised-over-time aspect regulated in the constitution. Technological changes have affected it in ways that they did not with respect to your freedom-of-religion, protection-against-unlawful-seizures or your right not to self-incriminate. Therefore it is more likely to require revision. Slavishly following the manifestly dated opinions of people, who couldn’t possibly have imagined the consequences of their decisions on this aspect, is not a proper way to build a society.
  • The 21st amendment proves that even the constitutional amendments are subject to societies changes over time.
  • Blindly following the intentions of the founding fathers while glaringly ignoring them in other departments can only be labelled as hypocrisy.
  • We have already restricted weapon-possession to a degree that makes it impotent to fulfil the apparent original intentions of the amendment: to be able to depose the government in case it becomes high-jacked by a mob of rich businessmen with no respect for the law or democracy. The People are denied access to tanks, drones and cobra-helicopters so the only remaining area of effectiveness of their guns is actually against other citizens; against whom they have become exponentially effective.
  • The original intentions of the founding fathers are much better fulfilled with computers, IT-knowledge and proper schooling yet TSA agents confiscating laptops and phones is not considered unconstitutional, nor is the absence of neutral and qualitative schooling. According to google the US ranks 17th in educational performance. To me that is a violation of the 2nd amendment. If the intention of the second amendment is to assure that the power of government is not separated from the will of the people, then the human-brain should be considered as their primary weapon and good, neutral and affordable schooling should be considered as a 2nd amendment right.

Intentions

While a lot of ink has been spend on deducing the meaning of the founding fathers with respect to guns, virtually none is devoted to these’ opinion on standing armies. There is no dispute whether the current highly technological and over-subsidised standing army is a violation of the founding fathers’ clear intent to allow it only in the direst of national emergencies. Nor can it be doubted that the current standing army is in clear violation of the intent of the second amendment which meant to guarantee the citizens the possibility to depose tyrannical leaders. While many 2nd amendment advocates very much do so to retain this anti-centralist function of the people’s arms, they generally oppose a standing army a lot less vigorously. In doing so they do a poor service to the second amendment since a popular uprising against the current U.S. army might as well be armed with foam-hammers instead of AR-15’s if it is to take on Abraham-tanks and C150 gunships. And for all the founding fathers’ good intentions to bolster democratic and decentralized forces, the U.S.A. is currently one of the most unequal nations that is surpassed by only a handful of nation with respect to the level in which it violates the privacy of its citizens. The latter to such a degree that even the most democratic and liberal president in decades showed no qualms about unrelenting and publicly pursuing a whistle-blower for disclosing the enormous scale on which the U.S. government systematically and autocratically infringed on the constitution; the very constitution all branches of government were ceaselessly paying lip-service to meanwhile.

It is clear that the intentions of the founding fathers are ignored on many levels and often with regard to aspects which are not necessarily all that different today as they were then. It is therefore weird that the interpretation of their words with respect to gun-ownership and about defence in general still carry the same weight. This despite that very few things have advanced as much since then as the technology we use to kill people. Just consider: in 1791 armies were front-loading muskets just as they had done in 1591, 2 centuries earlier. In 1991, 2 centuries later the ratification, a single soldier in a fighter-bomber could muster more firepower than all the armies in the world combined at the time of the American independence. If only one single British soldier during the independence war would have had a semi-automatic AR-15 and 2000 rounds of ammunition (standard loadout is about 200 rounds) there most definitely would never have been a U.S. constitution. Fortunately for the U.S.A. the arming of armies has not evolved so one-sidedly and for the part that it has, this one-sidedness has been strictly in its favour, seeing as the U.S. spends more on its military than all of its allies combined. This does not mean weapon-development has not skewed things enormously since the inception of the 2nd amendment. I think we can assume that if a citizen’s rebellion in a ‘well organised militia’ were to attempt to overthrow the federal government today they would not differ much in armament and organisation from what Isis has been fielding until very recently: basic transportation, cell-phone communication, no armour to speak of, mostly small-arms fire supported by a couple of anti-vehicle rockets. Yet such a militia would not even be able to breach the frontline of a 1916-WWI-era French division. These would haphazardly lay a rolling artillery barrage over such a militia from 7 to 10 miles away. Then, when in doubt, the French could (and would) follow up with mustered-gas and the only one who would have even seen the militia-men die would have been the pilot-spotter directing the artillery. Mass-gun ownership in a time of expensive but fully-automatic weapon-systems has as much a chance of guaranteeing bottom-up democracy as a fly has to survive inside a microwave oven.

Besides that the weapons you can buy are kind of useless in an actual war, pre-owning a gun is really unnecessary. Often, by the time you actually need weapons, people will just give them to you. The French resistance got weapons. The international militia that fought Spanish fascism got weapons. Hell even Isis is getting weapons and not the sissy-kind either. Even ‘better’: chances are that by the time you actually really need a gun there will be plenty just laying around on the floor.

But while a militia-man’s impact on assuring the people’s democratic rights has dwindled, that same militia-man’s impact against unarmed citizens has expanded exponentially. In 1791 muskets were fired in group-volleys because that way there was a statistical certainty to hit at least some opponents at point blank range. This statistical probability evaporated however when muskets were fired ‘at will’ with people moving rapidly about. Firing ‘at will’ became a feature during the Civil War where muskets were all ‘rifled’, meaning a stabilizing spin was given to the projectile, revolutionizing accuracy and range. Volleys were still given but only to prevent ‘early’ discharge by nervous enlisted men. After initial volleys the higher fire-rate of ‘at will’ was actually preferred over volleys. In short, with an unrifled musket -as existed while the U.S. constitution was being ratified-, you had basically no chance of hitting what you were aiming for individually. It was only by grouping enough firearms together and shooting at other grouped targets that you had a chance of hitting something. Such had been the case for as long as firearms had existed.

A citizen who exercised his right to bear arms after the war of independence could thus go on a rampant-killing-spree of 1 victim per minute, provided that said victims were standing still at a distance of less than 10 yards. Compare this to the present situation where an unwritten rule governs mass-shootings demanding that every next mass-shooter must try to surpass the body-count of the last one.
Mind you, today this is no small challenge anymore, following the 2017 Las Vegas shooting where a single person killed 58 people, wounded another 442 directly and another 400 indirectly during a 1100 rounds/10 minutes shooting spree. But even if these numbers may seem unchallengeable to many future mass-shooters, there are two certainties:

  1. This record will be broken in the near future
  2. Whatever body-count mass-shootings do, their tally will always pale with respect to day-to-day gun-deaths

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Image of homicide rates per capita per country
List of firearm homicides per capita compared per country showing a great disparity between the US and countries that compare in state organisation and technological development.

Given enough people you can get some pretty freaky causes of death. Literally hundreds of people are killed in the US by their own lawnmower. By contrast only a couple of dozen US citizens are killed by sharks, the swimming meat grinders of death. To give some perspective to the latter: more people are actually killed by armed toddlers than by sharks, although this includes toddlers who kill themselves, which is the most likely outcome of toddler-gun-possession. We would assume these are not intended suicides, although intentional suicides do compete with intentional homicide for first place depending on the year and the demographic one is looking at. Although statistics can be bend to prove any point it is hard to bend the fact that the US has a 3 times higher per capita firearms-homicides rate than the highest European country and a 15 times (!) compared with the lowest. This while in basic crime-rates they differ very little.

Image crime rates per country
Illustration of crime-rates per country comparable to image above.

Despite all those fatalities and many gun-rights-discussions no member of the branches of government has recently expressed real worry that a guy with a gun would overthrow the government. Only the Secret Service really worries about guys-with-guns at all these days. All the other agencies of the government are worried about guys-with-computers. Think about it: Guys with guns killed four US presidents and did not make the country more or less democratic in so doing. Yet a guy with a computer exposed the systematic and illegal eavesdropping practices (and 4th amendment violations) of the US government and (much to their disliking) at least opened the government up to questions from the public. I don’t think he has stopped these practices but his impact has definitely surpassed that of any armed-citizen. The government doesn’t mind if you own a shotgun. They do mind if you have encryption software they don’t have a backdoor in. Until 1992 encryption code was actually on the Munitions List and had it not been for the 1th amendment it would have been declared illegal outright. Guys with computer-skills are the new militia and they have already done more for democracy in the last 25 years than armed civilians have in the last 2 centuries. It is guys with computers that handed Donald Trump the US presidency. (Yes, I’m looking at you Assange!) If it is to be taken back from him it will not be because of guys with guns. A well-staffed militia armed with capable brains and processors can overthrow the government and restore democracy when enough people join it. By the time they require a single gun, they will be able to print a-poor-man’s-version of one on their 3d-printer. But in all likelihood plenty will already be laying on the floor.

Even if rebellion was the only way to restore democracy, as the founding fathers intended, filling your society with 0.8 – 1.0 guns per capita is not the way to go. I’m not denying that putting the genie back in the bottle won’t be easy. There is validity to the reasoning that making guns illegal only takes the guns away from law-abiding people. But in practice this doesn’t really matter: good people don’t stop armed crime with firearms, they are a lot better at doing it using a phone. Most of the illegal fire-arms started their life as legal. Taking the gun away from the ‘good guys’ will eventually also disarm the ‘bad guys’. What you really want is to stop the next generation of firearms to reach the streets. If this had been done 2 centuries ago, this problem would be no more because there is no such a thing as a ‘concealed musket’. You really don’t want to postpone this move until every Las Vegas gunman has a ‘Smart-Gun’ with ‘Infrared-tracking-bullets’. Banning guns is not an immediate process but it is not as lengthy as one would think. There is a steady outflow of guns from society and if the inflow can be stopped eventually but a few well-hidden ones will be left. Once guns are illegal using a gun almost always means losing a gun which will even make the mob be more restraint.

Conclusion

There is simply no way to express with words the scale of the death and suffering that guns have brought to the US society; not a single one off which has increased the level of democracy, distributed the pursuit of happiness more evenly or even remotely made these States the best possible country to live in. In fact, for a developed democracy, the US is at the moment arguably the most like pre-revolutionary France as is possible; a skewed society of few ‘haves’ and many ‘haves-not’ with those at the top treating the law as an option-list and those at the bottom scrapping for pieces of bread, committing petty crimes and dying in the process, all-the-while receiving bread nor compassion. This is the exact opposite as what the founding fathers intended yet the NRA members, who are mostly ‘haves’ BTW, reserve their moral indignation for the poor bloke on youtube who had the audacity to call a rifle-magazine ‘a clip’.

Even when subtracting suicides, U.S.gun-deaths account for 5 consecutive “9-11”-attacks per year. While the Twin-towers evoked the invasion of 2 distant nations and close to 2 decades of protracted warfare, the former is generally estimated to “perhaps warrant a discussion”. When Japan killed 2500 personnel in Pearl Harbor, the US replied with two nuclear weapons. Both these incidents invoked a near unanimity to act in congress by the way. Meanwhile mass shootings alone accounted for 1494 deaths in 2015. Regretfully a thousand bodies short of a political consensus. After Sandy Hook though Presidents ‘got serious’ about doing ‘something’. Just like they did after Columbine or any of the other 100’s of incidents each year. Some waiting-period gets lengthened, some kind of list with questions becomes mandatory, some kind of technology -clearly marketed to murderers- get banned under grave protest. A majority is found to outlaw giving weapons to the insane, even though we tend to only discover their insanity after they’ve slain 10 other people. Then the next administration comes in office with a bag of NRA-money and the tweaks get re-tweaked again. Like replying to Japanese bombers with twitter-insults.

“The Japs can’t aim for shit and missed all our carriers. Sad! Very SAD! #MakeAmericaGreatAgain #PlsDontLockME!Up”

Europeans share with upper-white-class America the fact that by and large they don’t know anyone who has been killed by a gun. They usually don’t even know indirectly of such fatalities. Meaning Europeans don’t even know someone who knows about anyone else who was killed by a gun. Meanwhile entire demographics below the US’s non-existent middle class need to live with even close relatives having fallen victim to gun-violence. Gun-deaths are regarded much like traffic-fatalities, like they are a sad unavoidable fact of life where blame is exclusively reserved for whomever it was that happened to be holding the gun at the time. It is like smoking 2 packs a day for 40 years and then blaming the single cell for becoming cancerous. You can’t poison your society for half a century with anti-social measures, inequality, starved school-systems and copious amounts of guns and then blame the casualties singly on the weak character of the guy on the balcony blasting away in a single blaze of dubious glory.

Perhaps Alex Jones was right after all: there is a war on! At least the body-count would suggest it. It is not however a war that will be won by the ‘good guy with a gun’. That ‘good guy’ has already blown his brains out as he realised the depth of this student-loan-debt. Or maybe he changed his mind at the last second, bought bump-stocks on 3 different credit-cards to fit on each of his AR’s so as to first avenge himself on the society who never gave him a fighting chance to begin with. A bump-stock by the way has no conceivable- morally-justifiable -purpose: it decreases accuracy such that hunting or target-practice become impossible, it increases bullet-expenditure such that no gun-hobbyist could really afford it in the long run. It has no place during the tactical-training for you militia because in a fire-fight it would be dangerous and not in the least effective. The only thing it is really good for, seemingly the reason it was made, is to commit a murder of crowds.

No measure of me liking guns can possibly justify that!

Outside perspective

The fact that ‘bump-stocks’, ‘hair-triggers’ or ‘fingerprint-resistant-grips’ are even a point of discussion; the fact that this discussion knows ‘moderates’ that believe there are two sides to this conversation. To European outsiders these things basically appear to be symptoms of a collective type of insanity. Much of it is comparable to the way we look to human-sacrifice in mankind’s history. We know that, grounded in their believe-system and history, they probably thought they had good reasons for doing it; but deep-down we feel that only ‘religious insanity’ can really explain why the great masses went along with it and why it could coexist with some pretty impressive scientific- and architectural -accomplishments for such a long time.

We therefore silently conclude this society is sick. The Marlboro-man of history’s nations and gravely ill.

“Her drama was a drama not of heaviness but of lightness. What fell to her lot was not the burden, but the unbearable lightness of being”
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How indeed could they have conceived of the most unbearable of burdens that would result from their words and from the mere lightness of triggers? I say they could not have and we respect their words not by pretending they could.

Live Long and Prosper
Hailaga

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