Bill Britton: “I am Part of America’s Gun Culture.”

The tragedy of Las Vegas prompted me to reflect on gun violence, and my personal history.

A Christmas Story 

C.S. Film

It all began innocently enough. In the late 1950s, I received the Christmas gift that every boy dreamt of in that far-off Age of Innocence: a BB gun. For those who have watched “A Christmas Story” starring Darren McGavin, the plot was about the same: my nagging, followed by a mother’s protestations, followed by a father reluctantly caving in.

The BB gun “wars” that inevitably ensued had one strict rule: no shots above the belt. Despite this, a local boy lost an eye, an event that led to a parent-enforced cessation of hostilities. We also had rock wars back then, but that’s another story.

My next immersion into American gun culture occurred with my enlistment in the Marine Corps in 1958, when I became proficient shooting the M-1 rifle, BAR, 45-cal pistol, and 38-cal revolver. Because I became an airborne radio operator and thus was an air-crew member, the revolver was my assigned weapon, although I still had to qualify with the M-1 every year (as the Corps declares, “every Marine is a rifleman”).

The calendar kept me out of Vietnam, and my only brush with mortality occurred when an aircraft I was crewing, an upgraded C-47, crashed in Texas, but we all walked away with only minor bruises. After four years, I left the Corps and mothballed my dress blues.

Once my sons entered their early teens, I would retrieve my old BB gun from its hiding place and take it with us on camping trips. I would typically hang an empty soda can on a string and attach it to a low branch; we would take turns plinking away until we cut the can in half.

Over the ensuing years, I acquired a 22-rifle and handgun, which I would occasionally take to a local firing range, but I quickly became bored with that diversion. I never had the desire to hunt, although I had friends who urged me to join them.

 Reading the Minds of the Founding Fathers

2ndAmendment

We can never know exactly what James Madison had in mind other than the fact that he drew on the English Bill of Rights when he wrote the Second Amendment. He certainly didn’t have automatic weapons and 30-round magazines in mind. In the 18th century, guns were muzzle-loaders capable of perhaps one to three rounds per minute. The Amendment was essentially written to authorize an armed citizen militia and to enable hunting with muskets.

The U.S. and Britain took completely different paths regarding gun ownership, despite having comparable bases in common and statutory law. Those diverging paths have certainly yielded starkly different results: in England and Wales, with their strict controls, gun homicides occur at the rate of one per million people; that rate is roughly 30 times higher in the U.S.

It is estimated that there is one gun for every person in the U.S., or 320+ million in total. You have to wonder if the Founding Fathers had this proliferation in mind, which has gone far beyond any concept of a citizen militia, when they passed the Second Amendment on to the states for ratification.

The NRA Gun Lobby

NRA cartoon

In the U.S., the “right to bear arms” remained a background issue, that is until manufacturers realized that gun sales had great money-making potential. By manufacturers teaming up with the National Rifle Association (NRA), the NRA morphed into what has essentially become a Washington lobby for gun manufacturers, whereas it had formerly been one primarily for gun owners, hunters, and marksmen.

In fact, the NRA was once a proponent of gun control and universal background checks until 1977. The NRA’s shift from a mainstream, apolitical marksmanship association to its current form happened literally overnight. Hardline gun advocates, upset by the NRA’s past endorsement of gun restrictions, ousted the full leadership of the organization.

Of the $54 million poured into political purses by the NRA in 2016, almost 90 percent went to the Republican Party. For this reason, few conservative legislators are willing to voice support for even the most sensible of measures: e.g., reasonable background checks for one. President Trump even removed restrictions on sales to the mentally ill recently. The NRA even blocked funding for a CDC study to examine gun violence and its affect on the nation’s health.

Along with hiding behind a much-distorted interpretation of the Second Amendment, the NRA directly and indirectly stokes the fear among gun owners that background checks, gun registries, and weapon studies are preconditions for “taking your guns away.” Nonsense, yes, but an effective strategy.

The U.S. Post Las Vegas

Protesters

Various polls indicate that up to 80 percent of the general public support stricter gun controls, expanded background checks in particular. Against this assessment stands the NRA, which represents the most powerful special interest group in Washington, boasting a 5-million-person membership that increases with every mass shooting.

Opposition to the NRA’s Washington influence consists of a few organizations with limited funds with which to buy legislative clout. The voice of the general public means little in the long term if history is any guide.

But if ever there were a moment for legislative action, this is it. Or will we only hear more examples of vocal pablum in the form of “prayers for the victims and their loved ones” that always seem to flow from the mouths of our elected officials, always with furrowed brows. We shall see.

NRA campaign spending.png

Bill Britton is a freelance writer and formerly an editor for John Hopkins University Press, ABI Research, and Elsevier Science, and is a frequent contributor to Vero Communiqué.

Mr. Britton’s comments are his own and do not reflect the position(s) of Vero Communiqué.

We strive to encourage a free and open exchange of opinions and welcome yours. Through discussions like these we can all learn more about the topics themselves and the perspectives of others.

 

10 thoughts on “Bill Britton: “I am Part of America’s Gun Culture.”

  1. The author states:
    “It is estimated that there is one gun for every person in the U.S., or 320+ million in total. You have to wonder if the Founding Fathers had this proliferation in mind, which has gone far beyond any concept of a citizen militia, when they passed the Second Amendment on to the states for ratification.”
    Mr. Britton is obviously unaware that 10 USC 311, the statute governing the US militia, states:
    “(a) The militia of the United States consists of all able-bodied males at least 17 years of age and, except as provided in section 313 of title 32, under 45 years of age who are, or who have made a declaration of intention to become, citizens of the United States and of female citizens of the United States who are members of the National Guard.”
    As such, the US Militia numbers well over 100,000,000 members. Further, it is well documented that the militia right, as that term was used in Mr. Madison’s day, included the right to self defense, and the right to self defense included the right to defend oneself against one’s government in the event of tyranny, which in the US means an extra-Constitutional grab of power by the government.
    At the time the Constitution was written, the muskets carried by the citizen militia were the same firepower carried by the forces of the government. Today, the citizens are subject to far greater firepower in the hands of a potentially tyrannical government.

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  2. My memory of the late 50’s BB wars: My 11 year old brother came home one afternoon and nonchalantly mentioned that Markie ‘down the street’ no longer had a BB gun. “What happened?” my mother asked. “Oh, he was playing with it and shot Sandy Smith,” he said. “OMG, is she okay?” my mother asked. Yes, he hit her in the lunch box but his mom said, ‘that’s it!”.
    As to your more timely comments. This says it all: “The U.S. and Britain took completely different paths regarding gun ownership,” That might be because the Founders had the British in mind when they wrote the Constitution and Amendments. Every citizen has the right to defend themselves against intruders, both foreign and domestic. It doesn’t delineate what kind they should own or what else, like hunting, they can use if for.
    As to the amounts of money an organization puts into elections to support positions or candidates. As long as the government employee and private unions and people like George Soros are dumping in big cash, I welcome anything coming from the other side.

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  3. Joseph Saul: Your citing of 10 USC 311 is not applicable to my comment (“You have to wonder if the Founding Fathers had this proliferation in mind, which has gone far beyond any concept of a citizen militia, when they passed the Second Amendment on to the states for ratification”). The earliest reference I can find to 10 USC 311 is 1956, ~200 years after the Second Amendment was written. You don’t mean to suggest that the Founding Fathers had 10 USC 311 in mind, do you?

    smehiel: Yes, I’m sure the Founders had the British in mind when the Second Amendment was written. As far as the influence of money in politics, I despise it. Influence is auctioned off to the highest bidder.

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    • Bill Britton: You clearly did not comprehend the reason for my citation of the statute, which dates back to 1916. Prior to the statute, the Common Law definition of Militia obtained, which was simply “all able-bodied men.” The statute actually pared down the pool of available militiamen by adding age limits. This is antithetical to your position, which is that weapons proliferation is far beyond any imagined by the Founding Fathers. The Founders anticipated weapons in every home, which was the norm in their day, and that those weapons would be of equivalent firepower to the weapons borne by the Regular Army. The current ratio of approximately one gun per citizen is almost EXACTLY what the Founding Fathers would have imagined and anticipated, and any noise to the contrary indicates a lack of understanding of both the Federalist and Anti-Federalist Papers, among other indicators of the philosophy of the time period.

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  4. smehiel: You’re deviating from my article. A discussion of political money could go on ad finitum, so I’ll not comment. Soros vs. the Koch brothers, etc., etc., etc.

    Joseph Saul: A weapon in every home? How about a weapon for every living body in the U.S., including the mentally defective, as per President Trump? Your argument is vacuous.

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  5. What? The same individual cannot own a long arm and side arm? And what about a shotgun? Talk about a complete lack of understanding of gun characteristics contributing to gun ownership patterns. Isn’t that the very definition of vacuous?

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