Alternative title: “Select Semi-Nonsensical Thoughts about Sanity and the Second Amendment.”
During the American Revolution, firearm technology was incredibly advanced compared to the primitive firearms of the Medieval period and the even more unwieldy projectile weapons popularized in the Neolithic era. The flintlock mechanism, invented nearly a century earlier, greatly improved the reliability of muskets. When conjoined with a bayonet, these definitive weapons of the era greatly increased the ability of lines of infantry to withstand cavalry assaults. Modern warfare and all of its glories were beginning to take shape, leaving the few remaining pikemen to spend their days on the field scratching their heads and asking Mel Gibson where he got his mad tomahawk skills.
For all of their advances, these modern muskets had some serious disadvantages:
- They were cumbersome: at ten pounds of weight, and five to six feet in length, they could be almost as effective as a club as they were as a firearm. No joke: bayonets accounted for almost a third of battlefield kills during this time period!
- They were generally smoothbore, which made them quite inaccurate if your target wasn’t standing right in front of you.
- Despite the relative efficiency of the flintlock device, they still required a trained expert 15 seconds to reload at top speed. Better yet, the reloading process involved stuffing raw black powder into a metal tube. If your neighbor’s musket discharged sparks while you were in the middle of doing this, bad things could happen.
- Even without sparks, bad things could happen: “Accidental firing was also a problem for flintlocks. A burning ember left in the barrel could ignite the next powder charge as it was loaded. This can be avoided by waiting between shots for any leftover residue to completely burn. Running a lubricated cleaning patch down the barrel with the ramrod will also extinguish any embers, and will clean out some of the barrel fouling as well. Soldiers on the battlefield could not take these precautions though. They had to fire as quickly as possible, often firing three to four rounds per minute. Loading and firing at such a pace dramatically increased the risk of an accidental discharge.”
- Fighting in the rain? Not so much. The powder of the day was packed loose, and thus was extremely susceptible to contamination by moisture. Worse yet, the high sulfur content combined with water to make barrel-ruining sulfuric acid.
There were also flintlock pistols, but they were subject to many of the same limitations: large, inaccurate, and prone to misfires. Some of them tried to compensate for this by upping the cool factor, but it was certainly a dilemma for those who wished to carry concealed: “Is that a flintlock down your trousers, or are you just happy to see me?”
Now let’s consider some statistics from a modern assault rifle, the classic M16:
Weight: 9 lbs, loaded — roughly the same
Length: 40″ (compared to the 60+ inch musket)
Muzzle velocity: 3,100 feet per second (approximately a 70% improvement over the musket)
Effective Range: about 1,600 feet for a human sized target (approximately a 500% improvement over the musket)
Rate of fire: 45-60 rounds per minute in semi-automatic mode (about a 1500% improvement over the musket)
That’s a tidy dose of firepower! The transformation is even more dramatic when it comes to handguns (argh, matey). Consider the FN Five-seven, a Belgian powerhouse of a semi automatic pistol that combines the effective range of a civil-war era musket into a 1.6 pound, 8.2 inch long package with a 20 round standard magazine. Its ammunition (FN 5.6x28mm) has the advantage of great trajectory stability despite its unusual compactness, allowing more ammunition to be carried easily. It’s ATF approved as a “sporting firearm” despite repeated attempts to ban it. This weapon literally compacts the destructive force of twenty loaded civil war muskets into something radically more reliable and accurate and that weighs about as much as a cup of coffee, less the first few sips.
In short, these are not exactly what our nation’s founders were referring to by “arms.” There is such a difference in destructive capacity here as to place them in an entirely different class. To claim that they are the same thing is much like saying that donkeys and Ford F-250s are the same thing: after all, they’re both useful for, you know, moving stuff around.
Here is the solution I would propose in a intriguingly imperfect world other than the one we actually live in:
1. Automatic and semi-automatic* arms of all sorts should be outlawed for anything except military use. Any civilian found in possession should face confiscation, escalating fines, and finally incarceration. Repeat offenders should be treated with only slightly more dignity than methamphetamine cooks.
2. Manual handguns should be completely deregulated on the federal level. No registration, no licensing fees, nothing — you just go to Walmart (or Costco), pick out the one you want, and walk away with it. The legality of carrying will remain subject to state and local law, of course.
3. Public schools should be mandated to offer firearm safety and marksmanship classes in fifth grade, subject only to state and local regulation. Every fourth grader should know how to handle a gun responsibly and accurately. Every seventh grader should be able to drop a rabid dog at 100 paces. There should be interscholastic marksmanship competitions in high school (probably dovetailed along with volleyball and basketball out of respect for budget constraints).
4. Manual firearms should be made available in a variety of “emergency” contexts. There should be one next to every fire alarm and alongside every glass-covered fireaxe. The emergency pylons on college campuses should have one. These will just be for special situations, though, since most everyone in this alternate reality will carry their own around with them.
5 (IMPORTANT). A $20,000 kill tax (inflation adjusted, of course) will be levied against every killing, with proceeds going to the law enforcement agency most local to the jurisdiction of said killing. There will also be a lesser $5,000 “deterrent tax” for shootings that do not result in death. This will occur separately from any criminal or civil proceedings through the legal system, and will be levied regardless of whether the gun use is found to be justified, excessive force, or criminal. Your six year old accidentally shot the nanny? You pay $5K plus criminal damages. You catch a drug dealer raping your neighbor’s poodle and peg him? $20K to your local police, please. If a gun is used judiciously, it’s likely that the marksman’s community will split the cost with him or her, and the price tags acts as an disincentive for vigilantism, honor killings, and plain ol’ fashioned itchy trigger fingers. These handguns would be unlicensed, in a sense, but their use to take life (or damage it) is not. Remember, freedom isn’t free!. Trayvon would have been much more likely to get a bullet in the foot than in the chest because — quite simply — it would be less expensive to Zimmerman, that !@#$ing twit.
So, how would this scheme play out?
A. Mass murders would be greatly reduced. With deadly force ubiquitous and freely available, but automatic weapons scarce and difficult to acquire, the differential of force in these situations would result in a dramatically lower ratio of offender-to-victim deaths.
B. Accidental deaths will rise dramatically. Educational policy and economic disincentives will help to keep this in check, but almost certainly not offset it entirely.
C. The cost of killing or maiming another person — even if justified — will be high enough to curtail the wantonness commonly associated with Stand-your-ground laws, and there will be a strong incentive to avoid lethal gunfire unless it is absolutely necessary.
D. Law enforcement agencies in violence-prone areas would receive increased resources as a result of the “kill tax” and “deterrent tax.” Presumably, violent urban areas most in need of assistance would receive the vast majority of such funding.
E. There would be schoolgirls running around with guns. How friggin’ cool would that be?
A proposal like this — just like any other radical deregulation law — would almost certainly not save lives in aggregate. Indeed, it would probably elevate current levels of gun violence by a factor of two or three, largely as a result of accidents and unintentional escalations. However, it would prevent the inequity of response that so often characterizes mass shootings. More people would die, but by gosh, they’ll die with a pistol in each fist, just like the founding fathers.