I THINK I COULD handle driving 150 miles per hour on the highway. In the course of my job writing about cars, I’ve driven 200 miles per hour a bunch of times and had more driver training than 99.9 percent of the licensed public. But I understand why I can’t do a buck-fifty on the highway. Because even though that speed is easy to attain from a practical standpoint — Kia will sell you a car that does almost 170 miles per hour — it’s inadvisable on a lot of other levels.
Think about your dopey neighbor Fred, who has a bowl cut and wears cargo shorts year-round. Do you want Fred out there with you on the Mass Pike, eating a chalupa with one hand and reaching over to crank up the Bieber with the other? No. So I accept that I’ll follow the speed limit, begrudgingly, most of the time. Public safety outranks my personal interest and I understand why.
If only we approached guns with the same pragmatism as cars. I like guns, in the sense that they are interesting machines, but somehow we’ve arrived at the idea that this particular machine should not be subject to the kind of rules (or technological innovation) that govern other machines. It wasn’t always this way.
I came of gun-owning age in Maine during the 1994-2004 assault rifle ban, which had written support from that hippie Ronald Reagan. And let me tell you, not a day went by when somebody didn’t bemoan the Constitutional crisis that was the 10-round clip.
Just kidding. Everyone seemed to think the 10-round restriction on magazine size was sensible, if not irrelevant. As a high school sophomore, I had a lever-action Browning .308 with a four-round clip and it never occurred to me that I’d need more than that. In hunter safety class, we learned that whether your gun was for hunting or home defense, one shot would likely do the trick. And if you missed, you might get a second shot. But probably not a third, let alone fourth. Let alone 50th.
So I’m not buying the argument that a high-capacity magazine is a prerequisite for home defense. If it is, I must’ve missed the legions of stories about heroic homeowners who saved the day with rounds numbers 29 and 30 in their banana clip.
I’m likewise skeptical of the argument that your cache of high-capacity semiautos will be the answer when you need to rise up against the tyrannical government. I hate to break this to you, but if the situation is you versus some nefarious future military, the shootout you envision will not come to pass. You’ll be in the middle of saying, “Good thing I have my trusty AR-” when you get vaporized by a Reaper drone.
Finally, the Second Amendment: You know what it means. Come on. Be honest. This is a recent phenomenon, this interpretation that people two and a half centuries ago wrote the Constitution to guarantee easy availability of technology that didn’t exist. Attitudes were different even back when I had my Browning. A lot of us rural people were fans of a Southern spoken-word poetry collective that proposed, of handguns, “Why don’t we dump ’em, people/to the bottom of the sea. Before some ol’ fool come around here wanna shoot either you or me.” Those poets? Lynyrd Skynyrd. That’s how far the NRA has twisted the gun debate: Lynyrd Skynyrd is left of Nancy Pelosi.
So just admit it: You like AR-15s and their ilk because you think they’re cool and you don’t want someone to take away your cool thing. I get it. But I don’t care whether your gun is black or has a wood stock or it’s crocheted and you got it on Etsy — if you can pop off a hundred rounds as fast as you can pull the trigger, that doesn’t serve any purpose other than to inflict mass casualties. Which we see proven, over and over. So what to do?
I think the answer lies in automatic weapons. Hold on, let me rephrase that: The answer lies in the regulatory approach to automatic weapons. Which are legal, believe it or not, provided they were manufactured before 1986.
Back in 2002, I donated a $350 Cadillac Eldorado to the Hiram Maxim Historical Society to use as a target at its annual machine gun festival in Maine. Golly, there was some weaponry there. Some artistic fellows made a chainsaw carving of Osama Bin Laden, whom they dubbed “Osama Been Loggin’ ” before blowing him up with dynamite (which is legal). Then some guy torched a van with a flamethrower (legal) before everyone laid into my Caddy with all manner of automatic weapons, including the Quad .50, which was a motorized platform fitted with four .50-caliber machine guns firing tracer bullets.
Interesting, isn’t it, that we haven’t heard about mass atrocities committed with these weapons. And I could hazard a guess why: They’re a real pain to get. There’s a national registry maintained by the ATF, a thorough background check, and a transfer tax. It’s a lot of paperwork. But you can have one if you want one. There are hundreds of thousands of these guns out there, and they’re not the ones being used in our biweekly national tragedies.
So that’s what I propose: Make the semiauto acquisition process more like that for full-autos. Limit magazines to five rounds. There could be exceptions for law enforcement and military personnel. Look, I don’t want to take away your gun. Unless you have a bowl cut.
Ezra Dyer is a writer.