Saturday, August 17, 2013

Christie, Barrett and the Limited Value of Symbolism in Solving Problems

Yes, Congresswoman, that is one
helluva great big gun
Everyone knows, and essentially agrees, that the political environment for legally reducing access to and use of firearms in America today is terrible.  There is that horrifically destructive constitutional guarantee, which empowers the toxic political forces on the right to depict any common-sense attempt to regulate the availability of deadly weapons as a challenge to the very foundational values of the United States.  In light of the political difficulty of passing ANY legislation that limits the availability of firearms in any way, the people who refuse to accept that the loss of so many lives is a necessary or acceptable cost to assure the integrity of the constitution and the freedom of the American people to legally own firearms have been forced to look for small-bore legislative victories. Some of these have happened at the state level, in states where legislators are not so deeply in thrall to the worst impulses of the right-wing madmen.  But those must be limited in scope, lest they draw a legal challenge and are struck down as violations of the second amendment.

So in spite of the tragic and infuriating reality that virtually ALL of the thousands of gun murders, suicides, assaults, robberies and accidents happen with common, garden variety handguns, people seeking to reduce gun violence in the US are limited to trying to find cases at the margins that can generate enough support to pass in Congress.  And when you realize that even comprehensive background checks couldn't garner sufficient support to become law, you begin to understand how narrow that window truly is.  Sadly, however, this condition results in some pointless, silly, even farcical legislation that, in the end, makes smart, caring people who are trying to reduce the carnage look small, petty and uninformed, while doing NOTHING at all to stop the violence.

First there were "Cop Killer Bullets".  Of course - who could possibly be in favor of cop killer bullets? So there was strong bi-partisan support for a ban, which was duly passed by Congress.  Only later did it slowly become clear that regular old non-cop-killer bullets were just as deadly, and the threat from armor piercing rounds was mostly hype.  Later came the calls to ban Assault Weapons.  There was a national ban which expired in 2004, and various states, notably California, have bans on various types of weapons.  Again, the result of these laws was to reinforce the realization that these types of weapons are not a significant factor in our gun violence problem - they are large, expensive, impossible to conceal and difficult to replace - and banning them did nothing to reduce gun violence.  What's worse, even the bans were impossible to implement effectively, because no matter how the laws sought to define the term "assault weapon" it was easy for the manufacturers to redesign their weapons to avoid running afoul of the law.  At the end of the day, all semi-automatic rifles that used a removable magazine and were chambered in 5.56x45 or 7.62x39 worked the same, and the features that were being banned were entirely cosmetic.

Which brings us to New Jersey today.  The State Legislature passed a bill banning rifles chambered in .50 BMG.  Why?  That's unclear.  It's true that this is a powerful, devastating weapon, with a range of well over 2000 meters, a weapon that is classified by the US Army as an "anti-materiel" weapon - that is, one to be used against vehicles and structures more than against people. But no one can remember one ever being used in a crime.  The rifle costs ten thousand dollars or more and is huge, five feet long and weighing over 30 pounds.  Rounds of .50 BMG ammunition cost over five dollars each.  Just not the kind of weapon you'll see used in most murders or gas station stick-ups.  Plus, for all the vaunted power of the .50 BMG, there are MANY other calibers in the same class.  .416 Barrett, .460 Weatherby, .300 Winchester Magnum and the round rapidly replacing .50 BMG on the battlefield, .338 Lapua.  So the law was pointless, accomplished nothing, affected few and was nothing but a gift to Governor Christie, who has been denounced as insufficiently nihilistic by tea party types.

Today Governor Christie vetoed the ban on .50 BMG rifles, gaining back some credibility with the far right without any cost.  There will be no grieving families on the Statehouse steps tearfully recounting how their child was killed with a fifty caliber rifle.  There will be no fewer gun victims, but there will be no more either.  Until the people who want to reduce gun violence begin to adopt realistic priorities and tactics, there will be no change in the status quo - and more children will die tonight.

1 comment:

  1. So the law was pointless, accomplished nothing, affected few and was nothing but a gift to Governor Christie, who has been denounced as insufficiently nihilistic by tea party types.

    Well mikey, this might surprise you, but I completely agree with your entire post.