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Beyond the Bullet

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My condolences to Virginia Tech from one who hopes he will never fully understand.

This post is going to be more political, and thus perhaps more partisan, than most of my articles. Normally, I take a sideways approach to politics by way of cultural artifacts, music, movies, Internet videos, and the like. Right now, though, I think there are some issues in the air that deserve to be addressed more directly.

Today’s issue is gun violence. In light of the Virginia Tech shootings, I think it’s a good time to make an intelligent statement on the role of violence and freedom in our daily lives. I run a risk here.  In the aftermath of an incident like this, I’m in danger of being drowned out entirely by the flood of reactionary bullshit that comes out of the popular media, the blogosphere, and the mouths of politicians. But maybe I have a chance to contribute something intelligent to this debate too — one of a few voices of reason in a country that’s become an ideological battleground, far more than a physical or literal one.

As far as politics go, I’d call myself a critical liberal. I’d like to be the leftist "old enemy from within" (borrowing a phrase from Bataille), strengthening the progressive position by questioning it and discerning the gristle from the meat. Unfortunately, there’s a lot of gristle out there. On gun violence, however, I think the reasoned liberal position, that assault weapons need to be more fully, federally controlled, and regulate, is a fairly cohesive one, and unlike with feminism, I don’t think there’s a whole lot of self-criticism the left needs to do to support its position.

What we’re fighting against: the extreme right, armed with a blanket of civil consent and disinterest. It’s frightening to me that the gun lobby is so large, considering it’s a bastion of regressive American extremism. The Gun Owners of America, apparently the second-largest gun advocacy group in the United States, has declared that the problem, of course, is that more people weren’t armed.

You may sense that this argument, symptomatic of pro-firearm argument, is mind-bogglingly irrational, but you may not realize why. It’s based on some reasonable premises: people should be responsible for their own safety, and they should have the means of protecting themselves. Individuals need to be trusted with security and enforcement, because omnipresent institutions like governments are so prone to oppression and abuse. Laws should target criminals, not the broad pool of people who might potentially become criminals. Why does the gun rights creed sound so irrational when these premises sound defensible?

The reason is that it makes some erroneous assumptions about the human environment. These assumptions make sense in a world where everybody, including, and especially, the morally upright are heroic bastions of strength and self-reliance. It makes sense in a world taken from movies, like the future of Mad Max or the New York City of The Warriors. It makes sense in a world where your personal well-being isn’t linked in any noteworthy way to the mental health of the collective.

But this isn’t a movie. Normal people — people who have been raised in the suburbs, or on dairy farms, or in lower-middle class neighborhoods — learn to fear death and protect one another, not to live within a paradigm of pure autonomy and self-defense. That’s why most of us, the vast, noble masses of sane human being, would find it virtually impossible to level a handgun at someone and put a bullet in their head. I would hesitate, even if I was defending myself from a crazed madman or an armed robber. As a well-developed human being living in an ordered society, I lack the instinct to kill an adversary, and I wouldn’t be prepared to do it.

This is what some of these fucknut bloggers think is wrong with this country, that we "don't have the balls" to shoot one another, Bruce Willis style, in order to protect ourselves and our friends. But they’re a misguided, over-stimulated group who clearly haven’t thought through the implications of that claim. Entering into a fully cooperative, peaceful society, living in close proximity, working together, and eating from the same tables has required that we lay our killer instincts to rest. No matter how "easy to access" guns are, those of us who are socialized correctly won’t be carrying guns around. They’re excessive and dangerous, and we don’t have the kind of impulsive judgment that would allow us to use them productively.

These days, there are enough ways of asserting our autonomy legally, symbolically, and collectively. We don’t need to defend it with lethal force. Guns are the vestigial traces of violence in a society that should be past the need for it, and outlawing "nonsporting" weapons will be the most important step in purging that trace. The only people who are (psychologically) equipped to use lethal force on other human beings are the ones who aren’t fully equipped to deal with discourse, social interaction, and personal responsibility. They’re the criminals, the pariahs, the nut-jobs.

As always, in our advanced civilization, guns are the tools of madmen.

Some more takes on the subject:
A smart post on the conservative gun lobby and MAD-influenced thinking
Pop Politics on sparing guns and demonizing popular culture

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  • http://blogcritics.org/writer/clavos Clavos

    You say:

    “I think the reasoned liberal position, that assault weapons need to be more fully, federally controlled, and regulate, is a fairly cohesive one”…

    What’s an “assault weapon”?

    Cho had no such weapons when he shot up VT.

    “Assault weapons” are in fact stringently regulated already. They are almost impossible to acquire legally, unless you’re a government agency.

    Perhaps you meant something else?

  • Wild Bill Hiccup

    An assault weapon is one that can shoot bullets into you virtually non-stop until your own mother wouldn’t recognize you. Cho’s 9mm Glock could do that depending on how many loaded clips are handy.

    nitpick

  • http://blogcritics.org/writer/clavos Clavos

    An assault weapon is one that can shoot bullets into you virtually non-stop

    Correct.

    However, Cho’s Glock could not do that. A Glock must have its trigger pulled EACH TIME it shoots a round.

    It is NOT an assault weapon.

    It’s an important distinction, since weapons capable of shooting nonstop with one trigger pull ( automatic, or “assault” weapons) are already not permitted in individual hands (though the government does, unfortunately, have them).

  • http://www.elitebloggers.com Dave Nalle

    Supremely arrogant and ill-informed.

    But the part I like the best is the classic pathology that we must sacrifice the rights of individuals for vaguely defied welfare of the ‘collective’.

    What you are saying is that society is healthier if people are less free, mainly because you live in irrational fear of your neighbors and the majority of the people in this country who are not part of your particular identity group.

    Dave

  • zingzing

    dave: “…you live in irrational fear of your neighbors and the majority of the people in this country who are not part of your particular identity group.”

    so why do you have guns again?

  • http://www.elitebloggers.com Dave Nalle

    Because I’m an American, Zing.

    But more to the point, I live in the country where there are dangerous animals that occasionally need to be shot for the safety of my family, my neighbors and my chickens.

    Dave

  • zingzing

    “dangerous animals” like “your neighbors,” or “people in this country who are not part of your particular identity group”?

  • http://blogcritics.org/writer/clavos Clavos

    I believe he’s referring to feral dogs and coyotes,zing…

  • zingzing

    i don’t think he is.

  • http://blogcritics.org/writer/clavos Clavos

    Well, you of course have a right to believe what you want, right or wrong.

    However, that’s what he’s said in the past on other pages on this site. if you think he’s lying, wouldn’t it be more honest (and honorable) of you to come right out and say so?

  • MCH

    Actually he’s come full circle on this subject, Clavvy.

    First he said he shot and killed the stray dogs; then later he denied it, claiming that he just shot at them to scare them off; and now in #6 he’s saying again that he shoots and kills them.

    So is he a liar? Yes, pathologically.

  • Wild Bill Hiccup

    “A Glock must have its trigger pulled EACH TIME it shoots a round.”

    That’s HUGELY COMFORTING to know!!!

    So a crazy with a Glock can ONLY shoot approximately 130 bullets a minute if he or she has practiced fast clip changes.
    I can’t imagine why your average mass murderer would bother owning such a useless piece of junk! I mean, really! What’s the use of going on a killing spree if you can’t mow down dozens of people with just one squeeze of the trigger.

    nitpick

  • http://blogcritics.org/writer/clavos Clavos

    Sarcasm notwithstanding, it’s not an assault weapon. I wasn’t discussing “comfort”.

    Calling for the ban of “assault weapons” is fatuous at best, since there already ARE bans on them in civilian hands, and merely inflames the ignorant into thinking any handgun is an “assault weapon.”

    which is…

    bullshit

  • Wild Bill Hiccup

    You’re so right. A weapon that can only shoot 130 bullets in 60 seconds is just a “handgun”. No worries then! Ya fukin hoo.

    nitpick

  • http://blogcritics.org/writer/clavos Clavos

    130 rounds in one minute is a highly optimistic rate of fire for a semi-auto pistol, and the Glock is slower than most because of its “safe action” configuration, which uses a striker instead of a hammer and firing pin. The Glock requires the shooter to pull the trigger far enough to pull the striker all the way until it releases and then strikes the round in the chamber.

    According to police reports, Cho fired 170 rounds in 9 minutes, a rate of just less than 19 rounds a minute.

    The Glock is no “assault weapon”.

  • Wild Bill Hiccup

    Like I said, just a “handgun”. Ya fuckin hoo.

    nitpick

  • http://benefitofthedoubt.miksimum.com/ Jesse

    I’d like time to give more serious responses to these… especially to Dave, who approached the conversation with the civil-tongued phrase “supremely arrogant and ill-informed.”

    First, I’m not a pacifist extremist. Keep your hunting rifles… they fall on the near side of the line between “not to my taste” versus “offensive to social logic.” As far as types of guns are concerned, I understand… at least vaguely… the difference between automatic, semi-automatic, and sporting firearms, and between “concealed” versus “open-carry.” Sorry for not being more specific. My stance, ill-expressed above, is that stricter regulations… more or less to the point of “disarmament”… should be imposed on all semi-automatic and concealed weapons.

    The theory here is that these kinds of guns are manufactured and designed for combat situations, to cause harm to human beings. There’s no good reason to hide a gun from an animal, nor to compete with an animal on the basis of “number of shots per minute” or whatever they put on the billboards for these things. Dave, when you said there are “dangerous animals,” were you being literal, or metaphorically alluding to dangerous human beings? I honestly wasn’t sure how to read it.

    Now more to Dave — please argue with my logic, not my character. I live in one of the densest, and most infamous, cities in this country, I walk through Harlem two or three times a week, and I’ve never felt the need to carry a weapon. To an individualist, the collective may seem “ill-defined.” To me, it’s a daily experience, and it’s peaceful and well-adjusted. It doesn’t need to defend itself from… you know… itself.

    The idea that we’re healthier if we’re less free? A good way to simplify a complex issue to the point of unrecognizability. Our “freedom”… particularly our freedom to be fully autonomous, self-actualizing, interactive human beings… is purchased by regulation and social order. Lots of “regulations” and “restrictions” make our society healthier. In particular: The “right” to purchase and carry a weapon designed to kill people has nothing to do with your personal freedom. It’s a quirk of snowballing technology, a man-made means of making our social environment physically dangerous.

    Of course, a large part of my complaint here is that gun groups are shameless bastions of uncooperative rugged individualism. Maybe I’d be more flexible here if the NRA, or especially the GOA, did any of the following: 1) refused to politicize incidents of gun-related violence, 2) contributed money to the prosecution of violent criminals, and to the support and enforcement of existing firearms laws, or 3) issued public service information about the dangers of firearms. I’m aware that they promote gun safety to some degree, but they’re basically well-monied organizations of reactionaries. “When they pry it from my cold, dead hands” does not indicate much willingness to cooperate with the rest of the country or the world.

  • http://www.elitebloggers.com Dave Nalle

    Let’s clear up some misconceptions and pure bullshit (thanks MCH).

    “dangerous animals” like “your neighbors,” or “people in this country who are not part of your particular identity group”?

    No, Zing. I like my neighbors and my ‘identity group’ is broad and welcoming, in fact I think I’ve been appointed to its recruiting committee.

    I believe he’s referring to feral dogs and coyotes,zing…

    Exactly, Clavos. Plus the occasional skunk and frequent poisonous snakes and bigass constrictors, and foxes and raccoons and bobcats and last year we had the cougar problem too.

    Actually he’s come full circle on this subject, Clavvy.

    First he said he shot and killed the stray dogs; then later he denied it, claiming that he just shot at them to scare them off; and now in #6 he’s saying again that he shoots and kills them.

    No, MCH. I’m actually here, so there’s no need for you to make shit up. As I’ve said before, I’ve shot a feral dog but I have no idea whether he lived or died. All I know is that he didn’t come near my chicken coop again. I have, however, killed other nasties, particularly snakes both poisonous and non poisonous, including (because I know you keep records of this stuff) 5 rattlers (two of them over 5ft long with 10 and 12 rattles respectively), 1 yellow rat snake, 2 texas rat snakes, 1 coral snake and 2 water moccasins. In the cases of the two big rattlers I was called over by neighbors to kill them in their yards – do they still count?

    Look folks. I live in the country. I keep chickens and geese and ducks and have a small child. I’ve got reason to defend all of them from predators of which there are plenty because of the creek that runs behind our house. You’d do the same if you had any sense and lived here.

    Oh, and as to firing 130 rounds in 60 seconds from your glock, it’s just not realistic. If you could actually pull the trigger that fast without cramping up after the first 20-25 shots, the barrel would overheat and the mechanism would likely jam (maybe not on a glock), and even if none of that happened there’s no way anyone could keep up a rate of fire like that for 60 seconds.

    Dave

  • http://www.elitebloggers.com Dave Nalle

    I’d like time to give more serious responses to these… especially to Dave, who approached the conversation with the civil-tongued phrase “supremely arrogant and ill-informed.”

    Jesse, you get what you ask for. Your article takes such an elitist, high-handed and condescending attitude that it’s going to get heated responses. You’re talking about throwing away other peoples rights to placate your fear. Some people find that kind of thing offensive.

    My stance, ill-expressed above, is that stricter regulations… more or less to the point of “disarmament”… should be imposed on all semi-automatic and concealed weapons.

    That would include just about all handguns except revolvers and most hunting and sporting rifles. What about double-action pistols? They can shoot almost as fast as a semi-auto pistol?

    The theory here is that these kinds of guns are manufactured and designed for combat situations, to cause harm to human beings.

    You seem to have missed the key facts that there’s crime in America, that people do face the danger of violence, and that one of the main reasons the 2nd Amendment exists is so that we can retain the ability to fight back against government oppression.

    There’s no good reason to hide a gun from an animal, nor to compete with an animal on the basis of “number of shots per minute” or whatever they put on the billboards for these things.

    Just as a note, I have yet to see a billboard advertising guns, but it’s a novel idea.

    Dave, when you said there are “dangerous animals,” were you being literal, or metaphorically alluding to dangerous human beings? I honestly wasn’t sure how to read it.

    I was being literal, but the use of a gun for home or self defense is certainly a legitimate reason to own it.

    Now more to Dave — please argue with my logic, not my character. I live in one of the densest, and most infamous, cities in this country, I walk through Harlem two or three times a week, and I’ve never felt the need to carry a weapon.

    Well, Harlem has been gentrified in recent years, and the crime rate in New York as a whole is low compared to many other US cities. Try a walk through downtown DC or Detroit at night and see how you like it.

    To an individualist, the collective may seem “ill-defined.” To me, it’s a daily experience, and it’s peaceful and well-adjusted. It doesn’t need to defend itself from… you know… itself.

    It’s an illusion. The collective is not the threat – except when it takes your rights away to defend itself. The threat is the rogue individual who the collective cannot protect you from.

    The idea that we’re healthier if we’re less free? A good way to simplify a complex issue to the point of unrecognizability. Our “freedom”… particularly our freedom to be fully autonomous, self-actualizing, interactive human beings… is purchased by regulation and social order.

    A nice selection of sociobabble which basically comes down to giving up individual rights for the ‘greater good’. Have you seen Hot Fuzz yet? It has a pretty clear message on that subject.

    Lots of “regulations” and “restrictions” make our society healthier.

    No, they make it controlled. By your definition a prison would be a healthy society.

    In particular: The “right” to purchase and carry a weapon designed to kill people has nothing to do with your personal freedom. It’s a quirk of snowballing technology, a man-made means of making our social environment physically dangerous.

    Completely wrong. Guns are not inherently dangerous. They don’t shoot themselves. In the hands of law abiding citizens they are the surest way to insure peace and safety for the population as a whole. You seem to think you live in a world full of nice people. Great. So if all those nice people had guns, wouldn’t they just put them in a drawer and not use them? So where’s the problem?

    Of course, a large part of my complaint here is that gun groups are shameless bastions of uncooperative rugged individualism.

    And rugged individualism – the cornerstone of our nation – is a bad thing?

    Maybe I’d be more flexible here if the NRA, or especially the GOA, did any of the following: 1) refused to politicize incidents of gun-related violence,

    When has the anti-gun left refused to politicize incidents of gun violence?

    2) contributed money to the prosecution of violent criminals,

    The NRA’s party line and that of their congressional supporters is that we need to enforce the laws on the books and have stricter penalties for crimes committed with a gun. That’s what they’re lobbying for. Punish the criminal, not the law abiding citizen who happens to own a gun.

    and to the support and enforcement of existing firearms laws,

    See above.

    or 3) issued public service information about the dangers of firearms.

    The NRA sponsors gun education courses which are available all over the country and specifically designed to be taught in elementary school.

    GOA’s primary reason for existing is to disseminate accurate information about firearms and their use.

    I’m aware that they promote gun safety to some degree, but they’re basically well-monied organizations of reactionaries.

    Jess, the NRA has 3.5 million members. Are you saying that they are ALL reactionaries? Do you even know what a reactionary is?

    “When they pry it from my cold, dead hands” does not indicate much willingness to cooperate with the rest of the country or the world.

    It indicates a willingness to fight for what you believe is right. We could use more of that in the US today.

    Dave

  • http://www.antequeravillarental.com Christopher Rose

    Going back to Dave’s point about wild animals, there are of course more ways to deal with them than simply shooting them. Another gun lover myth busted!

  • http://www.elitebloggers.com Dave Nalle

    Christopher, when have you had to deal with wild animals of any size? We’re not talking cute little squirrels here, and there’s no reason to keep a rattlesnake alive on your property unless you’re just stupid, and no one wants you to drop one off at their house or animal shelter either.

    But yes, there are other ways to deal with them. I’ve killed snakes with a shovel and with a lawnmower.

    Dave

  • Wild Bill Hiccup

    “Oh, and as to firing 130 rounds in 60 seconds from your glock, it’s just not realistic. If you could actually pull the trigger that fast without cramping up after the first 20-25 shots, the barrel would overheat and the mechanism would likely jam (maybe not on a glock), and even if none of that happened there’s no way anyone could keep up a rate of fire like that for 60 seconds.”

    Well that settles it. Gun freaks are only allowed to purchase and own 1 Glock and if they’re murderously insane they’re prone to cramping finger syndrome.

    “…last year we had the cougar problem too.”

    The cougar and other species had and have the you and your neighbors problem. The really dangerous animals are the gun geeks who pollute the countryside with lead, pesticides, herbicides and any other ‘cide that supposedly enhances country living.

  • http://www.antequeravillarental.com Christopher Rose

    You just seem to like killing things, Dave. Dogs, snakes, whatever, just doesn’t matter, right?

    Of course, there aren’t any wild animals in Europe, so what would I know? I sure recognise Dorkus Maximus Vulgaris when I see one though!

  • MCH

    “And rugged individualism – the cornerstone of our nation – is a bad thing?”
    – Nalle/Populi

    How anyone paranoid enough to live in a fortified compound can consider himself “rugged” is beyond me…

  • http://www.antequeravillarental.com Christopher Rose

    I’ve seen Dave’s newest picture. Rugged wasn’t the first word that came to mind…

    Oh look, there’s a Porcus Eliticus Witticus. Bang!

    And a Sportus Suburbanus Repeticus. Bang, Bang!!

  • MCH

    “It indicates a willingness to fight for what you believe is right. We could use more of that in the US today.”
    – Nalle/Populi

    Unless of course it comes to actually enlisti…uh,oops…”MCH Exception” self-imposed…

  • http://blogcritics.org/writer/clavos Clavos

    Nice gangbang, Chris and emmy. Talk about strange bedfellows!

    See, you two have more in common and are more alike than either of you will admit.

    You just seem to like killing things, Dave. Dogs, snakes, whatever, just doesn’t matter, right?

    Can’t speak for Dave, but my father began to teach me how to hunt (and gave me my first shotgun) when I was eight. I’ve been hunting ever since, and yes, killing animals is fun.

    But, I’m a Neanderthal.

  • http://www.antequeravillarental.com Christopher Rose

    Oh look, Nailius Americanus Neanderthalus. Bang, Bang!! Great fun…

  • http://blogcritics.org/writer/clavos Clavos

    A compliment, coming from Sensitivus Britannicus Pseudohispanicus Mongreli.

  • http://www.antequeravillarental.com Christopher Rose

    Laughius Maximus!

  • http://blogcritics.org/writer/clavos Clavos

    I see you nailed (oops!) our Chinese author again this morning…

  • Dr Dreadful

    Well, this thread immediately went off-topic, with some mildly uncivilized bickering about what does or does not constitute an assault weapon, followed by a debate on Dave’s right to shoot dangerous wildlife on his property, with a brief detour into the likelihood of Jesse getting filled with holes during a stroll through selected major US cities.

    Back to the main point of Jesse’s argument, though, which doubts the gun lobby’s primary justification for private ownership of non-hunting weapons (namely, self-defense and protection) and their citing of this to argue that the Virginia Tech tragedy might have been lessened or prevented if some of the folks on campus had been packing heat.

    You cannot absolutely predict how anyone will react in a situation of extreme stress. There are any number of instances of well-trained and disciplined soldiers who for whatever reason failed to perform in battle. Conversely, we’ve all read the news stories about 87-year-old grannies pulling shotguns on potential muggers and scaring them off.

    Even if a gun is drawn and fired, there’s no guarantee that it will hit the right person – as witness the numerous ‘friendly fire’ incidents from Afghanistan and Iraq.

    It’s perverse to accuse unarmed victims of cowardice, as some have done with regard to Virginia Tech. Oh, I’m sure a lot of the survivors don’t feel great about themselves right now. So imagine how a soldier or a cop feels who didn’t use their weapon at the crunch because they were too busy taking cover, or fired it but hit and killed a ‘friendly’? How much more so for a civilian? All things considered, better for everyone’s wellbeing if we’re not all waving guns around, I think.

  • zingzing

    ok, dave can shoot animals with a rifle in the country. fine. i don’t care. i don’t live in the country, i live in the city, with lots of other people and very few animals. other than dogs, i rarely see anything larger than a mutated squirrel.

    if you live in a place with more cattle than humans, have all the guns you want. i’ll just throw animal shit at you.

    i just don’t see the point in having a gun in the city.

    now dave, if you lived in a city, i’m sure you would have guns. there would be no animals. now why would you want a gun here? would that be because you are afraid of “dangerous animals” and those who don’t fit into your “particular identity group?”

  • http://www.elitebloggers.com Dave Nalle

    The cougar and other species had and have the you and your neighbors problem. The really dangerous animals are the gun geeks who pollute the countryside with lead, pesticides, herbicides and any other ‘cide that supposedly enhances country living.

    Well that’s it, you’ve convinced me. I’m going to turn my land into a cougar refuge and use my wife, kids and dogs to feed them. What a bastard I was not to do it sooner.

    And BTW, in general guns no longer fire lead bullets for just the reasons you suggest, and I use only organics in my garden.

    Dave

  • http://www.elitebloggers.com Dave Nalle

    You just seem to like killing things, Dave. Dogs, snakes, whatever, just doesn’t matter, right?

    Actually, I don’t much like killing animals and wouldn”t do it unless they are an immediate threat. I’m not a big hunter. The only animals I ever killed hunting ware a couple of ducks and that was 30 years ago.

    Dave

  • http://www.elitebloggers.com Dave Nalle

    now dave, if you lived in a city, i’m sure you would have guns. there would be no animals. now why would you want a gun here? would that be because you are afraid of “dangerous animals” and those who don’t fit into your “particular identity group?”

    When I lived in town some years ago, I owned only my target pistol and purely for practice at the range, tempting though it was to shoot the occasional cat-sized rat in the backyard. On reflection I think I should have had a shotgun then as well. There was a fair amount of crime in our neighborhood, but most of it was minor.

    As for defending home and property, it really only takes one home invasion to ruin your whole day. We’ve had neighbors who have been burglarized and in one case attacked and beaten by burglars. If having a gun or two means that I might be able to prevent that ordeal for my family, I’m fine with that.

    Dave

  • zingzing

    somehow, i and many, many other people have survived over the last 30 or so years without a gun. my family has never had a gun, and never have we needed one. i’m not scared because i don’t have one. to me, a gun is a waste of money. also, i am a very easily swayed by my emotions during any confrontation (as you can probably tell,) and i am quite afraid that if i did have a gun, there would be several dead women and a few dead men in my past.

  • http://www.elitebloggers.com Dave Nalle

    Probably a good plan not to have a gun then, Zedd. Personally I’d rather have a gun and not need it than not have a gun and need it.

    Dave

  • Bill

    I live in a rural area where the reasonable response time for law enforcement is 30 minutes. The only thing the police can do in that situation is write the report and photograph the crime scene. I guess you live in a metropolitan area where there is always a police office very close. The truth is a firearm is simply a tool, be it a single shot rifle or a submachinegun it is only a collection of parts that has the potential for being used for good or evil. Look to Switzerland as an example and remember if cattle and chickens were armed we would all be vegetarians.