The best way to injure your opponent’s argument is to demonstrate the foolishness inherent in accepting it. For example, take Senator Dianne Feinstein’s (D. CA) latest “assault weapons bad” proposal. I could say that this is about fear (which it is) and that it’s about opportunism (which it is) and further that it’s about oppression and easy control of a populace (which it is). All of these are true, but none of them are particularly compelling. For some reason which escapes me.
The trick is not presenting true arguments. The trick is presenting true arguments that make people laugh at the foolish. Senator Feinstein’s proposed bill outlaws what are essentially cosmetic features of firearms. Collapsible stocks, pistol grips, rail systems, “high capacity” magazines (more on that later), composite materials. The color black. All of these are typically “military” in styling.
As a short aside, I’d like to point out that all of these are used by the military because they are inexpensive means of achieving goals.
The black color is a chemical coating on metal parts that would otherwise corrode in many of the environments in which military folk spend their time. Like the outdoors. It’s very easy: corrosion – in the form we’re talking about – is a matter of oxidation. This is a chemical process that people encounter early in life, actually learn about in high school chemistry (what are they teaching in schools these days?) and spend the rest of their lives cursing when dealing with recalcitrant bolts.
In this case, the black coating is a way of prolonging the life of the metal parts of the firearm. There are many ways to accomplish this, and the black coating is a cheap and easy way of doing this. The fact that the Senator seems to regard the color black as a source of fear has little baring on the function of the coating. There are other coatings that are just as effective at preventing corrosion as the black, as well as many other kinds of chemical treatments.
Pistol grips, rail systems and collapsible stocks are all cosmetic changes to firearms that also hold functional changes: their use makes it easier to operate the firearm in a safe, controlled manner. Before the advent of pistol grips, firearms were essentially a metal tube strapped to a stick. Realistically, they still are. Take a look at a Brown Bess musket sometime. It’s a steel tube, closed at one end, attached to a wooden stick with a flat bit to hold against your shoulder. The British Army used these to conquer a goodly part of the world. No pistol grips, not collapsible stocks, no chemical coating for the barrel, no composite parts.
Rail systems, such as the Picatinny, enable the firearm operator to attach any number of interesting gadgets to the firearm. Lights, for use during the night. Bipods, to rest the firearm on a more stable platform than the user’s body. A secondary grip forward of where the magazine well is typically situated. As anyone who has ever attempted a physical activity knows, two hands on the tool offers greater control and more effective usage that one. Apparently, Senator Feinstein wants to make firearms less safe, rather than more.
Collapsible stocks do just that: they shorten or elongate as the firearm operator chooses. This enables an entire range of operators to use the same tool, thereby lowering expenses. As a simple example, this means a whole family can learn to safely and comfortably operate the same firearm, which means the average American family only has to purchase a single rifle. The family saves money, learns discipline and a marketable skill, and there are fewer scary, black firearms on the streets. Everybody wins.
On to “high capacity” magazines. This is a misnomer, which a polite word for what my mother taught me is a lie. High capacity suggests that there are lower capacity magazines. Which there are. Now. More than a decade after the original “assault weapons” (isn’t any weapon an assault weapon?) ban went into effect, as firearms manufacturers shifted with the legal realities so they could continue to do business. And feed their families.
A magazine is a container, usually made of metal, with a spring in it. When the earlier, now defunct, ban went into effect, the standard thirty-round magazines became illegal. These are still considered the standard, as that’s what the inventors of these scary rifles created in the first place.
The original. The standard. High capacity would be something along the lines of 100 rounds, 200 rounds or 1000 rounds. Almost immediately you get into issues of practicality. 100 rounds of 5.56mm NATO ammunition gets heavy to carry around. Let us not even discuss 7.62mm or larger ammunition. The magazines made to accept that many rounds are available, but not terribly functional. They are prone to jamming, and rather more fragile than the standard magazines. (there’s that word again) Most of the firearms enthusiasts I know consider them worthy of ridicule, actually.
All of these “military style” features (by the by, wooden stocks and untreated steel were de rigeur “military style” for weapons even up to the Vietnam War) are cosmetic, and don’t change the function of the firearm. It’s true: the closed-at-one-end metal tube strapped to a stick still utilizes a combustive compound to propel a small bit of stuff out the open end.
To outlaw these features – again – won’t change the way firearms operate or are operated. It will damage the firearms industry. It won’t make people safer, which isn’t the United States government’s purpose in the first place. This disregards the blatant illegality of the language of the the Senator’s bill, which would make illegal almost all modern firearms. Sam Colt’s famous revolver fall under the language of the ban.
It is foolish to believe that outlawing cosmetic changes to what is essentially a dangerous tool. (Which reminds me: I need to get a shovel, paint it black, add a Picatinny rail, collapsible stock and a pistol grip. Behold: another military style tool! Very scary.) All tools are dangerous, and none are. They are only as dangerous as the operator. Therefore, I propose that all people leaving United States military service be branded “dangerous” and made illegal. These people have skills that could be put to horrific uses!
Mockery. Laughing at an argument – an argument you’ve examined and understood – is the best way to knock it down. This is not about winning a debate, except in the sense of winning hearts and minds. This is not about logic, or politeness: it’s been demonstrated again and again that those aren’t going to work. This is about preparing to give the next generation a world worth living in.
Shoot straight, think straighter.