Monday, July 17, 2017

Guns, guns, guns

. . . as the old Guess Who song went.

Reading about guns every day, and -- of course -- seeing them on TV and in films as instruments of redemption. The perennially armed cops in the US are already heading to fatal shootings in excess of one thousand before the end of 2017; and there is the development of the Redneck Revolutionary movement -- supposedly antifascist -- in which ostensibly antiracist white people remain rooted in, and celebrate, gun culture. "Racism no - Guns yes" is their mantra apparently.


American culture is Baudrillard on steroids and acid. The simulacra has taken over as we withdraw into our electronic life-support and hallucination dens. We come to believe that what we read and see in audiovisual media is true, in part because we have eschewed real experience as too troublesome or risky. We need a reality check on guns.

I was a gunfighter once. Really, I mean it. I was a member of the Army's "counterterrorist" direct action outfit in Ft. Bragg; and the main skill we developed for what were called "surgical operations" like hostage rescue, etc., was marksmanship and close-quarter (gun) battle (CQB). I worked both as an assaulter -- the guys who enter the room -- and a sniper -- the guys who cover the crisis site from without using precision rifles. We really learned our guns. As an assaulter, it was nothing to spend endless hours and thousands upon thousands of rounds of ammunition from our submachine guns and sidearms to achieve the high levels of accuracy required to enter a closed space with our comrades, hostages, and "bad guys," and to be confident that we could place our shots into a five inch circle in a fraction of a second. This practice took a great deal of time and it cost a great deal of money (not our money, but tax revenues). Way more time and money than most people have, even most people who have guns.

We thought about ammunition a great deal, especially how it passes through targets (terminal ballistics) and ricochets. Because, if you are supposed to be ready to rescue hostages, it kind of defeats the purpose if you shoot the "bad guy" and the bullet passes through him and enters the body of a rescu-ee. This was a special concern for aircraft hijacking scenarios, because everyone is lined up tightly in seats like human sardines. One's shooting sector is a long, linear tube.

We decided to test ammunition, and we spent a week testing it at an "aircraft graveyard" in the Arizona desert. Terminal ballistics were tested using gelatin blocks to simulate human bodies. We made gelatin blocks that were body-sized, gelatin blocks that were super-sized, and even gelatin blocks that were supplemented with ribs from a local butcher. We lined up the blocks in frames on aircraft seats, in frames that were lined up outside, and in frames that were separated by variable distances. And we shot them, again and again, photographing and recording data along the way.

We found that the most common pistol round (and our submachine gun rounds), the 9mm, when fired from various pistols, would pass through around three blocks and seat backs before coming to rest in the fourth gelatin block. Okay, this was not so good. Fortunately then, our own standard sidearms were souped-up M1911 45 calibers, that fired a fatter, slower round than the 9mm; and when we tested the 45s, they only went through one block, one seat back, and partway into the next block. Combining this subsonic round with careful shot placement (in split seconds) might at least minimize collateral damage. Shotguns were better the lighter the load, so the 00 buckshot that was our standard went into a second block, whereas the substitution of #6 or smaller "birdshot" kept the projectiles in the first block unless one was almost at point blank range.

Cops use 9mm ammunition for the most part. Assault rifles as long guns (usually 5.56mm or .223 caliber), and 00 buckshot in their shotguns (they also have "bean bag" loads for "riots"). Gun nuts like assault rifles and 9mm or other hot (supersonic) loads for their sidearms. NRA type gun nuts love to talk about the technics and ballistics; and they fantasize about killing home intruders, rescuing white damsels, fighting bad governments in the woods, and shooting black people, "Mexicans," and-or Muslims. Go to guns shows and shooting events, and they talk about this shit quite openly. Now we have the Redneck Revolutionaries, who may have different fantasy targets, but they are still mostly boys who can't relinquish the fantasy of proving their manhood by shooting "the bad men" (in the fantasies, the targets are mostly men, because killing men is more probative of masculinity than shooting women). Then they are caught in a camera angle from below, sun on their faces, wind blowing their hair, True Heroes.

Because they are fantasists and paranoids, gun nuts are looking for a fight; and the immediate possession of a gun, carrying that is, amplifies this pugnaciousness . . . a lot. The quest for masculinity is fundamentally predicated on (deep, unconscious, sexual) fear, and the possession of a firearm is not merely an antidote to fear; it generates that belligerent "courage" that can only originate from a deep, unconscious fear. So guns don't only make people physically more dangerous; they make people psychologically far more dangerous.

An armed society is not a polite society. An armed society is a dangerously stupid society. I'm not talking about hunters in Canada or Iceland who keep a deer rifle in the closet. I'm talking about the exploding mass of sexually-insecure white males who are carrying their Sig Sauers and Berettas into Walmarts and Krogers and middle schools to pick up their kids. At the most extreme, the Preppers -- Lord, have mercy, who are armed to the teeth even as they've lost their minds.

I've proposed elsewhere that Just War theories lost their raison d'etre with the advent of modern war, in no small part because automatic weapons, cannon fire, and bombs of all sorts cannot distinguish friend from foe, and even were they able to, their impact areas/bursting radii are too large to use these weapons without accepting in advance that they will kill bystanders. And soldiers inevitably kill civilians on purpose; but we'll stay with bystander casualties.

In World War I, 7 million combatants died alongside 6.6 million civilians. Fatality counts exclude the even larger numbers of combatants and civilians who are injured, often in ways that cause permanent suffering and disability. In World War II, some 70 million died, and even excluding the ethnic cleansing campaigns, bystander deaths outnumbered combatant deaths by nearly three to one. Sixty-seven percent of Korean War casualties were civilians, and with Allied operations against the North, North Korea lost fully twenty percent of its total population. Around 2 million Vietnamese civilians were killed during the US invasion and occupation, compared to around half that number in combatants. Four out of every five casualties in Afghanistan since 2001 have been civilians; and two of every three casualties in Iraq since the 2003 invasion have been non-combatants. Drone strikes, which are called "surgical," kill ten non-combatants for every combatant -- if you believe the remote operators can really distinguish such a thing through a flying camera. So there's my point, in brief, about "just" war.

My point about guns is similar, if on a smaller scale. Modern rifled firearms and, at close range, shoguns have been refined toward a telos of ever-increasing efficacy -- and by efficacy, we mean lethality at various ranges. They are designed for the instant destruction of tissue sufficient to cause death.

In 2011, there were around 34,000 fatalities from firearms and around 74,000 non-fatal injuries in the US. We use guns in 67 percent of homicides, 50 percent of suicides, 43 percent of robberies, and 21 percent of aggravated assaults. I myself survived eight conflict areas in the Army without sustaining a gunshot wound, and was finally shot outside a bar in 1991 in Hot Springs, Arkansas. These statistics can be deceiving, because when we compare homicides with suicides, the percentages lie.

We kill ourselves more often than we kill others here, and 60 percent of suicides use firearms. Suicides account for 65 percent of suicide deaths -- in part because the shooting is more accurate, and in part because successful suicides, while the numbers compared to attempts are unknown, have a high correspondence to the method used. Firearms, at above 80 percent as far as we know, are the absolute most successful method. So, all other things being equal, a firearm in the house dramatically increases the odds that it will be used for some confused, sick, broken, humiliated, and-or lonely person to extinguish themselves. In 2013, 41,149 were successful -- men far more than women, because men choose firearms, naturally. By comparison, just over a thousand home invasions were repelled by the threat of a firearm, and actual burglary-homicides in the US are around 100 a year nationwide. Do the math. You are quite a bit more likely to have a suicidal person among family or friends in the house than a lethal burglar.

Or kids. We kill more kids per capita with guns than any country in the world, and around 320 kids are snuffed out each year here in home gun accidents, more than three times the probability of repelling an actual homicidal intruder with a gun. (Not to forget, if your home is intruded upon by a killer -- which is about twice as likely as being killed by lightning -- the best course of action is to leave and call 911. Burglars look for guns, because they have a great resale value.)

All that aside now, however, let's get down to the creepy business of what exactly gunshots do. A contained explosion sends missiles down a barrel at speeds that can go through the average elm tree. When a bullet hits a body, it doesn't simply punch a hole and slice through a tiny column of skin, organ tissue, bone, etc. At high velocity, projectiles have brand new physical properties. Three of the immediate outcomes are in-flight deviation, distortion of the projectile, and cavitation. The projectile begins responding to its environment as soon as it leaves the barrel -- so it might tail-drop ("yaw"), or wobble, or turn. The projectile is distorted by the impact with material (like the flesh and bone of a human being) and loses its sleek, perfect cylindricality. The projectile pushes a shock wave through the air around its flight path which enters the body and tears through the tissues surrounding the bullet path in a millisecond "cavity," leaving behind extensive damage not only along the path, but through tissues distal to the path. That's why entry wounds can be quite small, but exit wounds can look like bomb craters in meat. If it hits the upper arm, for example, it might break the bone without ever touching is, or tear up the brachial artery (fatal), or destroy large amounts of muscle tissue (resulting in shock, future infections, permanent disability). A small caliber, subsonic round like a 22 might leave the gun your three-year-old has found, enter the head of your eight-year-old, then ricochet around inside the skull until all its kinetic energy is gone. In a nanosecond. No do-overs.

All this is true if you've just shot Hannibal Lecter; but it is equally true if you missed old Hannibal and the bullet passed through a sheetrock wall and hit the lawyer Hannibal has tied up in the next room for tonight's dinner. Or you may shoot at that fourteen-year-old heroin-addicted home intruder, miss the bad child, have the bullet strike your stone veneer, ricochet, and end up in the lumbar spine of your niece whose come to visit and sleeps in the spare bedroom. If you fire ten times, maybe you can hit the bad child, too, and punish the kid-burglary by blowing holes in his skull and abdomen. That should make you feel better.

By the way, they don't show this kind of stuff in TV dramas and boyflix.

Even if you are a crack shot at the range where you hang out with your buddies and talk about how you'll "double-tap" the bad guys, when something actually happens that provokes you to draw your weapon (instead of the smart thing to do when there is danger, which is to haul ass out of there  . . . but the gun has made you stupid as shit now), another person will not be standing still like a target in good light with a range master to ensure no one is downrange when you fire. You cannot, not under any circumstances, guarantee that you will not miss, that you will not hit a bystander, that you will not overreact. And for that reason, NO ONE should be allowed to carry firearms around with them, because they are already, knowingly or not, accepted that they might shoot someone unintentionally. I include cops in this calculus. Why are cops so brave in other countries that they can walk around unarmed except for a baton, some Mace, and maybe a hand taser?

Anyone who calls oneself a Christian and carries a firearm -- given what I just pointed out about our absolute inability to control outcomes in the employment of firearms -- ought to be ashamed and turn in your credentials. You cannot follow Jesus with a Glock in your belt. I'm sorry. Just not possible.

No matter what cockamamie scenario you construct to justify carrying a gun (not talking about someone hunting) for "protection," you cannot escape the reality of this inability to control what happens when a firearm is used, because you cannot predict the circumstances of its use.

You penises will not fall off when you refuse to carry. And you are far less likely to have that unpredictable instant that saddles you with a lifetime of regret.

1 comment:

  1. A lone voice in this crazy wilderness.
    So many good points here; especially like the mention of cops in other countries who do not carry guns.

    ReplyDelete