The Problem With Reinstating the AWB

[This is going to be a post about guns, and it does include pictures of them]

Fair warning: I am far less anti-gun than most people who share my other sociopolitical positions tend to be.  I believe in gun control.  I believe that the US's gun laws are pretty fucked and need some serious overhaul.  I also believe that said overhaul needs to be sensible, measured, and written by people who know what they're talking about.

In recent weeks, in the wake of the mass murder at Sandy Hook Elementary, I've been bombarded by requests from the cause orgs I'm on the email lists of, asking me to sign petitions in favor of reinstating the 1994 Assault Weapons Ban, which expired in 2004.

I have not signed these.  And I'm not going to.

This is not to say that I am against the idea of tightening our current gun laws.  Not at all, not even a little bit.  But there are some major problems with just saying "let's reinstate the existing AWB".

Firstly, that the old ban was bullshit.  It created the phrase "assault weapon" out of thin air (much like the partial-birth abortion ban did with its title) to describe a very broad class of guns that could best be described as "Guns That Look Scary."  It banned certain combinations of features that sounded reasonably unnecessary, without actually reducing the availability of the style of guns it ostensibly banned.

Let me ask you something, real quick.  When someone says the phrase "assault weapon", what kind of gun do you think of?  Something like this, right?
Bushmaster M4A2, which counts as an "assault weapon" for purposes of the 1994 AWB because of its folding stock, pistol grip, and bayonet lug.
It's scary-looking.  It's a semi-auto civilian version of a military rifle, and it serves pretty much no purpose for an average person to have aside from "this looks cool/makes me feel cool".*

Here, let me show you a gun that was specifically made for the AWB era to conform to those rules:

Gee, that looks really similar.  Identical, even.  And it nearly is; same mag capacity, same pistol grip.  They just removed the bayonet mount and changed the stock to fixed-length.

So...how did the AWB make things safer, again?  Will the fixed stock make it kill fewer people or something?  Was there a rash of gun-based stabbings with bayonets that we needed to crack down on?

If an assault weapons ban is passed that ends up being nothing more than a reinstatement of the old ban, the opportunity and social will to push for real change that was created by the ugly events of last week will be wasted, and the NRA will have won another round by keeping the conversation stagnant.

I don't want cosmetic change.  I don't want lip service that still leaves ridiculously-unnecessary weapons and accessories widely and legally available.  There's much kerfuffle about "politicizing" the deaths of so many children, but which is more politicizing?  A political move for show and constituent goodwill that makes a mere incremental difference in the rates of gun violence in this country?  Or a real change to try to prevent the like from happening again?

Here's what I'd like to see from a new gun-control law, in no particular order:

  • Reinstate the limit on high-capacity magazines.  I'm tempted to say drop it to 5 instead of 10, because what on earth could you be hunting that actually needs 10 shots to drop it?  If you need 10 rounds to drop your prey, you're either a terrible shot and shouldn't be firing guns around other life-forms anyway, or hunting things that probably shouldn't be hunted and why are you doing this?  I realize this makes target shooting less fun because you have to keep stopping to either reload or switch to a fresh mag, depending on how many mags you own, but...tough titties.  A less smooth and flowing sport shooting experience, or mass murders a few times a year?  Not exactly a tough decision, unless you've had a truly successful compassionectomy.  (And if you have, what the fuck are you even doing here?  Go away.  Return to the WND swamps from which you came.)
  • Standardize controls on the process of acquiring guns.  I personally know someone who has purchased guns while traveling to other states where things are far less restrictive, then brought them back into California, rather than deal with the waiting periods and trigger lock and background check requirements here.  That shouldn't be possible - or at least, it shouldn't be that simple.  
  • Same for issuing carry permits.  When my gun-nut ex and I were driving cross-country, we'd had to plan for which states allowed what in regards to his gun, whether it had to be locked in the trunk, could be in the glove box if unloaded, or could be sitting on the dashboard in plain sight.  States set their own qualifications process for getting a carry permit, and some have reciprocal agreements to honor each other's permits, and some don't, and that's frankly ridiculous.  
  • Mandatory registration of all guns.  I'm not under the illusion that this will do anything to stop certain elements of society from having, acquiring, selling, etc. under the radar.  I knew people in Tennessee who could literally make a gun start to finish including the ammo.  And there's always a criminal element willing to flout the law.  But again, as has been pointed out many times, all the shootings in the past few years have been carried out with guns legally acquired, and no major shooting has ever been stopped by an armed bystander, so I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that reducing/controlling the total number of guns in circulation is probably going to help somewhat, or at least not make things worse.
  • Common-sense restrictions on what caliber guns people can legally keep in their homes.  You do not need a fucking .45 or .44mag handgun for self-defense.  A 9mm will suffice perfectly well for that purpose.  Nor do you need a rifle in 7.62x39, which is a MILITARY ROUND.  7.62x39 was made for a Russian machine gun, and is what the AK-47 shoots.  What in the world does a civilian need military rifle rounds for?  Serious question.  What are you doing that you need this?  Explain to me why your safety can only be guaranteed by keeping weapons of war in your house.  I'd really like to know what the hell you get up to in there.
  • For collectors or fans of exotic guns and ammo, I suggest a compromise.  You can own them, buy them, etc.  But they must be kept under lock and key at a licensed shooting range or gun dealership.  You can access and shoot them whenever you like, but there is absolutely no reason whatsoever to need to keep a Russian sniper rifle in your bedroom.**  
  • Speaking of which, tighten licensing and monitoring and regulation on gun dealers.  No more of this swinging by Walmart to pick up a new gun.  Require that the same procedures for licensing, sales, and background checks be followed at gun shows as in regular shops.  (In an ideal world, I'd like to see gun shows go the way of the dodo entirely, but I think that would probably provoke too much pushback to be feasible right now.)
The opportunity we have right now to create meaningful change in the way this country handles guns came at an incredibly high price.  Let's not squander it on simply reinstating what few limits were wrested from the resisting grasp of the NRA nearly 20 years ago.  We need to do better.

*I sympathize with this feeling as a justification for owning a particular gun, I really do.  Why else did I have a Desert Eagle .50 or my FN PS-90?  For feeling like a badass.  Duh.  I had a thigh-holster for the DE and I was excellent with the PS90, out-shooting gun-nut ex and one other with my PS90 and non-magnification optic, standing, versus their rifles on bipods with scopes and them shooting prone.  I really truly enjoyed owning both of those guns, going shooting regularly and honing my skills as well as having fun with it.

"I wanna feel like a badass" is not sufficient justification to keep such guns available when weighed against the lives of children, though.  No matter how cool the gun is.

**I speak from experience.  Gun-nut ex's favorite rifle was his Dragunov, and it spent an irritating amount of time just laying around our room rather than in the giant gun safe it was supposedly kept in.


Someone doesn't know the history of her (former) organization...

It seems Karen Handel, the woman responsible for Komen's withdrawal of funding for breast exams from Planned Parenthood because icky, abortion, has taken her anti-PP fervor with her after leaving Komen in the wake of the massive PR backlash they received. 

Only, she's making the most ridiculous claims now in criticism of PP, especially for a former Komen official who's still defending actions she took while a member of the organization.
[She] alleges that Planned Parenthood “literally co-opted the color pink” from Komen in a sinister “bait and switch.”
Gee, that's a funny accusation to make, coming from a former VP of an organization whose most recognizable symbol, the infamous pink ribbon, was itself co-opted from the woman who created the original breast cancer awareness ribbon in all but color, because she declined to participate in the commodification and corporatization of her work.  Hypocrite.

PS: People can copyright some really stupid stuff - DNA, anybody? - but I have yet to hear of anyone successfully copyrighting a color.  Komen didn't invent pink, and they don't own pink.  You're just mad because the public backed PP and you lost in the court of public opinion.  Take your ribbons and go home, please.



I've been sitting here staring at the blank "new post" screen for several minutes now, unsure how to begin, or even what to say, really. 

My heart aches - literally, my chest hurts and makes breathing difficult - with horror at what happened today.  May the souls of those who were killed find peace, in whatever way is best for them.  May the shooter's soul never find rest for the rest of eternity.  I cannot imagine the kind of pain the parents of the murdered children, their siblings, grandparents, extended family, as well as families, friends, and partners of the adults who died, are feeling right now.  I hope they can find some kind of peace, solace, and healing.

I am disgusted almost beyond words at the way those who want to reopen the conversations around gun violence and gun control legislation, in order that massacres like this don't happen again, to anyone, ever, are being chastised for "politicizing" the issue.  Is it politics to say "This is an awful tragedy, and we should do something so that it doesn't happen ever again"?  If so, then I'm 110% willing to "policitize" the issue, if it means a reduction or cessation of loss of life to incidents like these.  A big, hearty FUCK YOU to those who use such tactics to silence a conversation that we obviously desperately need to be having in this country right now.  They know that for as long as they can keep kicking the can down the road, hiding behind the victims' pain and trauma to hold on to the status quo, they win.  And if that's not politicizing the issue, I don't know what is.

On that note, the first person to try to frame this in terms of "crazy" or "lone nutjob" in my presence is going to find their face suddenly, and forcibly, intimately acquainted with a fucking BRICK.  I am "crazy", after a fashion.  I am not always particularly stable.  And yet somehow, I've managed to get through 27 years on this earth without massacring children.  Funny, that.

Same goes for any claims that if more people had been armed at the school, this wouldn't have happened.  To quote commenter aphra_ben at Shakesville, "The sooner the US debate accepts that being able to shoot a gun is not the same thing as being able to effectively neutralize an armed threat, the better off we'll be."  Unless this country is willing to go to the collective time, effort, and expense of educating and training every single gun owner in not only target accuracy, but also tactics and police/military procedures for such instances, not to mention psychologically preparing them to fire on and possibly kill another person, simply increasing the number of firearms present in a given location at any given time isn't going to do fuck all.  "Has a gun" != "Knows what to do in a situation of gun violence (and can do so effectively, without inadvertently causing further casualties among bystanders)". 

I'm a lot more gun-friendly than most progressives tend to be - comes of living with a collector and pistol instructor for a couple of years and regularly going shooting with friends in a very gun-friendly state - but even I will say, there is no amount of "I enjoy recreational target shooting" that justifies the overly-free availability of firearms, when the result is this much death.*

We didn't have the conversation after Virginia Tech.  We didn't have it after Aurora.  We didn't have it after Portland.  All because nobody wanted to "politicize the tragedy".  We promised we'd revisit it later, once the wound wasn't so fresh.  And yet we didn't.  We don't.  When are we going to finally just goddamn well do it?**

*I still disagree that reinstating the old assault weapons ban is even remotely helpful, for a variety of reasons that begins and ends with "this is why we don't let legislators write the definitions of things they're not experts in", much like most reproductive health laws.  But that's a specific issue with the how part, not the whether or not we should do something part.
**There's a sick part of me that could kinda see the shootings as being on a timetable - "Okay, it's been long enough.  Quick, let's have another shooting before anyone tries to talk gun control, to give us another excuse to avoid it!"  When they're happening so horribly often, well, there will simply never be a time where it's far enough removed, because another one will have taken place in the interim.  It works out so nicely for the pro-gun lobby that one begins to wonder if it's not perhaps a feature, rather than a bug.


Republicans fart in science's general direction - again.

Since Indiana state senator Dennis Kruse apparently can't take a hint after his last few attempts to pass a bill to allow/mandate Creationism be taught in science classes in his state went nowhere fast, he's now introducing what he's calling, in classic Republican spin style, a "truth in education" bill.  It would require teachers to produce proof on demand any time a student challenged or disagreed with the scientific subject being taught.

First of all, isn't that basically what school is?  Maybe it's different in Indiana, or maybe schools have changed since I was there, but I don't remember much by way of truly rote learning in science, aside from basic things like the periodic table and the laws of thermodynamics.  When we learned about evolution, it wasn't just "We evolved.  End of story."*  It was a whole subject, complete with an age-appropriate rundown of the discoveries and theories and reasoning that support it.  No, we weren't reading anyone's dissertations or scientific journal articles, but we had the cliffs notes from them.  If you challenge what the teacher's telling you, perhaps you should just read through your textbook and get your "proof" that way?  (Hmm.  On second thought...bad idea, actually.)  Everything they teach in science classes is supported by evidence to at least some degree.  We're not the ones who just throw ideas together and call it truth - you're thinking of Creationism.

I almost hope they do pass this.  I'd love to see some self-righteous student stand up and challenge the teaching of evolution, and have the teacher cite research, then turn around and ask them "So what's your proof, then?"  I mean, fair is fair.  Also, I move to have Neil deGrasse Tyson and Bill Nye put together "Teacher's Proof Kits" for common questions so that teachers don't have to waste time on some evangelical kid trying to disrupt everyone else's learning with inane debate - just chuck a booklet at the kid's head and move on.

The one thing that would concern me is how they're defining "proof".  The bill hasn't been introduced yet so I don't have the text to look at, but I'm wary, because Republican-led legislation around science issues tends to be vague as fuck or have really weird or totally wrong definitions for things.  What's the standard for proof here?  "9 out of 10 dentists agree"?  Every single article on the subject in every single scholarly journal for the last 20 years must agree with this conclusion?  Or are we trying to use the actual scientific definition of "proof"? Because that'll go nowhere fast.  Since science is a constantly moving, changing, self-refining field, the standard for "proof" is set extremely high - hell, even gravity is just a theory in scientific terms.  Make it so you can only teach 100% "proven" science, and science classes will get a hell of a lot shorter - and students will lack important information and background in the field, simply because some asshole in a suit willfully misinterpreted scientific notions of "proof" and "theory" in order to undermine science and get Creationism a toe in the door.

*Although my favorite super-simplified explanation of evolution ever came from my senior year environmental science teacher.  When we began that unit, he started class by saying "Evolution can be summed up in four words: dead things don't breed."  It's stuck with me for ten years now.  Clearly this is an effective teaching tool.

The Beauty of Anti-Choice "Logic"

TW: sexual abuse, reproductive coercion

This isn't the first time I've seen this argument, and I'm sure it won't be the last.  But something about the way it's phrased here kinda poked my brain with a sharp stick.
Over-the-counter birth control pills could encourage men to prey upon younger girls and dictate their contraceptive choices, according to Janice Shaw Crouse of the Christian activist group Concerned Women for America. 
"Any guy who is older and taking advantage of a younger girl could put her on a pill," Crouse said.
This really leaves me with only two possible conclusions.  Either CWA et al believe that a lack of hormonal BC will prevent men from abusing young women - a dubious notion at best, and with no factual support whatsoever for the idea, I'm calling shenanigans - or they believe an abuse victim is better off abused *and pregnant*, than just abused.  (Also, victims of sexual abuse would never have the agency to decide for themselves that they'd rather be protected, and seek out BC themselves.)

Yes, because what a young teen or pre-teen who's being abused needs is an unwanted pregnancy on top of that whole abuse thing.  I'm sure that'll be very helpful.  Especially considering these asshats are the ones who would then force her to carry and give birth to her abuser's baby.  That'll do wonders for the child's mental health, really.  "Well, the abuse was discovered when you got pregnant [and theoretically has been stopped]!  Hooray!  Now it's time to further derail your life by having a baby at 13!  Aren't you glad we're here to help you?"

Lucky teens, to have CWA on their side.  With friends like these...


The War on Christmas, or "Other religions exist and this upsets me"

(Post title shamelessly taken from here)

♫ It's the most wonderful time, of the year ♫
♫ With the AFA yelling ♫
♫ "The war has begun! This is something to fear!" ♫
♫ It's the most wonderful time, of the year ♫
♫ It's the hap-happiest season of all ♫
♫ Why can't those heathens see, that there ought to be ♫
♫ A creche at City Hall? ♫
♫ It's the hap-happiest season of all ♫

See?  I can do Christmas spirit.  Sorta.  

Is it just me, or have the Religious Wrong become ever more hyperbolic in their flailing of late?  Because this one, from Buster Wilson at the AFA, is a real doozy:
I don’t understand, ‘you’re not the majority anymore, this is not a Christian nation and you’ve guys have got to quit trying to cram everything down people’s throats,’ nobody’s trying to cram—look, it is the folks who don’t want us celebrating Christmas that are cramming that view down our throats and using the courts to do it. So if we don’t want to start cramming things down people’s throats, then why don’t the folks who are opposed to us celebrating Christmas, why don’t they be quiet for a while because they are the ones that are using the court system of this country to force Christians to not be able to celebrate Christmas at Christmastime.
Correct me if I'm wrong, but I think that translates to "You are standing up for yourselves using the systems designed to do so, and that is forcing us to acknowledge your existence!  Which makes me feel threatened because it undermines the illusion that we are and will forever be in charge here!  Stop cramming your existence down our throats!  In fact, stop existing at all!"

But you know, guys, he's got a point.  Clearly...
Rockefeller Center Tree, NYC

...the existence of Christmas...
Christmas lights display at a Mormon Temple

...is in dire danger in this country...
San Francisco City Hall in Christmas lights

...and if we're not careful...
Official White House Christmas Tree

...it could be stamped out entirely!

No, indeed, there's no...
Michelle Obama at a Christmas event for kids at the White House

...Christmas spirit...
Tree and lights display, Wakeeney, Kansas
...to be found here.
Decorated houses in Lawrence, Kansas

None whatsoever.

I mean, the word Christmas...
Flyer for Columbia County Fox Family Christmas and Tree Lighting

...can't even be spoken...
Logo for Christmas Tree lighting in Indian Trail, North Carolina

...openly, for fear of government retribution.  It's all kept very...
Promo image for the 90th Annual National Christmas Tree Lighting, hosted by Neil Patrick Harris

...low-profile, as we fear for our safety and our ability to celebrate our holiday!


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