By October 18, 2005

How gun legislation turned me into One of Them™

Growing up in Oklahoma means that you are gifted with certain character traits automagically: You say “ma’am/sir,” hold the door open for ladies, are taught that no gentleman is ever without a pocket knife, and to respect and employ firearms. I grew up in a house with a half dozen or more guns, a few of which were loaded and within my reach. Despite knowing about a fully-loaded .38 revolver in my father’s night stand at age six, I never shot anyone and never played the Ballistics Test game with my friends.

My father had a graphic but common (to our area) method of educating me about dangerous objects. When I was three he held my hand over the red-hot coil on our range and said, “hot,” doing the same thing for the front of our oven. A few years later, he told me this:

“Son, assume every gun is loaded. Never point a gun at a person unless you intend to shoot them. And never shoot a person unless you intend to kill them.”

It was simple logic, and I carry it with me to this day.

So, I’ve established that I didn’t grow up in a house with gun-waving lunatics. There were some crazy loons in that house, no argument about that, but at least we weren’t the gun-waving kind. But the guns we had, with the notable exception of dad’s .38 revolver, were hunting related. Our rifles were used to hunt deer or shoot predators on our property. Our shotguns were used to hunt ducks and other birds. Oh yeah, and milk jugs. Them’s dangerous.

So why is it, with the exception of the .22 rifle given to me by my father, are all of my guns people-hunting related? I have no inclination to hunt animals, unless we fall into an apocalypse and I’m forced to shoot cats or mongeese for food. The same types of guns I grew up with are in my house: shotgun, rifle, pistol, but they are designed for person-to-person combat. What happened?

By the time I was old enough firearms of my own, and had enough financial wherewithal to afford them, the political landscape of the United States had changed. Sparked partially by the shooting of White House press secretary Jim Brady, firearms and gun ownership was different than in the days of my childhood. Some of the laws, such as a seven day waiting period, hadn’t changed since the 60s, but the Brady Bill, coupled with the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994, placed strict regulations on the type of firearms a private citizen could own. By the time I was old enough to buy my own handgun — 1996 — I was restricted to a firearm that could hold no more than ten rounds in a detachable magazine.

Okay, DrFaulken, get to the point. How did these laws transform you into a pistol packing, assault weapon firing, genocidal maniac waiting to happen?

Prior to all of this legislation, the gun industry was concentrated on making the biggest, baddest, most awesomest Hollywood style weapons it could. My brother owned a 10mm “Delta Force edition” handgun in a 1911-style frame — it was a big gun, made a big bang, and fired a very large cartridge. The infamous .50 caliber Israeli-made Desert Eagle debuted, with a length of over 11 inches and nearly twice as heavy as an “average” pistol at the time.

Desert Eagle: handgun or flamethrower?

The Striker 12 “Street Sweeper” semiautomatic shotgun was a long gun example of this phenomenon. Check it out: removable drum magazine, folding stock, all black, it was an apocalypse fantasy:

Image courtesy of Lakeside Guns

The Striker, and the idea of Bigger, Badder, Badass guns were soon slain outright or in principle by the one-two punch of the Brady Bill and the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act. The Striker, classified as an “assault” weapon with no hunting usefulness, was banned outright unless you had a special permit from the government. With the exception of .22 rifles outfitted with a non-detachable tube magazine, no private citizen firearm could own a weapon with a magazine designed to hold more than ten rounds at a time. What fun was a portable handcannon/flamethrower if you could only shoot it ten times before reloading?

The gun industry began to shift away from the 3Bs and gravitate towards smaller, more concealable weaponry. Why make a full size pistol or rifle if you don’t need a larger frame to accommodate more than 10 rounds? Handguns shrank, and then shrank some more. By the time I was 21, gun manufacturer Glock was about to break open the concealed carry market with the first sub-compact handgun that fired “full size” ammunition.

The Glock 26/27 (9mm and .40 caliber, respectively) was the very first semiautomatic pistol made by a major manufacture with concealability in mind. Sure, there were cheaply made “Saturday Night Specials” that fired .22 or .25 caliber cartridges, but unless you were a mafia hit man or a jealous wife you couldn’t rely on either of those calibers to take down an assailant. There was also the Walther .380 PPK guns made famous by James Bond, but even those guns shrank during this period of time. Anyway, the Glock 27 was my first handgun purchase, and I bought it strictly because if I couldn’t carry more than ten rounds, I might as well get the smallest gun I could carry.

That last part is important. It’s the direct tie between the then-current legislation and my decisions in buying a firearm. I lived in Virginia at the time, and I was eligible for a concealed-carry permit. I specifically and purposefully bought a handgun that was easier to conceal and carry because I couldn’t buy a high capacity larger-frame gun like my brother’s 10mm or my uncle’s Beretta 92F.

I apologize for this crappy pic, but it really does show how small my 27 is:

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It’s almost small enough to fit in my hand. In fact, when I hold it, my pinky finger won’t fit on the grip. To put this much firepower in a such a small handgun runs counter to the spirit of the laws that produced it. The spirit of the Brady Bill and the Violent Crime Control bill was to keep lethal weapons off the street. One of the byproducts of those laws was to create more portable weaponry, which allowed lethal weapons to be carried more easily on the street than ever. Proof in the pudding? I wore two handguns to work every day in Virginia for almost five years and no one ever knew. I even packed to a wedding once, but that was mostly by accident. Try that with a Striker 12.

The “small arms” race produced more and more sub-compact guns, such as my pocket pistol, the North American Arms Guardian. It’s a shameless ripoff of the Seacamp .32, which until the Violent Crime Control bill was an unpopular handgun. After the VCC bill, the Seacamp was so popular there was a two year waitlist on getting the gun. Clearly I wasn’t the only one thinking about smaller guns.

The Guardian. Pain in the ass to shoot, but easily concealed in my front pocket, where I carried it unnoticed for years.

[edit] This picture is a little misleading. The Guardian is smaller than as depicted — one because the person hold it has their hand cupped, compared to the outstretched hand in the Glock 27 pic, and also because the person in the Guardian pic has tiny fucking mitts. It’s about half the size of my hand. [/edit]

Another by-product of small-framed weapons? Higher velocity, more deadly, ammunition variants designed to be more shooter-friendly in lighter framed pistols. Large frame handguns could easily compensate for the massive recoil associated with slower velocity, heavier bullets. New, concealable guns, often manufactured out of lightweight metals and plastics, were torturous to shoot with these original hardball cartridges. Lighter bullets didn’t have enough mass to adequately stop targets — so people started buying bullets specially designed to highly fragment when they struck flesh, such as Speer’s Gold Dot line.

Here’s an example of a bullet fully expanded after hitting a heavy cloth jacket and entering a gelatin block used to simulate human flesh:

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The purpose of the legislation was to reduce person on person crime. However, the effect of the bill was to spawn lightweight, concealable handguns that resulted in the demand and sale of more lethal ammunition than ever offered to the civilian market. In a twist of irony, citizens were carrying bullets originally designed for law enforcement and the military because of a law created to ban paramilitary style weaponry.

Fear of current guns being banned also spurred my firearm purchases. I never, ever thought I would buy an AK-47 or other paramilitary rifle until I heard that the Bill Clinton was going to ban their importation in 1998. I bought one for $300, a 100% increase in price before the ban was announced, I also bought five thirty-round magazines made and imported before the 1994 ban on high capacity magazines. I bought a thousand rounds of Russian military-grade ammunition, and they are mostly stockpiled in a tupperware bin in my house to this day. Compared to my Glock, I hardly ever shoot the AK. I have put well over 2000 rounds through my Glock, but the AK has probably been fired less than 300 times, mostly by friends interested to see what an AK-47 shoots like. The AK a curiosity and a specialized tool in my firearms toolbox. I didn’t buy it because I wanted to shoot up a mall. I bought it because I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to buy one ever again. Just like my desire to own a small-framed handgun, other gun owners felt the same way about buying a potentially banned weapon. AK sales soared right before the ban.

So instead of buying a foot-long hand cannon for fun at the range and a lever-action 30.06 rifle for hunting, gun legislation guided me towards two easily concealed handguns and a rifle solely designed to kill other people. Granted, this legislation wasn’t the only reason I bought these weapons, but they did encourage a “why not?” mentality and panic buying for fear of further restriction. I definitely would not have purchased the AK if not for the ban. Would I have bought the Guardian and my small frame Glock 27 if not for the 10-shot restriction? Honestly, probably not. I was marginally interested in carrying a handgun and obtaining a concealed carry permit before I looked specifically at my Glock, but I wasn’t sold on the idea of daily carry until the 27 and other guns like it made it a possibility.

The idea with this post isn’t to get into “gun laws are stupid,” which they are, but instead it’s to chronicle the effects of gun legislation on one American gun owner. Instead of the intended effect of those laws, which was to reduce people toting guns around, the laws had the opposite effect. With magazine capacity and form factor bans in place, the gun industry and shooting public responded by gravitating towards weapons that were more easily concealed than ever.

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3 Comments on "How gun legislation turned me into One of Them™"

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  1. configuratrix says:

    Your chronicle makes sense.

    Silver lining: it’s easier for a woman to find a gun which will fit in her hands.

  2. cymwyd says:

    Your Dad had the same POV as mine:

    Assume every gun is loaded. Never point a gun at a person unless you intend to shoot them. And never shoot a person unless you intend to kill them.

    To which my Dad always added: if you ever own a gun, make damn sure you know how to use it safely. He was big on making sure you could strip and clean your weapon (in the dark if necessary, since the bad guys aren’t going to wait for you) and practice practice practice til you could be certain of hitting your target.

    I’ve never thought I could actually point a gun at a person and pull the trigger, so I don’t handle them at all.

  3. Peter K says:

    Of course, you’re right. But notice this: gun laws are not only stupid but they begin by assuming there are no guns anywhere before the laws. Everywhere in the world they have these “unintended consequences”.