The Ethical Spectacle March 1995 (

An NRA Member Replies

Mr. Blumen,

[Regarding My Constitutional Right to Own a SAM]:

"Amendment IX

The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.

Amendment X

The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people."

Let me be upfront about this - I'm an NRA member. With that said, I should point out that I don't neccessarily agree with the entire NRA agenda. Yet I find myself supporting them in practice; not because I want to own a SAM, but because Congress' attempts at "gun-control" have been so gratuitously self-serving. Congress doesn't want gun-control, they want to score points with the voters!

Case in point: The assault gun ban. Do you know how many crimes are committed with semi-auto or full-auto weapons? I don't have the exact count, (it was published recently in the American Rifleman) but it's not many - so few, in fact, that when it happens, it's big news.

Or consider this - Congress made a big point of banning "street-sweepers". Until that moment when I saw a congressman waving one around on TV, I had never even heard of a street-sweeper and I doubt anyone else outside the military had either. I mean, how many people do you know who own, or want to own, a rotary, full-auto shotgun? If I had seen that gun in a Rambo movie, I would have written it off as typical Hollywood excess! Yet you appear to have bought into this congressional myth - that the murder rate is soaring and the cause is the easy availability of high caliber, high rate-of-fire weapons.

The truth of the matter is this: (1) America's Homicide rate (the # of people being murdered per 100,000) is the same now as it was in 1933. It would, in fact, be much lower except for the second fact: (2) Children under 14, and teens between 14-18 are committing murders at a far higher rate than they ever have. Killings be children under 10 years old have become statistically significant! (These two points come from the Phila. Inquirer, BTW).

Now, what kind of weapon are these predominantly urban kids using? Not AR-15's or street-sweepers, that's for certain. They are, in fact, using the eternally prefered weapon of the urban poor - cheap pistols.

These are the weapons that even the NRA doesn't like to talk about; much like the ACLU doesn't like to defend XXX peep-shows as "free speech" - I mean, they do, but you can tell they're not comfortable with it. In the same way, you can tell the only reason the NRA supports pistol manufacturers is because of the slippery-slope defense. Yet, we do have reasonable restrictions on free-speech: The classic "you can't yell 'Fire!' in a crowded theatre' for example, libel and slander laws are another. We should be able to put reasonable boundaries on the ownership of weapons without sliding down any slippery slopes.

But let me put that aside for a moment and return to your article. You state that the idea that the second ammendment was meant to protect us from the feds is unlikely. Well, unlikely it may be but that was exactly the framers intent. Remember, we had just finished overthrowing the old national government, and the guys who wrote the consititution were the leaders of that rebellion! But don't take my word for it. Here's a quote from old T.J. himself:

"The strongest reason for the people to retain the right to keep and bear arms is, as a last resort, to protect themselves against tyranny in government." -- Thomas Jefferson

In other words, protecting people like David Koresh was exactly what Mr. Jefferson, et. al. had in mind! This is why the trial of the surviving Koresh followers revolved around who shot first - because if they could show the BATF were the first to fire, the Koresh people would have been guilty of nothing but self defense. This same principle is involved in another BATF case where the BATF shot and killed a suspect's dog (from considerable distance, I might add) to prevent it from interfering with the arrest. In response, the suspect's son returned fire and was killed, the suspect's wife was killed (she was unarmed) and the suspect arrested and charged with - tada! - selling a shotgun that was a 1/4 inch too short to be legal.

If this isn't reasonable grounds for wanting to own a machine gun, I don't know what is. All I can say is that I hope I've got something better than a .22 rifle on hand when BATF comes looking for me! (Gee, perhaps that street sweeper would be just the thing, after all.....)

In any case, I really do feel that you're thinking emotionally rather than examing the facts. For over 200 years America has permitted private ownership of arms - and has, in fact, placed reasonable restrictions on the posession of military class weapons (which is why I would need a federal license to own that machine gun I was talking about). It is possible to make a case that those restrictions need to be re-examined with an eye to making cheap pistols less available to minors (how about some kind of sliding tax that boosts the price of all pistols to say, a minimum of $250 dollars, or a heavy tax on ammunition.)

The current state of gun-control is a farce, but it's a farce being played out on both sides. Americans need to realize that society is not more violent than in the past (perhaps the media are just focusing on it more?) and that the causes of violence have nothing to do with the availability of semi-auto weapons.

When I see a congressman pitch a gun law aimed at the guns being used in crime, I will support him, and it. Until then, the NRA gets my money.

Michael Heinz

Jonathan Blumen responds:

First off, let me say that we agree on many things. I am not arguing for a complete gun ban in America, or even a complete handgun ban. At first blush, I like the idea of making handguns expensive enough that kids can't afford them. At second thought, though, there may be an equal protection issue here. I don't think you can tax the exercise of a constitutional right in such a way that only the wealthy can afford it. Imagine if I had to pay $250 an issue to publish the Spectacle, for example.

I share your distaste for Congressional grandstanding and making issues out of nonissues (but don't agree semiautomatic weapons are a non-issue.)

You have the advantage of me with the Thomas Jefferson quote (this shows where common sense arguments break down when they collide with history--like arguing that the American people could not have elected Richard Nixon President, based on what they knew about him in 1960). I will have to do some historical research now, and see if I have an answer for you (if I do, I'll present it in a later issue).

Where I think you go off the track is in insisting on looking at the semi-automatic issue as a statistical issue. I don't care what percentage of national crime is committed with these weapons. There was a schoolyard full of dead children in California, a train car full of dead riders in N.Y., a Massachusetts college campus littered with dead students, and also two abortion clinics with dead receptionists, all in the last few years, as a result of the use of legally-purchased semiautomatic weapons. And these are only the cases where I happen to know that the weapons were legally bought. There is a social pattern now in which an embittered, unbalanced loner, without a significant criminal record or access to illegal sources of guns, walks into a gun shop, buys a semi-automatic, and uses it to commit mass murder in a public place. I don't care if this constitutes only .001% of U.S. crime; there are people dead, killed by a weapon which in my opinion has no legitimate reason to be legal, and which is not needed to ensure you or any other N.R.A. members your constitutional protections. And if these embittered loners had been unable to use semiautomatics in their carnage, there is a good chance they would have managed to kill fewer people.

Some of the anti-gun groups make what I think is a sensible argument: guns are consumer products. If a type of heater, due to its design, regularly electrocuted babies, we'd stop selling it. But it seems to be a very difficult thing in America to stop selling a type of gun that can really only be used for mass murder.

Here's another angle on your statistics argument. SAM missiles have not been used in any incident of private crime that we know of. Assuming that a study would show that, due to their cost, difficulty of using them, etc. they would only be used to shoot down one plane every five years, killing an average of 60 people (certainly not a statistically siginificant addition to our national gun death rate), why don't we legalize private ownership of SAM's? Certainly there are N.R.A. members who would love to own these exciting weapons and use them in private target practice (also opening up a marketplace for skeets the size of airplanes). But we only want a controlled test for now, so we will legalize SAM's only in your home state. OK--which 60 airplane passengers can you dispense with for this five year period?