The absurd cool of assault weapons
Also read at counterpunch.org
As the debate over a renewed assault weapons ban seems to be taking a back burner for more politically feasible gun control measures, I find myself debating with myself why I actually find ARs, AKs and the like so attractive. I have long been a gun-liking lefty. My fondness for firearms of the tactical variety likely has more to do with my Americaness, than any well reasoned argument I’ve concocted. For as long as I can remember I’ve been bombarded with violently-cool images of tactical weapons in action.
Guns are cool. Like many cool things they are completely unnecessary for the vast majority. Having played with a few AR-15s over the years, I can say—with guilty indulgence—they are one of the coolest weapons on the market, a coolness that is just as much form as it is function. Capable of handling military-grade armor-penetrating 5.56×45mm NATO rounds—designed for mass bleeding, tissue fragmentation and death—while firing at 200 rounds per minutes with an effective range of 400 yards-plus. All with a military-chic M4-M16 aesthetic built of aluminum alloys and cutting-edge polymers.
They’d actually be great weapons to use in the violent removal of a tyrant for most of them can be easily converted into fully automatic carbines. Yet at this point guns would be counterproductive in the removal of the last bastions of tyranny in the United States, and the citizenry with the most private arms often have the worst politics.
I’ve said these instruments of death are cool but with full understanding that cool is often absurd.
It is said that people want what they can’t have, but for the United States in our economy that is overwhelming driven by private consumption, it seems we want things precisely because we can have them. While flipping through basic cable in a dingy motel room I saw disturbing brilliance in the form of a Prilosec commercial featuring Larry the Cable Guy.
“Why make a flavored heartburn pill?” asked Mr. the Cable Guy. “‘Cuz this is America. We don’t just make things you want, we make things you didn’t even know you wanted.”
The statement was followed with a slough of examples of disposable products that were made with the sole intension of being sold, then thrown away. The genius of the advert is that it nearly directly states that the product is complete absurd, but that it doesn’t matter because we will continue to consume absurd things.
What do wild-berry flavored heartburn pills and assault weapons have in common? Most people want them simply because they’re available, and since they’re available for most people who may only shoot the guns a few times because the ammunition is so damn expensive, they’re also available to those who are looking for the most effective killing machines available: drug cartels and suicidal mass murderers to name two. And yes, while I have no evidence to back this up I assume both narcos and the murderously disturbed may get heartburn from time to time and would want to take a pill that would both kill the heartburn and give them the fresh burps of artificial wild-berry flavor.
While debating with myself over my irrational keenness for weapons that have no use value to the average person like me, the hard-to-repress martial-side of me keep on rebuking me with arguments for purchase.
One practical argument—I tell myself—for spending well in excess of a grand of an AR-style rifle is economic. If I’m going to spend that much for something I’ll only use (read: play around with) a few times a why not purchase something that holds its value. Not many consumer items are subject to as little depreciation as firearms—high-end specifically, especially over the long run.
Being a fairly young American male, I am also subjected to the pull of the hero fantasy, one where I brazenly save the lives of many by taking the lives of a few. This is one fantasy I don’t think I have ever fully acknowledged to anyone else, and one I may never acknowledged again. As Mother Jones has reported, civilians carrying guns don’t often save lives, it’s normally off-duty police and military men who take down assailants. If in a scenario where one is witnessing a mass shooting in a public place, the least likely weapon one would have on them is an assault weapon. Just imagine the carnage that would ensue if the average NRA member attempted to take down a killer with a TEC-9 or Uzi (two of the four weapons primary weapons covered in the last assault weapon ban) in a shopping mall. Awful indeed.
Another rationale for arming oneself is home defense. In the home defense scenario where an assailant is willing to take my life or that of a loved one for my stuff, an AR is not the most practical weapon. A short-barreled 12-gauge shotgun with slugs or a .45 pistol would be a much better weapon in that close-quarters situation.
There’s also that pesky second amendment. I consider myself a civil libertarian, so why not the right to bare arms? While I read the first and fourth amendments in very broad of terms, I read the second very narrowly and with a great deal of historical subjectivity. Part or me feels impelled to find some sort of consistency in my understanding of the Bill of Rights, not only accepting that which I agree with but also that which I disagree. But that is bullshit, accepting the constitutional bad with the good would accept slavery and women as second-class citizens.
The final argument I make to myself—being one taken by the romance of revolution—is keeping assault weapons available to defend oneself against the well-armed dogs of capital. Granted this scenario might be a tad more fantastic than the hero fantasy, but it is also idiotic. If one were involved in a guerilla-styled movement, the worst possible thing one could do is have their weapons registered with the authorities.
It seems the proposed assault weapons ban introduced by Senator Dianne Feinstein is dead in the water. Too many Americans like these silly machines and too much money is made from them for the bill to gain traction in both the Senate and the House. Yet even though assault weapons are rather absurd things for people to have, a weapon of that kind is one of the least deadly firearms on the market. On top of that, even the most objective analyses show the Assault Weapons Ban had little measurable effect on gun violence.
Second-hand smoke is far more dangerous than assault rifles, yet I still think they shouldn’t be available general populace, and yet I still kinda want one.
It seems the only reasons why I would want to purchase an AR-style rifle is the cool factor, which is absurd, and for the simple fact that presently they’re available to me for a not-so-modest sum. I truly believe if the US had never made them available, I would never be having this debate with myself. I would have never known that I actually wanted one.