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Guns! Guns! Guns!

by Bryan Zepp Jamieson

Ashcroft has emphatically ordered the government to keep no records on who is buying 50 caliber machine guns, high-powered rifles, bazookas, or anything else that goes bang and makes people at a distance fall down. Ashcroft isn’t just a nutzoid religious whack; he’s a gun loon, too. It’s one of the more interesting combinations in American pathologies. It’s depressingly common.
I’ve been driving the gun nuts on the web loony by blaming the “sniper shootings” on the NRA. Oh, I don’t think the NRA has any actual direct involvement (even if the shootings did occur around Charleton Heston’s 78th birthday) or actively encourages such behavior.

But they’ve done much to create the crazed gun culture in the US that leads people to the conclusion that it is necessary to have a gun to cope with life, and be prepared to use it as the need arises. While 99%+ of the population can manage to live with this without going off the deep end and shooting the wife, or the boss, or the neighbor (most shooting crimes occur among people who know one another), we do have that troublesome minority who, without guns, would just be jerks with attitude, and with guns end up killing over 10,000 people a year and injuring over 100,000. It’s hard to be impressed with suicide bomb deaths in Israel, or American deaths during the Vietnam war, compared to this. There have only been three wars that featured a higher rate of carnage in American history than what the citizenry inflicts upon itself just exercising its collective second amendment rights.

So we have a culture where it’s easy to get guns, and using guns to solve personal problems is, if not actually encouraged, often put in a positive light. Do you feel lucky, punk? Well, do you?

Some of the gun nuts suggested that maybe terrorists were responsible for the sniper shootings. I’m not about to reject that out of hand; in fact, it would be pretty stupid not to consider the possibility of it being a terrorist, domestic or foreign. It’s too methodical and careful to be just some loose cannon losing it because his wife left him or he got canned at work. And if it’s a serial killer, it’s a damned peculiar one. Thomas Harris, author of Red Dragon and Silence of the Lambs, did his homework in criminal psychopathy: serial killers usually start out slow, and build up to a crescendo to meet ever-escalating inner demons.

Sitting in bull sessions with friends, we constructed a variety of scenarios in which terrorists could effectively paralyze the United States and/or send the general population into a blind stinking panic. Either one, from a terrorist’s perspective, would be a good thing, because both result in the US becoming its own worst enemy.

Some of the notions we played with were absurd. Sneaking nukes into the major cities, while doubtlessly effective, also tends to be highly implausible. Other notions that seemed plausible probably have fatal flaws. I don’t mind; I’m not a terrorist, and don’t expect to ever become one. If someone says, "That’s silly, and here’s why: hamsters can’t fly" I’m not going to mind.

But trying to outguess the bastards is something that could prove valuable at some point.

One idea we played around with is that of exploiting American society’s most dangerous weakness: our love of guns.

Let’s suppose that the Crisco Kid, John Ashcroft, has it right, and there are hundreds of "sleeper cells" of al-Qaida operatives lurking in the United States, just waiting for Osama bin Laden to scratch his left earlobe and sniff twice in quick succession while talking on al-Jazheera television.

Thousands of operatives in hundreds of cells, coast to coast. Ashcroft and the rest of the Homeland Security psychocowboys may be keeping tabs on the 10% of the suspicious types that they actually know about, along with several million Muslims and other suspicious sorts (peace activists, liberals, Democrats, people who make fun of Ashcroft). Thanks to the PATRIOT Act, they can monitor the meetings you (Yes, you: You’re reading me. That makes you a suspicious sort to Ashcroft) attend, the company you keep, the books you read, the movies you rent.

But they don’t track the guns you buy. Ashcroft may have ordered his operatives to open dossiers on anyone spotted reading Carl Sagan, but he has emphatically ordered the government to keep no records on who is buying 50 caliber machine guns, high-powered rifles, bazookas, or anything else that goes bang and makes people at a distance fall down.

Doesn’t want to step on peoples’ second amendment rights, you see. Ashcroft isn’t just a nutzoid religious whack; he’s a gun loon, too. It’s one of the more interesting combinations in American pathologies. It’s depressingly common.

Effective terrorism is kind of an oxymoron. Terror isn’t a very effective emotion to debilitate an enemy, since it tends to be transitory. People just can’t maintain the screaming heebie-jeebies. The pretty girl in the horror flick can’t scream forever; eventually she’ll just say, in exasperated tones, "Oh, knock it off, Freddy". Terror doesn’t last.

DREAD, on the other hand, lasts. It is more subtle, clings to everything, and is more debilitating. The authorities can often stop a panic. Uneasiness is much more corrosive. You don’t want people running down the streets screaming like a Godzilla movie. You want them jumpy, eyeing all the other drivers on the road, afraid to go out.

Imagine if, instead of just the one sniper in Washington, you had a half dozen, acting in a half dozen cities. And each time one was caught or killed, two more would spring up.

Compound the uneasiness. Suppose a sniper bags a dozen victims in one area, and then, mysteriously, the killings stop—but a new set of killings starts up in some other locale.

The death toll would never even begin to approach 9/11, and of course, it would be much less spectacular.

But it would be at least as corrosive to American morale, and would force the government into ever more repressive and erratic behavior, while opening up a deep schism between gun owners, who would be protesting their innocence, and the rest of America, who would be thinking it was time to do something about all those guns. People would crouch in their living rooms, afraid to go out: just more Americans enjoying their second amendment freedoms.

If terrorists haven’t figured it out yet, guns are the soft underbelly of America, the vulnerability by which they can paralyze us at relatively little cost and with surprising ease.

Just because we believe guns protect us from that kind of thing.

Zepp Jamieson submitted this article (slightly edited here now that the “DC Beltway snipers” have allegedly been apprehended) in response to Ann Bracken’s poem about the Sniper, published last month. It was previously published on the American Political Journal and Lying Social Weasels websites, as well as his own site.

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This story was published on November 9, 2002.
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