It should’ve been the shot heard around the world. Chances are, you didn’t hear it.
An ominous sort of history was made last week near Austin, Texas, but it seems to have largely escaped notice. There was some media coverage, yes, but less than, say, Lindsay Lohan’s latest stint in rehab, certainly less than you’d think for something whose ramifications will likely shadow us for years.
On May 2, you see, a group called Defense Distributed, led by law student and self-described anarchist Cody Wilson, accomplished what was apparently the first successful firing of a gun “printed” entirely by a 3-D printer. According to Forbes reporter Andy Greenberg, who witnessed the test, the gun is made almost entirely of plastic, the only metal in it being the nail that served as a firing pin and the bullet it fired.
A 3-D printer, for the benefit of those who remember when the mimeograph machine was the cutting edge of duplication technology, is a device that can download computer blueprints and use them to manufacture complex physical objects right on your desktop.
The one Defense Distributed used is said to have cost $8,000. Amazon has one listed for $1,299.
So we now have technology, largely unregulated, with the potential to turn every desktop into an armory. Forbes reports that, in just two days, 100,000 blueprints were downloaded.
Hold that thought as you ponder another recent headline. It seems one Adam Kokesh, an Iraq War veteran and activist, is organizing an armed march on Washington for Independence Day. Participants — he claims 2,500 so far — with loaded rifles slung across their backs plan to march into the nation’s capital to protest the “tyranny” of the federal government.
While D.C. residents are allowed to have registered firearms on their property, they are not allowed to carry them in public. Police Chief Cathy Lanier has said marchers will be met at the border and if they break that law, “we’ll take action.”
Kokesh, apparently delusional, promises to turn back peacefully if confronted, but says it is his hope the city will suspend the law for him and even provide his group a police escort.
You will not be surprised to learn that, by “tyranny,” Kokesh means the duly elected (not a hanging chad in sight) president of the United States going about his job. Thing is, if you don’t like the way he does his job, you get a chance every four years to make a change. People in North Korea would doubtless love to live under that kind of “tyranny.”
Because it isn’t. Kokesh’s march is just the latest product of the great American panic machine, the mechanism by which the extreme right works itself into spasms of apoplectic terror over threats that don’t exist.
“We’re going to be under Sharia law!”
Except, we’re not.
“We’ve become a socialist country!”
Except we haven’t.
“There’s a War on Christmas!”
Except there isn’t.
“They’re trying to take our guns away!”
Except that it is now theoretically possible for a mental patient to manufacture his own gun in the comfort of his aluminum foil-lined basement. That’s a sobering development with far reaching implications barely considered, much less addressed, by lawmakers though this technology has existed for over a decade. Since Wilson’s test, there’s been a flurry of calls for legislation. On Friday, the federal government ordered Wilson to remove the blueprints from his website. All of which is the very epitome of locking the garage after the Hyundai has been hotwired.
It’s a pity some of the energy that has gone into fighting imaginary tyranny did not go into pondering this real and eminently predictable threat. But, then, we are unserious people in a very serious age.
And therein lies the danger of the panic machine. We spend so much time fighting threats that do not exist, we are left ill-prepared for the ones that do.
By: Leonard Pitts, Jr., The National Memo, May 12, 2013
“Guns Are a Right”: Yet, The Idea That A Citizenry Free To Bear Arms May Impose More Of A Threat To Freedom Than It Guarantees
We are at a point in the debate over gun control where these are dueling headlines: “At Least 71 Kids Have Been Killed With Guns Since Newtown” versus “A march on Washington with loaded rifles.” Given the status of gun control legislation in Congress, they’re equally infuriating, but one gives insight into why this debate is stalled.
Libertarian radio host Adam Kokesh is planning a gathering of gun owners and gun rights activist where they will…maybe it’s best to read him in his words. From the Facebook page:
On the morning of July 4, 2013, Independence Day, we will muster at the National Cemetery & at noon we will step off to march across the Memorial Bridge, down Independence Avenue, around the Capitol, the Supreme Court, & the White House, then peacefully return to Virginia across the Memorial Bridge. This is an act of civil disobedience, not a permitted event. We will march with rifles loaded & slung across our backs to put the government on notice that we will not be intimidated & cower in submission to tyranny. We are marching to mark the high water mark of government & to turn the tide. This will be a non-violent event, unless the government chooses to make it violent. Should we meet physical resistance, we will peacefully turn back, having shown that free people are not welcome in Washington, & returning with the resolve that the politicians, bureaucrats, & enforcers of the federal government will not be welcome in the land of the free.
Currently, 3400+ people on Facebook have stated their intention of participating (an admittedly shoddy means by which to gauge likely attendance), but it makes me wonder if anyone involved is reading the same news that I am.
What’s telling is the language used to promote this action. On May 3, Kokesh tweeted: “When the government comes to take your guns, you can shoot government agents, or submit to slavery.”
It’s not that he doesn’t know the horrors of guns, but that he views his right to own guns as integral to his freedom as an American. That’s the strain of thinking among pro-gun folks that’s difficult to defeat.
It’s why Glenn Beck doesn’t flinch when co-opting the message and symbolism of Martin Luther King Jr., to promote a pro-gun rights agenda. King’s nonviolent philosophy isn’t as important to Beck as the fact that his life represents a fight for freedom and Beck sees his crusade in the same light.
Here’s a thought this group may want to consider: the rights we have can, and do, have and will continue to change.
Slavery was once a right. Now-outdated notions of privacy and property allowed marital rape as a right. But the costs of those rights were the violation of others’ rights, and we reached a point as a society (through much debate, struggle, blood, sweat, tears and more) where we decided that protecting rights like slavery and marital rape was no longer worth the damage they inflicted. Alcohol was a right, then it wasn’t, and then it was again because prohibiting drinking caused more trouble than we were able to tolerate. However, when the right returned it did not go unchecked. This is how we negotiate rights in a democracy.
But on guns, we seem unwilling to even consider the idea that a citizenry free to bear arms may impose more of a threat to freedom than it guarantees. I understand why that is, as guns are tied into our national identity, our sense of masculinity, our desire for power, and it frightens some of us to think who we would be without that. And then more headlines read “13-year-old Florida boy shoots 6-year-old with handgun at home” and I just want us to pause to consider: Is the right to bear arms worth the deaths of our children?
We may well decide that it is, but a debate about guns that is afraid of that core question isn’t one worth having.
By: Mychal Denzel Smith, The Nation, May 10, 2013
There’s even more exciting gun news today, coming from a small nonprofit organization called Defense Distributed. They announced that they have successfully test-fired a gun made almost entirely in a 3-D printer. The only part that wasn’t 3-D printed was the firing pin. And the bullet, of course. Now previously, people had made gun components in 3-D printers, but prior tests of entire weapons had been unsuccessful. This raises some rather troubling questions, which we’ll get to in a moment. But first, here’s their short video, which shows the firing and construction of the gun, inexplicably interspersed with shots of World War II-era bombers: http://youtu.be/drPz6n6UXQY
They may call this thing “The Liberator,” but it’s a little too impractical to be able to liberate anyone at the moment. It’s probably highly inaccurate, and it holds only one bullet. But this is more a proof-of-concept than anything else, and if you want to, you can go to their website and download the plans, then print one out on your own 3-D printer.
Defense Distributed is run by Cody Wilson, a 25-year-old law student, gun enthusiast, and libertarian. There’s a Q&A with him from a few months ago here, and if you read it you’ll see he sounds pretty much like any Ron Paul acolyte. His motivations aren’t all that important, because if he didn’t do it, it was only a matter of time before someone else did. You may be asking, is this legal? And the answer appears to be yes. There is a law called the Undetectable Firearms Act which prohibits the manufacture, sale, or possession of any gun that won’t show up on a metal detector, but Defense Distributed handles that by including in the design a piece of metal in the gun’s body. You can figure out how tough that would be to get around.
As it happens, the Undetectable Firearms Act is expiring at the end of this year. There will be an effort to renew it, particularly in light of this development, and it would certainly be interesting to see the NRA try to argue that being able to print out a plastic gun in your basement is the very essence of the liberty for which the Founders fought so bravely. But you know what? I’m guessing the NRA won’t oppose a renewal of the UFA at all. They’ll be happy to support it.
And why would that be? Well, who’s the most threatened by the idea of people making their own guns in large quantities? The gun manufacturers, that’s who. And in recent years, the relationship between the NRA and the manufacturers has grown so intertwined that there’s virtually no distinction between them. So don’t be surprised if we see the NRA come out in full-throated support of new restrictions on 3-D printed guns.
Now, let’s address the technological question. Even if there isn’t much point in 3-D printing your own gun right now, the technology is in its very early stages. If you want to get a 3-D printer today, you can pay $2,000 for one from MakerBot, the most popular brand, or you can get one for as little as $400 from some other companies (the one Defense Distributed used was a used industrial model, somewhat more expensive). 3-D printing boosters predict that as the technology improves and prices come down, before long—maybe 10 years, maybe 15—3-D printers will be as common a household appliance as microwave ovens. And let’s say the technology does improve, to the point where you could print out a full, working version of a Glock or, if you had a huge printer, an AR-15. And instead of paying $500 for the former or $1,000 for the latter, it’d cost you maybe five or ten bucks for the material and that’s it. Why not make a hundred of them? Or a thousand?
MakerBot doesn’t allow plans for guns on its Thingverse, the biggest forum for trading 3-D printing plans. But that doesn’t matter; if it’s on the Internet somewhere, people will find it if they want to. And even if we made them illegal, you could break that law without involving any accomplices. If you had a gang, you could outfit them with more guns than they could possibly want. The technology may be just developing, but the possibilities are pretty frightening.
By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect, May 6, 2013
The suicide rate among middle-aged Americans, and especially among the middle-aged men, soared from 2000 to 2010, according recent findings from the Center For Diseases Control and Prevention. There were 38,350 suicides in 2010, making it the tenth leading cause of death in America, surpassing the annual number of car fatalities. Among men ages 50 to 59 years old, there was a nearly 50 percent spike in suicides over that ten-year span. More than half of all male suicides were carried out with a firearm.
The startling findings have produced a steady stream of news coverage in recent days. But it’s been coverage that has largely overlooked a central tenet of the escalating suicide crisis: Guns. And specifically, easy access to guns in America.
The oversight continues a troubling media trend of news reports routinely failing to put U.S. gun violence in context and failing to give news consumers a proper understanding of the size and scope of the deadly epidemic. Self-inflicted gun deaths remain the cornerstone of suicides in America, accounting for 56 percent of male suicides. And the gun rate is increasing. You simply cannot discuss suicide in America without addressing the pivotal role firearms play. Unfortunately, in recent days lots of news organizations have tried to do just that.
The truth is, gun suicides are rarely front-and-center in the firearms debate in this country, which instead is often focused on crime statistics and, sometimes even less rarely, the total number of people killed by guns annually. And according to researchers, there exists a clear connection between states that have high gun ownership rates and states that suffer high suicide rates.
Moreover, guns are especially lethal. Suicide attempts with a gun prove to be fatal 85 percent of the time, as compared to suicide attempts via pill overdoses, which prove fatal just two percent of the time, according to a study from the Harvard Injury Control Research Center.
In covering the CDC’s latest suicide findings though, news accounts have paid little attention to guns.
NBC News made just a single reference to firearms in its report about escalating suicides, despite the fact guns are used in early 20,000 suicides every year. The Wall Street Journal’s news report never referenced “guns” or “firearms” even once. The same was true of CBS’ Evening News on May 2. It aired a suicide report based on the CDC’s findings and never mentioned guns.
Meanwhile, the Associated Press dispatch included just one sentence acknowledging that guns are used for more than half of the suicides in the U.S. The AP included one additional sentence noting the CDC does not address the relationship between suicide rates and gun ownership.
Lobbied by the NRA, Congress in 1996 effectively banned the CDC from conducting research on gun violence. That 17-year ban came to an end when President Obama this year issued an executive order in the wake of the Sandy Hook School massacre, granting the CDC permission to “conduct research on the causes and prevention of gun violence.” (NRA allies in the press still condemn the CDC as being anti-gun ownership.)
While the CDC hasn’t been studying and collecting data on gun violence, other researches have consistently confirmed a link between firearm ownership and suicide, which is why guns ought to be a key media focus for today’s surging suicide rate.
From the American Journal of Epidemiology:
Persons with guns in the home were also more likely to have died from suicide committed with a firearm than from one committed by using a different method.
The researchers found that states with higher rates of household firearm ownership had significantly higher rates of suicide by children, women and men.
The availability of guns in the home, independent of firearms type or method of storage, appears to increase the risk for suicide among adolescents.
With few exceptions, states with the highest rates of gun ownership — for example, Alaska, Montana, Wyoming, Idaho, Alabama, and West Virginia — also tended to have the highest suicide rates.
After researching the link between guns and suicide, Augustine Kposowa, a sociology professor at the University of California, Riverside, noted that new government policies aimed at regulating gun ownership would “reduce individual suicides.” But because the NRA and most Republicans oppose them, laws cannot be passed. And the suicide rate continues to climb.
That’s all the more reason for the press to connect the obvious dots between suicide and the larger gun violence debate in America.
By: Eric Boehlert, Media Matters for America, May 6, 2013
One of the oddities of the gun-control debate—apart from ours being the only country that really has one—is that the gun side basically gave up on serious arguments about safety or self-defense or anything else a while ago. The old claims about the million—or was it two million? It kept changing—bad guys stopped by guns each year has faded under the light of scrutiny. Indeed, people who possess guns are almost five times more likely to be shot than those who don’t. (“A gun may falsely empower its possessor to overreact, instigating and losing otherwise tractable conflicts with similarly armed persons,” the authors of one study point out, to help explain that truth.) Far from providing greater safety, gun possession greatly increases the risk of getting shot—and, as has long been known, keeping a gun in the house chiefly endangers the people who live there.
And so the new arguments for keeping as many guns as possible in the hands of as many people as possible tend to be more broadly fatalistic, and sometimes sniffily “cultural.” Ours is a gun-ridden country and a gun-filled culture, the case goes, and to try and change that is not just futile but, in a certain sense, disrespectful, even ill-mannered. It’s not just that Mayor Bloomberg’s indignation is potentially counter-productive—basically, his critics suggest, if not so bluntly, because a rich, short Jew from New York is not a persuasive advocate against guns. It’s that Mayor Bloomberg just doesn’t get it, doesn’t understand the central role that guns play in large parts of non-metropolitan American culture. What looks to his admirers like courage his detractors dismiss as snobbishness.
And so the real argument about guns, and about assault weapons in particular, is becoming not primarily an argument about public safety or public health but an argument about cultural symbols. It has to do, really, with the illusions that guns provide, particularly the illusion of power. The attempts to use the sort of logic that helped end cigarette smoking don’t quite work, because the “smokers” in this case feel something less tangible and yet more valued than their own health is at stake. As my friend and colleague Alec Wilkinson wrote, with the wisdom of a long-ago cop, “Nobody really believes it’s about maintaining a militia. It’s about having possession of a tool that makes a person feel powerful nearly to the point of exaltation. …I am not saying that people who love guns inordinately are unstable; I am saying that a gun is the most powerful device there is to accessorize the ego.”
It’s true. Everyone, men especially, needs ego-accessories, and they are most often irrationally chosen. Middle-aged stockbrokers in New York collect Stratocasters and Telecasters they’ll never play; Jay Leno and Jerry Seinfeld own more cars than they can drive. Wine cellars fill up with wine that will never be drunk. The propaganda for guns and the identification of gun violence with masculinity is so overpoweringly strong in our culture that it is indeed hard to ask those who already feel disempowered to resist their allure. If we asked all those middle-aged bankers to put away their Strats—an activity that their next-door neighbors would bless—they would be indignant. It’s not about music; it’s about me, they would say, and my right to own a thing that makes me happy. And so with guns. Dan Baum, for instance, has an interesting new book out, “Gun Guys: A Road Trip.” His subjects, those gun guys, are portrayed sympathetically—they are sympathetic—and one gets their indignation at what they see as their “warrior ethic” being treated with contempt by non-gun guys. (That’s, at least, how they experience it, though where it matters, in Congressional votes, there is little but deference.) As Baum points out, gun laws are loose in America because that’s the way most Americans want it, or them.
But though you’ve got to empathize before you can understand, understanding doesn’t entail acceptance. Slavery, polygamy, female circumcision—all these things played a vital role at one time or another in somebody’s sense of the full expression of who they are. We struggle to understand our own behavior in order to alter it: everything evil that has ever been done on earth was once a precious part of somebody’s culture, including our own.
We should indeed be as tolerant as humanly possible about other people’s pleasures, even when they’re opaque to us, and try only to hive off the bad consequences from the good. The trouble is that assault weapons have no good consequences in civilian life. A machine whose distinguishing characteristic is that it can put a hundred and sixty-five lethal projectiles into the air in a few moments has no real use except to kill many living things very quickly. We cannot limit its bad uses while allowing its beneficial ones, because it has no beneficial ones. If the only beneficial ones are the feeling of power they provide, then that’s not good enough—not for the rest of us to be obliged to tolerate their capacity to damage and kill. (And as to the theoretical tyrannies that they protect us from: well, if our democratic government and its military did turn on us, that would surely present a threat and a problem that no number of North Dakotans with their Bushmasters could solve.)
In a practical sense, we’ve been reduced to arguing about marginal measures—a universal background check, which might still become law; an assault-weapons ban, which seems to have been put aside. There is, let it be said, another cultural argument to be made here about both. Though gun violence remains shockingly common in America, gun massacres, of the kind that took place in Newtown or, before, in Aurora (remember that? A while ago now, though this week the shooter appeared in court) and that are dependent, in some ways, on the speed and scope of assault weapons, are still statistically rare. If one is playing the odds, there really isn’t any reason to be frightened for your children each time you drop them off at first grade, though parents feel that fear anyway. They might have more to worry about from the gun in the closet, or the person who will still be able to get a gun legally. That’s true about lots of things. It’s even truer about terrorism, for instance. Yet, rather obviously, we spend a lot of money, and go through many airport contortions, to protect ourselves from what is, rationally considered, a minute threat.
That we do so is not unreasonable. Though, from a cold-blooded accounting point of view, we might be able to survive many more 9/11s, the shiver that one feels writing that sentence reveals its falseness. The nation might survive it, but we would not, in the sense that our belief in ourselves, our feeling for our country, our core sense of optimism about the future, would collapse with repeated terrorist attacks. And so it is with gun massacres, whether in Aurora or Newtown or the next place. Our sense of what is an acceptable and unacceptable risk for any citizen, let alone child, to endure, our sense of possible futures to consider—above all, our sense, to borrow a phrase from the President, of who we are, what we stand for, the picture of our civilization we want to look at ourselves and present to the world—all of that is very much at stake even if the odds of any given child being killed are, blessedly, small. Laws should be designed to stop likely evils; it’s true, not every possible evil. But some possible evils are evil enough to call for laws just by their demonstrated possibility. There are a few things a society just can’t bear, and watching its own kids killed in the classroom, even every once in a while, is one of them.
By: Adam Gopnik, The New Yorker, April 4, 2013