Why I Need a “Military-Style” Firearm

In the wake of the Sandy Hook shooting, there have been an awful lot of “people” screaming to get one of the weapons used by the shooter, the AR-15, off the street. In fact, a call to once again ban the so-called “assault weapons” has been spreading like wildfire throughout the internet. You can see my previous entry titled “AK-47s are for Soldiers” for my opinion on the so-called “Assault Weapons Ban.” Oh, and I have the word “people” in quotes above because the charge is being led by pundits and propagandists, but I’ll get to that later.

Just to make sure we’re all on the same page, this is an AR-15:

The original Colt AR-15, 1973

It’s a shoulder-fired, gas-powered, air-cooled semi-automatic rifle that fires a 5.56mm (.223 caliber) round with a maximum effective range of approximately 550 meters for a point target. It’s a civilian version of the M16 assault rifle and its cousin, the M4 carbine. The following pictures are of the M16 and the M4, respectively:

M16A2

M4A1 with Rail Accessory System, attached fore grip, and Advanced Combat Optical Gunsight.

Before I go any further, I need to make something absolutely clear: the AR-15 is NOT an assault rifle. It’s designed to look like the M16 and M4, of course, and depending on the manufacturer it can use the same ammunition (a lot of the cheaper variants can’t handle the chamber pressure of military-spec ammunition). However, the AR-15 can only fire 45-60 rounds per minute, depending on the skill of the shooter, while the M16/M4 can fire up to 950 rounds per minute thanks to the burst and automatic fire modes, depending on the model. The modern AR-15 is designed to prevent it from being upgraded to this capability without a serious investment in parts, taxes, fees, and legal restrictions. In fact, the federal government banned the import or manufacture of fully automatic weapons for the civilian market back in 1986. That ban, coupled with the drastically reduced capability, means the AR-15 is not a “weapon of war” or military grade; it just looks like it. And contrary to popular belief, the “AR” does NOT stand for “assault rifle,” either; it stands for “ArmaLite,” the corporation that originally produced the design.

In recent weeks I’ve seen argument after argument; emotional outburst after emotional outburst; fallacy after fallacy accompanying the discussion over gun control and the rights of Americans. Sorting through all of the propaganda, emotionalism, illogical and straight-up ignorant (read: stupid) statements and political stunts (I’m looking at you, moron who strapped an AR-15 to your back and hung out at the local department store) has been quite the chore, and I’m not at all certain that I haven’t ended up dumber as a result. One thing that keeps popping up, though is the question, “Why would anybody need a ‘military-style’ firearm?” That’s a question I’m going to answer right here and now. It’s a two-part answer: The Profession of Arms, and the Militia and the Second Amendment.

The Profession of Arms

There are three pillars of combat readiness. They have technical names and definitions, but they can easily be summed up in three words that often find their way into most running cadences: “Shoot, Move, and Communicate.” Victory on the battlefield depends on the successful performance of these three skills, and all three of them are part of our military training. However, unlike most video games, skills need to be maintained once acquired: They don’t stay written on your character sheet and if you don’t use them, you lose them.

As an active duty military service member, I have several obligations that I have to meet. I have to stay healthy, I have to stay physically and mentally fit, and I have to continue my personal and professional education. As a Soldier, I also have to be able to shoot a rifle or pistol with a reasonable degree of accuracy. Every Soldier in the Army, regardless of their actual Military Occupational Specialty, is a Soldier first. Whether we are Combat, Combat Support, or Combat Service-Support, we are all expected to be able to “shoot, move, and communicate” effectively. All of those obligations tie into my readiness and my potential battlefield performance.

Physical fitness is largely considered to be the key component of these obligations, and rightly so. Learning to fire a weapon properly doesn’t take very long, and while education takes years to fully develop, the potential is always present. Therefore, training, leading, and mentoring are relatively easy in order for a Soldier to follow orders and execute tasks effectively. Physical fitness, however, isn’t something that can be corrected on the fly or compensated for using a variety of gadgets. Either you can carry the gear and charge up the hill, or you can’t. It’s as simple as that, and as a result a Soldier’s level of physical fitness rates pretty high up on the list of what makes someone a good troop. If a Soldier can’t run from Point A to Point B in an acceptable time, it often doesn’t matter in what other fields he or she excels.

Most (if not all) units in the Army have a time set aside on the training schedule for physical training, and a vast majority of those units perform those physical training sessions in a formal, tightly controlled setting. They have field manuals with hundreds of pages of exercises and guidance on exercise programs that detail how those training sessions are to be conducted, and more often than not the junior leaders aren’t allowed to deviate from the established guidance. Such a strict physical fitness regimen usually results in people meeting the physical fitness standards, but it often doesn’t lead to anyone exceeding the standard by much. Soldiers are instead expected to spend their own personal time on improving their physical fitness level beyond the standard. It’s one of the ways commanders are able to differentiate between those who coast and those who excel.

Professional development works the same way. There are military schools that are required as one advances in rank and position, such as the Warrior, Advanced, and Senior Leader Courses. There are schools that are required for additional duties, such as Equal Opportunity and Unit Armorer. Often those additional duties are assigned to people whether they want them or not, and then those Soldiers are sent to the requisite courses. However, commanders are always on the lookout for Soldiers who volunteer for those positions and actively seek to attend the schools.

When it comes to weapon proficiency, though, things change depending on your role. Combat specialties spend a lot of time at the range and performing various live-fire exercises. Combat Support and Combat Service-Support, however, not so much. In fact, support and service-support units are lucky if they can get their people to the qualification range more than once or twice a year. The reason for this is they aren’t the primary Warfighter, and therefore the money for bullets goes to the people who are. When they do manage to get their Soldiers to the range, those Soldiers are often limited to 18 rounds to make sure their sights are zeroed and the grouping is tight. Then they’re given 40 more rounds to meet their qualification standard.

Let me highlight that: almost two-thirds of the active Army is lucky if it gets to fire more than 58 rounds per year.

Now, when resources prevent a unit from performing formalized physical training sessions on regular basis, the Soldiers are expected to maintain their level of physical fitness on their own. Why? Because, as any commander will tell you, physical fitness is an individual responsibility. When the operations tempo or resources prevent sending Soldiers away for professional development, Soldiers are expected to take courses online where available, to include college courses (in fact, civilian education is rewarded at a much higher level than military education when it comes time for promotion). Weapon proficiency, however, tends to get lost in the background noise.

There are a couple of reasons for this. The easiest answer is the fact that when someone deploys these days, they are often issued an optical targeting aid of some kind, whether a ruggedized red-dot, a holographic sight, or a more advanced combat optical gun sight. These take away the need to be able to hit a man-sized target 300 meters away using nothing but the iron sights on the weapon, especially since the engagements fought by most support and service-support units rarely include targets at 300 meters. The other reason is, as I’ve already mentioned, bullets cost money, and contrary to what the anti-military spending hawks believe, the Army isn’t given enough money to send over 500,000 people to the range a couple of times a month.

So the question must be asked: if physical fitness and personal/professional development is considered an individual responsibility, then why not weapon proficiency, as well?

It is my belief that weapon proficiency is an individual responsibility. While I can usually qualify expert at my annual trip to the range, there’s a HUGE difference between firing at paper and pop-up targets and actually being engaged with the enemy. The enemy isn’t going to sit still while I force myself to relax, control my breathing, line up my front and rear sights, and use a measure trigger squeeze. Instead, my breathing is going to be fast, shallow, and ragger while the adrenaline is rampaging through my system. I’m going to have to assume whatever firing position is available to me while putting a red-dot on who I’m trying to shoot while my whole hand squeezes the pistol-grip and trigger because I’ve lost my fine-motor skills. While firing on someone who’s trying like hell to not be shot.

58 rounds on a tightly controlled range per year (or even twice a year) isn’t going to give me a chance in hell of meeting my readiness obligations. Much like running for the week before a physical fitness test isn’t going to make up for being a couch potato for six months, neither will throwing a few bullets through the pipe prior to deployment make me an effective fighting man.

Not meeting my individual responsibility obligation to maintain my weapon proficiency puts my life at risk, as well as the lives of my Brothers and Sisters. The Army cannot provide me with the time and resources to meet that obligation, and it therefore falls on me to use my own time to meet that obligation, just as it falls on me to maintain my own physical fitness and personal/professional development.

And this, my friends, is why I need a “military-style” firearm. The AR-15, while not being the same thing as an M16/M4, is still similar enough in operation and caliber that, utilizing my own time and resource, allows me to practice those skills that make up the Profession of Arms. It allows me to practice quickly reloading, clearing malfunctions, shooting with my off-hand, and reactive fire. It allows me to test different accessories that I may choose to add to my service weapon. It allows me to experiment with different firing positions and techniques, to test different kinds of eye and hearing protection, and even to evaluate different magazines other than the cheap pieces of flimsy metal issued by the Army.

In short, I need an AR-15 in order to meet my end of the contractual obligations imposed upon me by my enlistment and my oath to the Constitution of the United States.

The Militia and the Second Amendment

This is the part where most gun advocates would state that they don’t need an AR-15, but that it is their right to own on if they so desire, and that that right is protected by the Constitution. That’s true, to an extent, but that’s not where I’m headed with this post. Gun-control advocates often claim that the Constitution doesn’t protect a citizen’s right to have their own private arsenals. That’s also true, to an extent, but I’m not headed in that direction, either.

Let’s review the text of the Second Amendment to the Constitution of the United States, as it is written within the Bill of Rights itself:

“A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”

The gun-control advocates have long claimed the Second Amendment refers to an organized militia of sorts, and not to an individual right. They’ve claimed that when the Second Amendment was written that only muskets and flint-lock pistols were in existence and that the Founding Fathers couldn’t have possible imagined a personal weapon with the rates of fire or other capabilities of modern firearms, and therefore the Second Amendment doesn’t apply to semi-automatic firearms of any sort. The Supreme Court of the United States completely disagrees with those arguments, however.

Back in 1939 the Supreme Court ruled that the Second Amendment referred to firearms that were in common use by the military, putting the “only muskets” argument to bed almost 73 years ago. In 2008 the court, in a challenge against the handgun ban in Washington, D.C., ruled that the Second Amendment does, in fact, refer to an individual right to possess a firearm, and therefore the blanket ban was rendered unconstitutional. Two years later the court had to clarify that ruling in reference to a Chicago handgun ban, stating that Americans in all 50 states have a Constitutional right to possess firearms for self-defense. While neither of those last two rulings rule out the possibility of reasonable restrictions, they make it pretty clear that keeping and bearing arms is an individual right.

You see, it is my belief that the Second Amendment, in addition to protecting my inalienable right to keep and bear arms, refers to my responsibility as an American Citizen to come to the defense of this nation in the event of insurrection or invasion. And not just my responsibility, but the responsibility of every American, as well.

I’m sure I’ve raised a few eyebrows with that, so please allow me to explain a few things. First, let’s look at the Constitution of the United States, Article I, Section 8. It grants Congress the power “to provide for calling forth the Militia to execute the Laws of the Union, suppress Insurrections and repel Invasions; To provide for organizing, arming, disciplining, the Militia, and for governing such Part of them as may be employed in the Service of the United States, reserving to the States respectively, the Appointment of the Officers, and the Authority of training the Militia according to the discipline prescribed by Congress.”

The historical context of this section needs to be taken into account when trying to understand my position. You see, the sentiment of the time strongly disfavored the concept of standing armies, and instead preferred to keep a very small professional force and call upon the citizenry to act in the common defense. The States themselves were forbidden from keeping troops of their own, and were instead expected to maintain their own militia. The militia comprised all males physically capable of acting in concert for the common defense, and when called for service were expected to appear bearing arms supplied by themselves and of the kind in common use at the time.

This mentality has actually been quite the boon for the United States. It has been a major deterrent to any kind of invasion of the American homeland, to include both of the World Wars. Isoruku Yamamoto, the Fleet Admiral of Japan at the beginning of America’s involvement in World War II, is even quoted as saying he would never consider invading the American mainland, because “there would be a rifle behind every blade of grass.” Germany didn’t have any intention of landing troops on the continent, either, for pretty much the same reason. And let’s not forget the fact that the American Revolution wouldn’t have been successful without the militia, working in concert with the Continental Army to beat back what was, at the time, the mightiest army the world had ever known. Even in modern times an armed citizenry has proven to be extremely effective in subduing the raw combat power of a professional military force. America’s involvement in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Vietnam are three of the easiest example of how the best armed, best equipped, best trained fighting force in the world could be “nickel-and-dimed” to the point of determining that holding the nation wasn’t worth the effort. The Soviet Union experienced the same thing in several of its own conquests, Afghanistan (once again) being the most famous.

Such a mentality, however, has been a bit of a curse, too. Military historians are quite familiar with America’s combat record in military conflicts. Contrary to what modern flag-waivers think today, the truth is America has a history of getting its ass kicked at the outset of military conflicts. The small professional force augmented by a militia might work well in defense, but when its used in the offense it tends to have disastrous consequences. People are more apt to fight well in the defense of their home, their families, and their lands. They have the “home field advantage”: they know the territory, the people, the weather, and the wildlife. When taken from their homeland and forced into a foreign conflict, however, the lack of training, experience, and discipline is often glaring, especially when confronted with a professional military.

The American Civil War was when the United States finally saw a need for a standing, professional force. The first battles of the Civil War were fought by troops using different arms and equipment, as well as different uniforms (if they had uniforms in the first place). There are even accounts of troops from both sides wearing the same uniforms, all as a result of the militia mindset. The industrialization of weapons and equipment led to a Union Army that, while no longer defending is homeland against an incursion, was so much better armed, trained, and equipped that it significantly offset the “home field advantage” held by the Confederate Army.

Unfortunately, while the federal government recognized the need to handle the arming and equipping of the Army itself, it still didn’t learn the lesson of maintaining a standing force until over a hundred years later. With each subsequent military conflict over the next century, the need to rapidly draft the citizenry to augment the small professional force resulted in a poorly trained, poorly equipped, and drastically unprepared fighting force. Even in World War II, which many consider to be America’s finest hour, the United States required a couple of years to get its feet under it while it upgraded its inferior training and technology in order to allow it to compete with the Axis powers. Also consider Task Force Smith during the North Korean invasion of South Korea and both the U.S. and French involvement in Vietnam. Those engagements both underscore what happens when an unprepared force is matched against an opponent that maintains a large, professional military.

It wasn’t until the United States put an end to the Draft and created the all-volunteer force that the modern military as we know it today was finally introduced. It required an obscene investment of capital, due to the fact that people aren’t going to volunteer to serve in the military if they cannot support themselves or their families. As a result, we currently spend more on our military than the rest of the world combined, even though our military isn’t the largest (not by a long shot). We’ve learned that a better armed, trained, equipped, and fed force will overpower a much larger, inferior force in a stand-up fight, and our nation is willing to invest vast amounts of treasure to ensure that the people who have put their lives on hold to serve in the all-volunteer force are adequately taken care of.

But, my friends, the large, professional force is not a replacement for the militia. Some would argue that the militia’s role is taken by the National Guard, a trained and equipped citizenry that serves whichever State in which it is stationed, under control of the State Governor. Those people would be incorrect, since, while the National Guard does indeed fall under the control of the Governor, it is still a federally trained, armed, and equipped force. Their uniforms still say “U.S. ARMY” on them, they’re still paid by the Defense Finance and Accounting Service, and they go to the same training and schools. They are still federal troops; they’re just on loan to the State until the President requires them.

The United States Military, whether the active force, the National Guard, or the Reserves, serves as America’s raw combat power. It’s a professional force that can be pulled out of the country and shoved into a foreign conflict against another professional force with an expectation of success. That expectation has been met in the opening states of every military conflict since the creation of the all-volunteer force with such a degree of success that it has shocked the world on multiple occasions. From a botched mission that resulted in the loss of 19 American Soldiers versus the killing of almost two thousand enemy militia, to the complete and utter destruction of one of the largest standing armies in the world in three days, we’ve learned our lessons of history, and we’ve learned them well.

However, the professional force is not meant to defend the homeland. It’s America’s offensive arm used to project its power throughout the globe. One only needs to look at the hundreds of thousands of military personnel stationed outside of the nation’s borders at any given time (and I’m not talking about Afghanistan, here) to see that. To include the activated Reserve and National Guard units currently deployed to Afghanistan and various peacekeeping and humanitarian missions worldwide.

The defense of the homeland falls to the militia, to you and me (one I’m no longer active), to our neighbors, to their neighbors. The Supreme Court of the United States recognizes this, and as such has ruled that the Second Amendment is meant to allow us to keep and bear our own arms that are similar in nature to the arms in common use by the military. It’s in this spirit that the AR-15 is manufactured and sold, and it’s in this spirit, in conjunction with the Profession of Arms, that I feel I need to own one. Not to hunt, not for home defense, but in keeping with my individual responsibility to maintain my weapon proficiency and my individual responsibility as an American Citizen to come to the common defense of my homeland.

It’s not just my right, it’s my responsibility.

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Go Home, NRA. You’re Drunk

I come from a primarily conservative background, being raised in a house full of Republicans and growing up in a middle-class lifestyle. My outlook growing up was relatively one-sided, having attended a private school and going to church at least once a week. My carpool to high school often had conservative commentators on the radio, and my doorbell (when I was really young, at least) played “Dixie.” Over the years since I joined the military and was integrated with a sample of the rest of society, my perspectives and beliefs have changed considerably.

Not that there was anything wrong with the way I was raised, mind you. I wouldn’t be who I am without my upbringing, nor would I change anything if given the chance, except maybe the addition of ADHD diagnosis and treatment. It’s just that the older I get and the more of the world I see, the more I consider my stances on topics in a different light. For example, I was raised “Pro-Life.” Today, while I would never suggest abortion for birth control as an option for my own family situation, I firmly believe that my personal beliefs on the matter should have no bearing on the legality of the procedure. Does that disappoint my family? Sometimes, but I’m also fortunate enough to come from a family that understands it is okay to agree to disagree, and we all generally realize that we’re largely full of shit anyway.

As I’ve developed, I’ve often found that I’ve associated myself with causes or organizations I’ve later regretted. Those of you that know me well know I used to be a member of an anti-war organization, and that I ended my association with that organization when the leadership changed and the organization largely became a platform for a political ideology instead of focusing on the principles of its charter (namely, ending the war and care for wounded veterans). That and one of its more “visible” members burned an American Flag on TV saying, “This is how we feel about our country,” but I digress. Recently I’ve decided that a step (and an expensive one, at that) I took many years ago with regard to another organization needed to be taken back. That organization is the National Rifle Association (NRA).

Leaving their politics behind for a moment, the NRA today is focused on the safe education and use of firearms all over the nation. They have a long standing relationship with the Boy Scouts of America, produce a program used by elementary schools that teaches children to stay away from firearms and tell an adult if they see one in reach, and provide instructor certifications and training at ranges from coast to coast. They were the National Governing Body for Olympic shooting up until 1992, and they offer a publication dedicated to competition shooting called “Shooting Sports USA.” Their goal in this area is to cut down on accidental injury or death by removing the fear and mystique surrounding firearms through training in safety, use, and maintenance of firearms.

All of that is well and good, and I completely support all of that. I firmly believe rifle shooting should be taught in schools like it used to be (and not that long ago, believe it or not). It is an Olympic sport, after all, and when we want our children to be safe when it comes to drinking, smoking, sex and drugs we sit them down and educate them, right? So why not spend a week in High School P.E. (in schools that still have them, at least) plinking away with a .22LR? How would that be any different than the schools that still offer archery? It’s that thought process that led me to become a Lifetime Member of the National Rifle Association back in 2007. After all, eight Presidents of the United States have been members of the organization, to include John F. Kennedy, so I figured I was in good company if nothing else.

The National Rifle Association was created over a hundred and forty years ago by a journalist and United States Army General Wingate, and was initially presided over by Civil War General Ambrose Burnsides (a man who’s stunning facial hair is honored with the entry of “side burns” into the English lexicon). Brought into existence in 1871, the NRA was formed out of the lamentations of General Burnsides, who is probably the first man quoted as saying his Soldiers couldn’t “hit the broad side of a barn.” And he was right, considering the Union Army’s records indicated an average accuracy rating of one hit for every one thousand rounds fired.

You see, the United States had a history back then of not keeping a well-trained, funded, or equipped standing army around during times of peace, and as a result it wasn’t keeping up with the rest of the world as far as the development of new weapons and the tactics associated with the fundamental changes the new technology applied to the battlefield. It’s because of this the United States tended to get it’s ass handed to it early on in military conflicts throughout history while it was still playing “catch-up” to whatever force it was engaging. It’s a tradition that held true up to and including World War II, and is a major reason why our military spending is as high as it is today and why gobs of money is thrown at things like the F-22 and F-35. We don’t want to get spanked by someone else early on in a conventional conflict because our research and development staff was asleep at the wheel.

Anyway, the Civil War started with most of the Union Army still using the Springfield Model 1842 Smoothbore Musket. Because the barrel was smooth on the inside and the ammunition wasn’t factory produced, any shot fired from these weapons was about as predictable as . . . well, okay, you had a general idea of the direction the shot was headed, but your chances of hitting anything at any respectable range was next to nothing. I think the $70 paintball guns sold at Wal-Mart are more accurate. Because there was no uniformity to the ammunition and there was no way to stabilize the shot, the balls pretty much bounced their way down the barrel and out of the pipe. This lack of predictable accuracy was overcome by troops standing shoulder-to-shoulder in a mass formation and all firing together on command. Nobody was really concerned about aiming; the power flashes required the shooter to turn his head away when firing to keep from burning his face off, and the accuracy sucked even if the flash wasn’t there. Instead of training for marksmanship, the Army spent its resources training its regulars to reload as quickly as possible.

Enter the Springfield Model 1861, the first rifled shoulder weapon to be produced in large numbers in the United States. A rifled barrel is one that has groves in the barrel in a spiral pattern that grip round as it fires, forcing it to spin and stabilizing its flight path. The end result is a MUCH more accurate firearm, one with an effective range of up to and including 300 meters. Gone was the necessity to line up like a shooting gallery and throw a wall of lead at the enemy, hoping to hell you hit something. The 1861 Springfield allowed Soldiers to actually take up defensive positions in cover and accurately engage the enemy while they were still far enough away to make any smoothbore return fire essentially useless. Or it would have, if the Union Army had bothered to update its tactics.

The Army started the war with its training emphasis on reload speed to maximize its weight of fire. When the newer, many-times more accurate 1861 Springfields started pouring in, the Union Army didn’t see any reason to change tactics and develop new applications in the middle of a war, and as a result the Army squandered the major advantage the rifles gave them over their opponents in the Confederate Army. It wasn’t until the Confederates started demonstrating the best use of the rifles themselves that the Union Army finally woke up and decided to spend more time on actually using the sights on the weapons (which weren’t bad at all, when it came down to it).

Enter the NRA, which was started to promote the pursuit of the modern science of firearms. General Wingate traveled to Europe to observe their application of tactics and marksmanship training methods, then came back to the United States and wrote one of the first actual marksmanship manuals ever produced in this country. He also managed to convince the New York legislature to fund the construction of the first modern marksmanship range (built on Long Island) that was designed to promote accurate long-range fire. This allowed a team of eight American riflemen (arranged by the NRA) to win the championship at an international marksmanship competition by accurately hitting targets at ranges up to and including one thousand yards. This championship established the obsolescence of muzzle-loading rifles (the Americans used breech-loaders) and was the key factor in the U.S. military’s decision to focus its training on rifle marksmanship, a focus that is still heavily maintained to this day. It is also what propelled the NRA to national prominence.

Contrary to what a lot of people unfamiliar with NRA history think, the organization used to be a major advocate of gun control. It supported both the National Firearms Act of 1934 and the Gun Control Act of 1968. The NFA first established a VERY high (at the time) excise tax of $200 (roughly $3330 in today’s dollars) on machine guns and rifles or shotguns with a barrel length of under 16 and 18 inches, respectively, as well as suppressors and firearms with a bore greater than .50″ (except shotguns). The GCA regulated interstate commerce in firearms, as well as regulated who could buy or sell firearms.

However, it was in the 1970s that the NRA started to lose its damn mind. Until then the NRA and it’s lobbying arm (the ILA) had largely focused on hunting, marksmanship, and conservation; gun control was fairly downplayed. However, a political opposition within the organization began to form, one who’s belief that the NRA’s emphasis should be on the Second Amendment and the rights of gun owners. In 1977 the gloves came off when the incumbent directors were ousted and replaced by members of this opposition, and Harlon Carter was instituted as President and Neal Knox was given control of the ILA.

Knox is the asshole primarily responsible for the NRA as it is known today. Most people today aren’t too familiar with him, as most people today remember Charlton Heston’s “cold dead fingers” speech. Well, Heston was a ‘down the middle’ kind of guy compared to Knox. Knox’s work was focused on the deregulation of firearms and actively opposed almost every local, state and federal gun control measure ever devised. He’s been in and out of office a couple of times, each time managing to further wrench control away from the original intent of the NRA and focus completely on the deregulation of firearms in support of Second Amendment Rights. The craziness reached a peak level in the wake of the Oklahoma City bombing when La Pierre referred to federal law enforcement agents as “jack-booted thugs” and compared them to the Nazis.

Now the NRA is back in full swing in the wake of the Sandy Hook shooting. From blaming video games and TV violence for the shooting to advocating that armed guards roam the halls of schools, the NRAs lobbying arm has completely separated itself from the original goal of the NRA, namely experienced marksmanship and the pursuit of science. It has charged full-bore into the waiting arms of extremism, completely shutting down the opportunity for intelligent, rational discussion on the issue of gun control and the culture of violence that is prevalent throughout the United States.

I reached my decision point yesterday in light of a new commercial attacking the Obama Administration. Before I get to that let me again remind people that I’m a huge supporter of Second Amendment rights and the right to concealed carry. I firmly believe the intent of the Founders was to provide this country with a method of defense outside of a standing Army. Let me also say that I actually laughed out loud at a photo shopped image of President Obama in a crowd saying that we need to ban guns to keep our country safe, while the various police and Secret Service agents had arrows pointing at each of them, labeled “GUN.” What can I say, I find that shit funny.

However, I have to draw the line at a commercial that advocates armed guards in schools and calls the President a hypocrite because he doesn’t agree yet sends his daughters to school with an armed escort.

First of all, and I don’t care who the politician is or what side of the aisle he or she parks his or her ass, I find it to be in extremely poor taste to make any kind of political attack against someone while using their children. It infuriated me when it was done with the Bush daughters, it infuriated me when it was done with Palin’s children, and it infuriates me when it’s done with Obama’s daughters. It’s extremely low class and downright repugnant. It’s disgusting, it’s lazy, it’s cowardly, and it’s straight up BULLSHIT.

Yes, I said it, it’s BULLSHIT. Here’s why.

I’ve been watching “The West Wing” lately and there’s a scene in Season One where, after federal agents bust into a D.C. bar when the President’s daughter’s panic button is used to subdue three potential rapists, the President explains the “nightmare scenario” to her when she complains of her Secret Service protection:

“The Nightmare Scenario, sweetheart, is YOU getting kidnapped. You go out to a bar or party in some club and you get up to go to the restroom, somebody comes up to you from behind and put their hand across your mouth and whisks you out the back door. You’re so petrified you don’t even notice the bodies of two Secret Service agents lying on the ground with BULLET HOLES in their heads. Then you’re whisked away in a car. It’s a big party with LOTS of noise, LOTS of people coming and going and its a half hour before someone says, ‘hey, where’s Zoey?’ Another fifteen minutes before the first phone call is made. It’s another hour and a half before anyone THINKS to shut down all the airports, and now we’re off to the races! You’re tied to a chair in a cargo shack somewhere in the middle of Uganda and I am told that I have 72 hours to get Israel to free 460 terrorist prisoners. So I’m on the phone pleading with [the Prime Minister] and he’s saying, ‘I’m sorry, Mr. President, but Israel simply does not negotiate with terrorists, period! It’s the only way we can survive!’ So now we’ve got a new problem, because this country no longer has a Commander-in-Chief, it has a father who’s out of his mind because his little girl is in a shack somewhere in Uganda WITH A GUN TO HER HEAD!!! DO YOU GET IT!?!

I certainly get it, and it isn’t outside of the realm of possibility for the Obama children. I imagine such a thought keeps the President and First Lady up at night quite often, especially considering he and his family have had in the neighborhood of three times as many death threats as any other President in history. Such a scenario would severely compromise our nation and its security, and I feel the President is in no way, shape, or form a hypocrite for sending his children to school every day with Secret Service protection. His daughters face a threat every day that is entirely unique and in no way comparable to the discussion of armed guards in all public schools.

And so I have resigned my lifetime membership. The organization I joined almost six years ago has turned into its own version of “jack-booted thugs” more interested in scoring political points in headlines than in following its own charter.

Go home, NRA. You’re drunk.

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AK-47s Are For Soldiers

Note:  I first started writing this prior to the Connecticut shooting.  Since then the President has announced that gun control is his primary concern, and he has the backings of the Democratic Party.  I only hope that the emotions of everyone involved have calmed and we as a nation can have an intelligent, rational discussion on gun control.

AK-47s are for Soldiers.

On Wednesday, 25 July, the President finally decided to come out of the closet on gun control.  I say finally because up until then he’d largely avoided talking about the issue, save for an interview he gave in 2004 where he said that he opposed all laws allowing concealed carry.  He avoided talking about it after the Virginia Tech shooting and the Fort Hood shooting, but the Aurora, Colorado shooting seemed to have put him over the edge and he needed to get it off his chest.

So on the 25th of July while addressing the National Urban League in New Orleans, he decided to make it clear that while he supports the Second Amendment and Americans’ traditions of hunting and gun ownership, he also said that America has a problem that needs tackling and has a long way to go.  He also said these words:  “I also believe that a lot of gun owners would agree that AK-47s belong in the hands of soldiers, not in the hands of criminals.  That they belong on the battlefield of war, not on the streets of our cities.”

Well, I can agree with that to an extent, ignoring the fact that the Aurora shooter didn’t use an AK-47.  The AK-47 assault rifle is one of the most ubiquitous firearms in the world, and has single-handedly (in my opinion, anyway) formed many of the nations of the world into the warlord nations they are today.  They didn’t cost much to produce, and the old Soviet Union threw tons of the damn things at any country they thought they could sway toward opposing us during the Cold War.  It’s an extremely reliable weapon, and it can throw a pretty good sized bullet seven hundred and fifteen meters per second out to an effective range of around three hundred meters (four hundred, if firing in semi-automatic mode).

However, the AK-47 as described above is illegal to own without shelling out a good-sized chunk of cash ($200, to be exact) and undergoing a rigorous background check with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms.  Even then it takes several months, and you can only keep the weapon in the same state.  They’re heavily regulated and tightly controlled, and you pretty much aren’t going to get your hands on one without being a collector or a dealer (the prices are pretty prohibitive).  In fact, AK-47s technically fit the definition of a machine gun, and have been illegal for civilian possession without federal government approval ever since the National Firearms Act of 1934.  That’s right, AK-47s were taken out of the hands of the common man 13 years before they were invented.  Go U.S.A.

The AK-47 that is generally available today, however, is a semi-automatic firearm, which means when you pull the trigger only a single round is fired.  This weapon doesn’t fit the legal definition of “assault rifle,” as assault rifles legally require the weapon to be fully automatic.  The AR-15 is another weapon in the category.  And assault rifles are just as heavily restricted and regulated under both the National Firearms Act of 1934 and the Firearm Owners Protection Act of 1986.

Right about now some of you are scratching your heads, remembering the so-called “Federal Assault Weapons Ban” that was passed in 1994.  Most people think that that bill banned assault rifles like the AK-47 and AR-15, so obviously the Old Sarge must be off his rocker, right?

Not quite.  The ban, which was actually called the “Public Safety and Recreational Firearms Use Protection Act,” by the way, actually created a whole new class of weapons called “Assault Weapons.”  This class of weapons was based on nothing more than cosmetics.  Let me repeat that.

An entire new class of weapons was created and weapons were banned because of how they looked.  It didn’t target weapon features that made them more dangerous than any other type of weapon; it targeted weapons that looked scary.  It did ban specific semi-automatic firearms, like the semi-auto versions of the AK-47 and AR-15, but then it created a list of cosmetic features and weapons that had two or more of those features were pulled off the shelves.  In short, gun control advocates praised the banning of weapons that looked scary.  Let’s review that list:

Semi-Automatic Rifles:

  • Folding or telescoping stock
  • Pistol Grip
  • Bayonet mount
  • Flash suppressor (or threaded barrel to accommodate one)
  • Grenade Launcher

Semi-Automatic Pistols:

  • Magazine that attaches outside the pistol grip
  • Threaded barrel to attach extender, suppressor, flash suppressor or hand grip
  • Barrel shroud than can be used as a hand-hold
  • A semi-automatic version of a fully-automatic firearm

Shotguns:

  • Folding or telescoping stock
  • Pistol grip
  • Fixed capacity of more than five rounds
  • Detachable magazine

Now, some of these items make sense and I could get behind them if it weren’t for the fact that it takes two or more items to ban the weapon.  That tells me that the capabilities weren’t the problem, just the way the weapon looked.  In other words, the weapons were banned based on what the legislation’s authors thought they knew about the weapons, and they obviously learned about the weapons from Hollywood.

Let’s review these items one by one, shall we?

Folding or Telescoping stocks

This is one of the items on the list I could almost get behind.  I say almost, because there is a HUGE difference between a folding stock and a telescoping stock.  One changes the way the weapon is held in order to make it usable by people with shorter or longer than average arms, while the other takes as much as a foot away from the weapon length.

A telescoping stock is one most people are familiar with.  It looks like this:

The stock changes the distance from the hand-hold to the stock, allowing someone with shorter arms to actually put the stock against their shoulder while still being able to aim the weapon properly (and safely), or allowing someone with longer arms to do the same without the risk of inducing carpel tunnel syndrome in their wrists.  It’s a feature designed to allow a manufacturer to produce one firearm for all body types instead of having to produce several different models with varying stock lengths.  Most telescoping stocks are attached to weapons that require a stock of some kind due to the internal workings of the weapon itself.  The stock of the AR-15, for example, contains the buffer and spring that absorb the recoil and allow the weapon to extract the spent cartridge and load the next into the chamber.

A folding stock, on the other hand, looks like this:

It is designed to dramatically shorten the length of the weapon, and only has two uses: ease of transport and concealability.  Ease of transport means that the weapon can be stored in a smaller space or carried in an area where space is a premium.  Special Operations units prefer weapons with folding stocks for airborne or helicopter insertions because the weapon doesn’t catch on the door frame on the way out of the aircraft.  Private owners often like them because they can be stored in a smaller safe or case.  And Hollywood script writers like them because they can be hidden under a suit jacket, apparently.

As I stated above, I can almost get behind this restriction when it comes to the folding stocks, because there is the possibility of being able to easily conceal a larger weapon capable of firing accurately at longer distances than your average handgun.  I say almost here, because there are a lot of weapons out there with folding (or removable) stocks that simply are not more deadly than a handgun.

This category is a waste of legislation, in my opinion, because a folding or telescoping stock doesn’t make a firearm more deadly.  More accurate at longer ranges, perhaps, but not more deadly at the closer ranges these shootings take place.  While some may argue that a shorter stock may make these firearms easier to use at closer ranges, my response is that someone intent on committing this type of atrocity is simply going to purchase a weapon that fits his or her frame from the get-go, making it a moot point.

Pistol Grip

Pistol grips have been used on rifles and shotguns for decades.  They allow a marksman to square their wrist with the rest of their arm, allowing their entire arm to absorb the recoil of a shot without putting undue strain on the wrist.  To use a shotgun or rifle without one properly, one is required to twist their wrist to allow the fingers to grip the stock.  Basically, pistol grips are an ergonomic accessory.

Some people thing a pistol grip allows one to fire a weapon more effectively from the hip.  In movies, no one is seen firing a machine gun that doesn’t have pistol grip, after all.  John Rambo was famous for mowing down hordes of people with his machine guns blasting away from the hip.  The problem with this thought process, though, is machine guns are already banned from civilian ownership, and civilian accessible firearms with pistol grips are just as functional and usable without them.  Indeed, there are many weapons out there, both rifle and shotgun, that have the option of a stock grip or a pistol grip, and the decision to choose either has no effect on the capabilities of the weapon.

Pistol grips are on the list of what makes a firearm an assault weapon, yet they don’t contribute to the functionality or deadliness of the weapon in the slightest.

Bayonet Mount

A bayonet mount is a chunk of metal on the underside of a rifle barrel with a couple of small grooves in it.  It looks like this:

A typical bayonet looks like this:

The loop in the cross-guard of the bayonet slips over the rifle barrel, and the bayonet mount attaches to the bottom of the bayonet.  The end result is called a fixed bayonet and looks like this:

This is the point where I have to ask those of you reading this to do my job for me.  I’ve been trying like hell to find the statistics for bayonet stabbings during mass shootings, but I just can’t seem to find them.  They have to be out there, right?  I mean, federal legislators took the time to actually add this into a ten-year ban, debate on it, and finally vote it into law, signed by The President of the United States himself.  Surely there must have been some numbers somewhere on stabbings by fixed bayonets during shooting sprees.  Somebody who’s Google-Fu is stronger than mine please let me know what you find.

Actually, no, don’t bother.  Why?  Because that data doesn’t exist.  This “feature” was yet another purely cosmetic, scary looking design that made somebody in Congress tremble at the thought.  A bayonet mount has no use whatsoever in the firearm’s ability to fire or its rate of fire.  The weapon doesn’t shoot the bayonet, after all, so what possible use could this part of the legislation have?  The answer is none.

Flash Suppressor (or threaded barrel to accommodate one)

A flash suppressor looks like this:

It’s designed to cut back on the flash produced at the muzzle of the barrel whenever a round is fired.  It’s primarily designed keep from blinding the shooter in low-light conditions; the fact that it also reduces the flash to other observers is purely secondary.

Modern powder used in ammunition is completely burned by the time it exits the barrel of rifles, meaning the only thing that comes out of the barrel (besides the bullet) is a puff of smoke and gas.  When the barrels are shortened, as is the case with carbines, the powder hasn’t had the chance to completely burn itself out and therefore produces a quick burst of flame.  That burst of flame is a couple of feet in front of the face of the marksman using the rifle.  Not that big of a deal during daylight hours, but when firing in low-light conditions it can absolutely blind the marksman for a few seconds while his or her eyes adjust to the light change.  The same effect can be achieved by a ring of cardboard around the end of the barrel.

These were banned because of the assumptions that they were a military feature, thinking they add to the stealthiness of the shooter.  It doesn’t  unless the shooter is engaging police forces at night from a distance.  I’m not sure how many mass shootings have been committed by sniper at night, but I have a feeling it is in the same neighborhood as fixed bayonet stabbings.

Strangely enough, what are affixed to most military rifles these days are called compensators or muzzle brakes, and looks like this:

Muzzle Brake

Compensator

Muzzle brakes and compensators reduce or control recoil by directing the expanding gasses from the burned powder to either side of the barrel (muzzle brakes) or straight up (compensators).  They don’t alter or reduce the flash much, if at all (the standard used on the M16/M4 series of military rifles uses the compensator) These do improve the functionality of the firearm, and quite a bit in some cases, yet these aren’t what was banned.  The flash suppressor was, something that keeps a shooter from seeing spots at night and can be gotten around by using a 3×5 note card.

Grenade Launcher

When you hear the words “grenade launcher,” you think of this:

That’s an M203 40mm grenade launcher attached to the underside of an M16 assault rifle (well, the airsoft version, but they look the same).  They’re used to fire a grenade in a parabolic arc to go kaboom up to a few hundred meters away.  While I have to put this one with the fixed bayonet and night-time sniper shootings, I also have to say I’d support this category in an assault weapon ban.  I can’t, for the life of me, think of any legitimate reason why a civilian should have access to this kind of hardware, and wholly support its inclusion in the assault weapon ban.

That is, if that grenade launcher up there was actually what was banned.  It wasn’t.  Not even close, in fact.

In reality, what was actually banned was this:

That, my friends, is what is called a rifle grenade.  The assault weapons ban prohibited the manufacture and sale of devices that were fixed to the muzzle of a rifle and allowed for the firing of rifle grenades, something the United States hasn’t used since the 1970s.

That M203, though?  Go for it.

Magazine that attaches outside the pistol grip

This one makes sense to me, and it’s one I support.  It’s meant for semi-automatic pistols, and includes pistols like this one:

This is one of the few things that was included and actually met the purpose of the ban.  The pistol pictured above has a much higher magazine capacity than any homeowner needs for self defense, and the forward magazine gives the shooter something else to hold on to, greatly increasing his or her accurate rate of fire.  Plus, due to its overall small size, such a weapon can be easily concealed before havoc is unleashed.

I only wish that the pistol in the above image wouldn’t have still been legal under the ban, since the ban requires two features to be classified as an assault weapon.

Threaded barrel to attach extender, suppressor, flash suppressor or hand grip

Also aimed at pistols, this category hit up on flash suppressors again, but this time around included the ability to attach a hand grip and a suppressor.  Flash suppressors were likely thought of in the same line of thinking as the ones on the rifles, and on pistols I can’t really fault their line of thinking if it weren’t for the fact that no one is hiding and sniping with a pistol.  And I can get behind the hand grip (see above).  That leaves the suppressor.

Suppressors, better known to the rest of the world as silencers, are the pinnacle example of normal, everyday human beings not being able to distinguish between TV and reality.  Hollywood has convinced damn near everyone that suppressors totally deaden the sound of the gunshot, allowing an assassin to plug people and no one who didn’t see the deed would know otherwise.  Hollywood as even tried to tell us that it is possible to kill a man without the person sitting right next to them having any idea until it was all over.

Suppressors, in reality, work a lot like mufflers on cars.  An awful lot of the noise made by a gunshot is the sound of the escaping gasses rapidly expanding as they exit the barrel.  To cut back on the noise, the exhaust from the powder burn is allowed to expand in the suppressor first, passing through a series of baffles built into the cylinder.  The gas is therefore released out of the suppressor much more slowly and therefore doesn’t produce as loud of a report.

While Hollywood tells us a silenced pistol makes a high-pitched “pewt” sound, in reality they couldn’t be further from the truth if they tried.  Hand guns produce a report of over 160 dB.  Your average suppressor cuts that by around 30dB, bringing the report down to around 130dB.  While that is, in fact, a worthwhile reduction, that only brings the noise level down to around 130dB; roughly the equivalent of a jack hammer up close, or just 10dB higher than a jet engine a hundred feet away.

This is once again an example of something being banned without any knowledge of what it is, how it works, or how deadly it actually is.  Even assuming Hollywood was 100% accurate (I’ll wait while you wipe the coke from your computer screen), can anybody tell me how many crimes are committed with suppressor-equipped weapons?   Get back to me on that after you find the numbers for fixed bayonet stabbings and night-time sniper duels.

Barrel Shroud That Can Be Used as a Hand Hold

Also a restriction meant for pistols, this feature looks like this:

It allows you to hold the weapon without fear of burning your hand on a hot barrel.  The fear was that such a feature would allow a shooter to hold the weapon with two hands in a way that would allow a higher rate of accurate fire.  Fair enough, and it goes with my support of restriction on handgrips and magazines external to the pistol grip, for the same reasons.

I have no problem with this restriction, if it weren’t for the fact that I’d bet a month’s pay that wasn’t the reason it was added to the list.  More likely it was added because it was a cosmetic feature that made the weapon look more dangerous than it actually was.  Most barrel shrouds can be taken right off with the use of a hex-key wrench or screwdriver.  The weapon still feeds the same, fires the same, extracts the same, everything.  And if the shooter wants to hold it by the barrel, all he needs is a decent pair of gloves to keep from burning himself.  Hell, not even that.  He just needs a glove.

Fixed Capacity of More than Five Rounds

In the shotgun category we have an attempt to cut back on high-capacity shotguns.  The general idea is that a shotgun for home defense doesn’t need to have more than five shots to do the job.  I tend to agree with them on this one, and I’m not going to argue against it.  The same goes for hunting, too.  Unless you’re trying to bring down an entire flock of birds (or your aim is really, really bad) I don’t see the need to have more than four or five shells to meet your limit for your license.

Detachable Magazine

This is also something I don’t have an issue with, because I’m hard-pressed to even invent a need for a magazine-fed shotgun for anything other than combat purposes, and if I find myself in combat as a civilian I’m going to be just fine and dandy with my rifle, or even my pistol if I need something for close range engagements.  Even when I’ve been deployed in combat zones the shotguns used were pump-action shotguns with a four-shell fixed capacity, and they were only used for shooting out door locks and hinges.

While there are automatic shotguns with magazines, I, for one, don’t believe for a minute that they should be in the hands of civilians.

High Capacity Magazines

This one has me a little on the wishy-washy side.  When this ban was passed, pistol and rifle magazines larger than 10 rounds were prohibited for manufacture or sale.  This was a completely arbitrary number, and one I have a major problem with.

Even some of the best shooters in law enforcement, men and women who can put a happy-face on a target at 30 yards, tend to have horrible accuracy ratings when firing for their lives.  In fact, statistics put their accuracy at around 13-15%, meaning only 13-15 rounds out of every 100 rounds fired actually hit their target.  Can you imagine a homeowner defending his or her family, someone who doesn’t get to the range more than once or twice a year?  Or worse yet, bought the weapon and haven’t fired it at all?

Think about that for a second.  The federal government banned the production and sale of magazines with a larger capacity than 10 rounds, ensuring that even the best marksmen in the country would only hit with one shot out of a full magazine.  Meaning that your average citizen probably wouldn’t hit anything without having to change magazines.  That’s problem number one.

Problem number two comes from the fact that restricting magazine size does absolutely no good when, after a few minutes of practice, a shooter can change magazines in less than a couple of seconds.  It’s a pointless ban when someone has access to multiple magazines.  A shooter can carry four magazines of 15 rounds or six magazines of 10 rounds, and the only difference it makes is an extra 15-20 seconds before he runs out of ammunition.

On the other hand, I don’t see a need for drum magazines for rifles or 30-round magazines for pistols, either.

The Second Amendment

Now, I am a huge believer in Second Amendment rights.  Where it was once a hotly debated topic about what the Second Amendment was referring to, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled in 2008 that the Second Amendment refers to an individual right to keep and bear arms unconnected to service in a militia, and in 2010 it ruled that State and local governments are required to honor that right the same as the federal government.  It states that the right to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.

That said, however, the Second Amendment does not guarantee Americans access to every kind of “arm” on the planet.  While I don’t go along with the anti-gun extremists that claim since the Second Amendment was written when muskets were firearm of the day then it only applies to muskets and everything else needs to go, I also don’t land on the opposite side of that coin and think every Tom, Dick and Josey Whales needs to be allowed his own Howitzer, either.  The question must be asked, what is allowable in the hands of citizens?  The answer is somewhere in the middle.

If I could play dictator and put my own policy in place, here is what I would cast in stone:

  • Firearms requiring no license and no restriction, other than age

Single-shot, bolt or level-action rifles, either fixed internal ammunition capacity or magazine fed; all pump-action or breech-loading shotguns, either fixed internal ammunition capacity or magazine fed.  These would be available to anyone over the age of 18 without restriction or license.  A valid, state-issued photo-ID would be required for purchase and ATF registration paperwork would be mandatory.  Personal sale of such a firearm would require a transfer of registration within five(5) business days of sale.  Registration updates would be required only when there is a change of ownership or address.

This would meet the right guaranteed to all Americans by the Second Amendment.

  • Firearms requiring a basic license and background check

All semi-automatic handguns; all revolvers, both single and double-action; all semi-automatic rifles; all semi-automatic shotguns except magazine-fed.  Purchase and continued ownership of these weapons would require a college-level course taught by instructors certified by the ATF.  The course would cover local, state, and federal laws concerning firearms and their use outside the home.  Cleaning, maintenance and storage procedures would be taught and drilled into each applicant.  Two weeks of range time would be included, with the cost of ammunition being passed off to the applicant and the cost of the weapons being covered by the federal government.  Demonstrations of bullet wound profiles would be conducted using clay block and ballistics gelatin.

A different course and license would be required for each category, too.  Meaning you would be licensed for the handgun, but not the rifle or shotgun.  To own all three, you’d need to take all three and be licensed on all three.

Applicants would also have to pass a background check prior to beginning the course.

All licenses and registrations would need to be updated annually.

Also, completion of the pistol certification also grants the right to concealed carry, valid in all states and territories, except where excluded on state or federal property.

Suppressors, Short-Barreled Rifles and Short-Barreled Shotguns

These three items would remain much as they are now, managed by the ATF and requiring a fee and background investigation for approval.

  • Prohibited

Machine guns, automatic rifles, burst-fire rifles, machine pistols, automatic shotguns, magazine-fed shotguns, submachine guns.  These would not be allowed in the hands of civilians.

Summary

Now, I know I’m going to get a lot of flak from both sides of the aisle on this piece.  I’ve already been called illogical by one side in another forum for saying that magazine capacity restrictions are useless, and my beliefs about licensing and registration will get me labeled as a pinko by the other.  I’m okay with that, I don’t expect everyone to agree with me.

What’s important to understand is that the Assault Weapon’s Ban is NOT the answer, here.  When it was enacted, the Assault Weapons Ban prohibited the manufacture and sale of weapons involved in less than 2% of all violent crime.  I’m going to say that again because it sounds vaguely important.

More than 98% of all violent crime was committed without the use of the weapons prohibited by the Assault Weapon’s Ban when it was enacted.

2%, folks.  That’s it.  And it was allowed to expire without renewal because it was determined that the ban wasn’t going to have a measurable effect on violent crime.  Where some people believe that re-enacting this ban will result in fewer deaths, the fact remains that this ban did nothing about the “assault weapons” that were already owned by citizens, meaning that there were in the neighborhood of 1.2 million “banned” weapons that were still legally owned.

And let’s not forget this simple, sad fact: the deadliest mass shooting in American history was committed by a man using two pistols and 21 magazines, 19 of which were in his backpack.  The Virginia Tech Shooter killed more people with two handguns than the nut in Connecticut did with an “assault weapon,” or the Aurora shooter did with his variety of weapons.

Friends, it’s well past time we had an intelligent, rational discussion about gun control.  The system is broken and needs to be fixed, but let’s fix it with something that is actually going to make a difference.  The Assault Weapons Ban blacklisted a bunch of cosmetic features, not deadly features.  It was a political dog and pony show, a piece of “feel good” legislation that did absolutely nothing to address the problem it was created to solve.

The President has ordered a commission to start looking into what can be fixed.  That discussion needs to include actual honest-to-God firearms experts.  The engineers working for firearms manufacturers need to be in on this.  Not the Presidents of these corporations, but the geeks working on the factory floor and the weenies in the R&D department.  Politicians from all sides of the spectrum need to be involved and the whole thing need to be put on TV for all to see.

It’s time, people.  No more bullshit.

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The Aurora Shooter

Like many of you, I was shocked to wake up last Friday morning and read about the mass shooting spree in Aurora, Colorado. I used to live there, and went to that theater fairly regularly. Hell, I used to walk there before I had a vehicle of my own. To know that there had been a shooting spree someplace where I had eaten somewhere in the neighborhood of three metric tons of buttered(ish) popcorn and drank approximately seven hundred and forty-three gallons of Cherry Coke while bleeding out of my eyeballs watching “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy hits pretty close to home.

We didn’t know much of anything at first. We didn’t know who had done it or why, we didn’t know much about the attack itself, and what we did know wasn’t much more than the media publishing the ravings of still hysterical survivors who hadn’t yet come down off their adrenaline high. Some reports said there was one shooter, some said two. Some said there were shooters mixed into the crowd. There was at least one report that said the shooter stalked from theater to theater inside the building, hunting down anyone who was still hiding.

As the facts started to become clear, though, we all began to form our own theories as to what had happened or who was involved. After listening to some of them over the last week, I have to get a few things off my chest.

One Armed Citizen. . .

Okay, I’m going to address this right off the bat and put this crap to rest. Before we knew anything about what had really happened, gun-nuts, braggarts, and internet tough-guys started saying the following or a reasonable facsimile thereof: “If there had been one armed citizen in the crowd they could have stopped the shooter before this whole thing began, or at least stopped him before too many people got hurt.”

My friends, the above quote is 100% pure, unadulterated BULLSHIT.

The same line is said everytime there is a public shooting, from the Virginia Tech shooter to the Ft. Hood shooter. There is always a group of people who firmly believe that one guy with a pistol shoved down his shorts could have put a stop to it before if began.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m a major advocate of the right to own and carry a firearm. I’m a huge proponent of concealed carry and am a lifetime member of the National Rifle Association. However, I’m also a pragmatist who’s actually had bullets flying at him on several occasions, and I think it is important to engage the critical thought processes God saw fit in His wisdom to grant to us when talking about these sorts of situations.

Let’s talk about the idea of an armed citizen at a mass shooting in a public place. A lot of people who advocate this kind of nonsense say they’d just pull their weapon and return fire. This is incredibly stupid for a number of reasons.

Reason number one as to why this is incredibly stupid has to do with the fact that while everyone else is running away from the shooter or trying to hide, your dumb ass is facing him, not running, not screaming, and not diving behind the nearest piece of furniture. My friends, that is going to make you stick out like a sore thumb. You might as well hang a neon sign over your head that says, “Shoot me!” The shooter will immediately notice someone not running in fear, and guess where he’s going to point his bullet-thrower next?

Reason number two has to do with the fact that while you may be a crack-shot on the pistol range, a real life-or-death situation is completely different. First of all, you may not have a clear shot thanks to people running and screaming in a panic. Second, your shooter is a moving target, not a piece of paper handing from a wire. Third, no matter how much of a bad-ass you think you are, your adrenaline is going to be through the roof and you are going to lose your fine-motor skills and the ability to finesse your weapon to make the headshot you think you are going to make. Even the best police and FBI shooters, who put in a hell of a lot more range time than your average concealed-carry citizen, normally have a hit ratio of about 14-15% in a life or death situation. And they’re trained professionals.

Reason number three is if a shooter opens up and you are actually smart enough to take cover with everyone else before you pull your weapon, there stands a VERY good chance that once you do you are going to be in a world of hurt. Not necessarily from the shooter, but from the people with whom you just took cover. You see, THEY don’t know you are about to act in their defense. All they know is some lunatic is shooting people, and now here’s another guy with a gun in the same spot they went to in order to get away from the bullet-spraying asshole in the next room. At the very least, chances are the people you’re hiding with are going to start screaming like crazy, which will draw the attention of the gunman. At worst, they’re likely to take action on their own and attack you themselves. Believe it or not, after the initial fight-or-flight kicks in and people chose flight, they often revert to fight after they’ve been cornered. You pulling out a piece in their supposed “safe spot” stands a very good chance of triggering that fight response.

Reason number four is the police response. Let’s say you’ve got yourself a crazy gunman who’s blasting every moving thing in sight. Now let’s say you’re stupid enough to immediately respond and, against all odds, you actually either take the gunman down or force him to surrender (hey, it can happen. . .by the way, are you in the market for a bridge or some bottom-land?). Now in rush the police, and what do they see? Your dumb ass with a gun in your hand. Unless you immediately drop that weapon and hit the floor, you’re likely to end up with a few new holes in your torso, courtesy of the Boys in Blue.

Now, let’s think about what happened last Friday. The shooter came in through the emergency exit after the movie had already started and everyone’s attention was on the Big Screen. He tossed in a gas or smoke grenade (we still aren’t sure which one as of this writing) or two, then started shooting into the crowd. He was heavily armed and was wearing fully body armor. The theater was a dark room full of hundreds of people packed tightly in narrow rows of chairs all bolted to the floor.

By the time ANYONE would have been able to assess the situation with a clear enough head to be able to draw and return fire, there would have been hundreds of people now climbing over those rows of seats that are bolted to the floor, trampling each other, jumped over each other, and generally running like hell to get away with their very lives. In a dark room obscured by smoke or gas.

I can’t think of a worse time, place, or condition in which to try and aim at someone and pull a trigger.

I have had a couple of people say that if more people carried it would have prevented this, not because they would have blasted the guy, but because if there had been a chance that a lot of the people in the theater were packing then this guy wouldn’t have tried it in the first place. There’s some merit to that, I do believe. The fact that he was covered head-to-toe in protective gear tells me he didn’t have a death wish and had no intention of going out in a blaze of glory. The fact that he surrendered to the police without resistance tells me the same thing. Had there been a good chance of him walking into a room full of heat, would he have done this anyway? Maybe, maybe not. The guy is batshit crazy, so who knows.

The Shooter Himself and Modern Stereotypes

When I arrived at work on Friday morning the discussion immediately centered around the previous night’s shooting. There were a few coworkers of mine who hadn’t heard anything about it yet, so I relayed what I already knew. What greatly disturbed me was the response I received when I mentioned that the guy was wearing body armor. What was said by damn near every single person I talked to was something resembling the following line: “That sounds like a damn Soldier.”

Really? This is what we’ve come to?

A few years ago the Department of Homeland Security put out a memo stating the groups of people who were most likely to be home-grown terrorists. The Republicans and Independent Conservatives (and a number of Democrats, now that I think about it) were absolutely furious that near the top of the list was the entry: “Former Soldiers returning from one or multiple overseas deployments.” The idea that we had sworn an oath to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States and obey the orders of the President, honor our oaths while we were deployed several times into two very unpopular (and very questionable) wars only to be labelled as potential terrorists left a taste in my mouth so sour that it almost drove me out of military service completely. It was really hard to continue to do what I do for an employer who felt that way about me and my brothers and sisters.

But I got over it and moved on, secure in my belief that no one believed that we were that big of a risk to the nation. And then the mere fact that a mass shooter wearing a bullet-proof vest caused the people around me to immediately think that he was a Soldier or former Soldier. Never mind that bullet-proof vests are available for purchase to damn near anybody. Never mind that the shooter was using commercially available weapons and ammunition.

Now, I’m not going to sit here and claim that the possibility this guy was a brother who cracked and went batshit crazy never entered my mind, because it most certainly did. What bothers me the most, however, is the fact that that very possibility was the very first thing to pop into the minds of several different people of several different backgrounds that Friday morning.

I’m familiar with some of the moonbat conspiracy theories out there concerning the military and the government. I’m active on a few internet political forums where there is always a couple of people who firmly believe that the military is getting ready to forcefully subjugate the American populace and place all dissenters into concentration camps run by FEMA (I’m not making this up, Google that shit. People actually believe that is coming). The push behind those ideas changes depending on who is in office. For instance, just a few years ago it was going to be done by Bush by sparking a crisis in Iran resulting in an invasion coupled with a few “revolts” here at home in order to justify him declaring martial law and therefore avoiding the expiration of his second term so he could remain in office indefinitely (not making that up, either). Nowadays its either because the Obama Administration is dead-set on mirroring Europe’s economic policy and is driving us toward a singular form of socialsim, or because Obama is a patsy to the New World Order (fronted by the UN) and is planning on overthrowing the Constitution in favor of a One-World Government (also not a figment of my imagination). It didn’t bother me too much, though, because these sorts of stories were limited to a relatively small subset of the population.

But in the last couple of years I’ve noticed a change. For example, last year I met someone I had been chatting with online for years. He and I had become good friends, and I was on a road trip close to where he lived and sent him an e-mail letting him know I’d be coming his way. I suggested making a side trip and meeting him for lunch. We set a location and a time, and then I told him I’ll be in uniform. His response? “Oh, I’m not intimidated by people in a military uniform, man, don’t worry.”

I hadn’t told him I’d be in uniform to warn him in case it made him uneasy, I’d told him so he’d know what to look for. We hadn’t met before, and I’m not especially photogenic. I figured it’d be easier for him to look for the idiot in ACUs than anything else. The thought that a Soldier in uniform in a public place would make someone uncomfortable or wary never entered my mind, and, frankly, why should it? It wasn’t that long ago that people were running up to me to shake my hand, after all.

And that’s just one example of many. I’ve had business owners of places I frequent tell me they would much rather I change clothes before coming in if I’m going to be a regular. I’ve had people take a few steps back when they hear that I’ve been in combat zones a few times, especially when they find out that “things have happened” while I’ve been there.
Slowly but surely I’ve noticed that the idea that our Soldiers are here to protect us and fight for us has been slipping away and is being replaced by the idea that Soldiers are dangerous people. That saddens me to no end.

Gun Control

Now for the section of this piece that’s going to result in me having poo flung my way for a few weeks. Gun Control.

I’ve mentioned before that I’m a lifetime member of the NRA and that I’m a major advocate of gun ownership and concealed carry. The first time I mentioned that I’m sure a lot of you formed this image in your heads of me acting like Ted Nuggent and carrying around six or seven handguns on my person while having a veritable arsenal at home. I’m sure some of you even pictured me standing next to a three year old boy (holding a rifle) next to a deer carcas strapped to the hood of my pick-up truck. Well, you couldn’t be farther from the truth (except for the truck, I have a four-door Frontier).

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled a couple of years ago that the Second Amendment to the Consitution of the United States grants an individual right to bear arms. Meaning, of course, that Americans have a personal right to own a firearm. That being said, however, I’m a big fan of regulation and restriction on the sale and possession of something that can kill people with the flick of a finger.

There are a lot of things I think need to happen concerning firearms and the law. Number one, I think all firearms should be registered and “fingerprinted” (ballistics testing), and all gun owners should be licensed. Personal sales should be accompanied by the paperwork needed to transfer ownership of the firearm. I also think that no extended magazines should be for sale to the general populace, and I also don’t think that certain types of ammunition should be available for civilian use, either. Also, I firmly believe that the sale of ammunition needs to be tracked in some sort of federal database (this dillhole bought over 6000 rounds over the course of a few months; that’s a lot of dakka) and a red flag pop up when someone is buying an obscene amount. I also believe in the licensing of people who press their own ammunition and the restriction of the tools and resources needed.

I know I run afoul of the Second Amendment on some of the above, but that’s how I feel on the matter. I think the background checks we currently do are sufficient, provided the retailers actually do them, but you can’t run a background check on a face-to-face sale between private owners. And most states allow face-to-face sales between private owners without any paperwork or registration. I think that is a MAJOR hole that needs to be patched over, personally, and the only way I can think to do that is with what I suggested, above.

However, a hell of a lot of people are going to disagree with me on this, on both sides of the equation. There are people who believe the government has no right whatsoever to know what firearms they have. I disagree, because you have to register an automobile with the government in order to legally use it for its intended purpose, and its intended purpose doesn’t include taking the life of a sentient being. On the flip side, you’re going to have people who think that guns themselves need to be tightly controlled and more laws need to be passed further limitting what is available for civilians.

First of all, I need to go cliche on you all and point out that gun control laws aren’t going to stop criminals from getting guns; they’re criminals, for crying out loud. Even though the Aurora shooter purchased his guns legally, do you honestly think he wouldn’t have been able to get his hands on what he wanted if they hadn’t been available for legal purchase? He was a neurosciences grad student. He was smart enough to figure it out. Not to mention he wired his apartment to blow using commercially available chemicals and supplies. You think he wouldn’t have rigged more and used them in the theater if he’d had to? Come to think of it, he probably could have done more damage with a bag full of molotov cocktails.

Second, yes, I understand this fool used a 100-round drum magazine in his AR-15, and,frankly, it’s a good thing he did, because it could have been a lot worse. The drum jammed, and they are notorious for doing so. It’s the reason such magazines aren’t used by the military. We should consider ourselves lucky he didn’t research it that well and didn’t decide to load up on standard 30-round magazines. With just a little bit of practice you can change out a 30-round magazine in less than a second with one hand, and as long as they’re kept in good shape they’ll never jam on you. That said, I’ll repeat what I said above by saying that the 100-round drum should never have been available to a civilian, nor should any other extended magazine.

Third, most gun control legislation is written by people who don’t know a thing about guns. Some of it makes sense, such as the restriction on folding stocks that turn pistol caliber weapons into rifles or, worse, turn rifles into concealable weapons. I get that. What I do not get is banning rifles with a bayonet lug on the barrel, or banning magazine-fed rifles with a pistol-style grip. I’ve even seen proposals to ban weapons made of anything other than wood or metal. My friends, these are laws meant to ban weapons that look scary instead of banning anything that is more dangerous in the hands of a madman. Contrary to popular belief, the “AR” in AR-15 doesn’t stand for “Assault Rifle,” and just because a weapons looks like a battlefield weapon system doesn’t mean it’s going to spray eight hundred rounds a minute at your local playground.

Conclusion

Last week someone dyed their hair bright orange and waltzed into a movie theater loaded for bear. He killed ten people on the scene, wounded dozens more, and two more people died after it was all over. He wasn’t a PTSD-ridden former Soldier, he wasn’t a Muslim extremist, he wasn’t some pro-anarchy anti-government wing-nut. He was someone who went batshit crazy, and we’ll probably never understand the details. At least he was taken alive, which is one thing we can’t normally say about these kind of incidents.

What I ask all of you, however, is to not succumb to the knee-jerk reactions that generally follow this type of incident. Tighter restrictions on available hardware wouldn’t have prevented this; he’d have gotten what he wanted anyway, or he would have made his own. Stricter background checks wouldn’t have prevented this; his background was clean as a whistle. Mandatory delays between purchases wouldn’t have prevented this; he bought his weapons over several months.

This is a Presidential election year, and everybody gets politically stupid during this season. Let’s all try and keep our wits and focus our rage on who really deserves the blame for this: the guy with the orange hair in the court room.

This is a Free Country. Freedom carries certain risks. Freedom doesn’t mean safe, it means free. You can be free, or you can be safe. You cannot be both. You cannot have one without sacrificing the other. We trade our freedoms for safety all the time. The question is, how much of one are you willing to trade for the other?

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My Honor Betrayed . . .

To allow any and all who haven’t served a day in uniform to claim they have and wear the uniforms and medals many of us have shed our own blood for and been denied is quite possibly the biggest slap in the face I’ve ever received. Medals aren’t just handed out willy-nilly; each and every award and decoration has a serialized order number associated with it. Each award and decoration goes through an approval process that take weeks (months in some cases) and requires the approval of a Field/Fleet or General/Flag grade officer, depending on the award in question, whose authority is derived directly from the President of the United States. When an award is approved, it’s the Federal Government of the United States saying, “you’ve gone above and beyond the call of duty, and we want you to wear this for all to know how we appreciate your efforts.”

Think about that. For me to wear an award or even claim to have one, a representative with authority derived from the top level of the federal government has to say it is okay, otherwise I am charged with a federal crime that carries a felony conviction and associated prison sentence, depending on the ruling of the court martial. But every single civilian who has never raised their hand in support of this nation is allowed to wear that exact same award whenever they feel like it, because for them, it’s protected speech?

The people for whom the awards and decorations were made have to have government approval to claim or wear one, while every one for whom the awards and decorations were never meant for can claim them or wear them anytime they want by virtue of simply being alive. I have a HUGE problem with that.

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Service Members Who Don’t Serve

Disclaimer: I’ve tried to think of a better way to write this post, but no matter how I phrase this it still comes off as self-righteous.  It certainly isn’t intended to be, as I’m not trying to make myself sound awesome (I’m not) nor am I trying to talk about what a good person I am (I’m not that, either).  However, this is a thought that needs to be conveyed along with the back story that inspired it.

As I’ve already pointed out, I’m active duty military.  My unit does Physical Training (known as PT from here on out) every morning, Monday through Friday.  The way everything works out we usually have less than an hour to shower, change, cram some food down our gullets and get to work.  It’s an exercise in time management, but we usually do okay.

As I was leaving the post after PT yesterday morning, I saw a car parked on the side of the road with its hazard lights flashing.  There was a woman standing next to the car, waving her cellphone back and forth in an attempt to get someone’s attention using the screen as a signal light.  Since PT has just ended, I was in the middle of a line of cars and trucks that drove past.  Every single car and truck in front of me drove right on past, not even slowing down.  They shifted their position to the left to give the stranded vehicle more room, so it isn’t like they didn’t see it, they just didn’t seem to care.  Either that or they were concerned that they couldn’t spare any time if they wanted to get to work on time.

I pulled over and got out of my truck to see what was wrong.  It turned out to be a married couple, and their car had run out of gas.  They needed help pushing the car out of the road, and they needed a lift to a gas station so they could fill a gas can.  I helped them push the car into a nearby parking lot (my hip wasn’t happy about that, for those of you who know my medical status), then gave the husband a ride to the gas station, then paid to fill their gas tank once they got their car to the station (the car and their state of dress gave me a good idea of their financial status).  I ended up being about 15 minutes late to work, but luckily I’m senior enough (and don’t really give much of a damn) that I didn’t get in any trouble.

What bothers me about this situation, however, is the fact that at least fifteen fellow military service members drove right on by without even a second thought.  A car on the side of the road, the driver actively trying to get someone, anyone’s, attention, 5:30 in the morning in a bad neighborhood (there aren’t a whole lot of good neighborhoods right outside a military installation), and not a single service member so much as slowed down.  Sure, these people ended up being out of gas and damn near broke, but that was only discovered after I had pulled over and asked what the problem was.  For all anyone else knew, someone could have been hurt or dying.

Now, I understand the “I can’t be late” mentality.  It’s all but beaten into us in the military that being five minutes early is actually being five minutes late, as you should always be ten minutes early for everything.  It’s so engrained into our minds that when the General sets a start-time of eight o’clock, the Colonel tells everyone to be there by 7:45.   Then the Lt. Colonel sets his arrival time to 7:30.  The Captain?  He tells his people to be there at 7:15.  The First Sergeant puts out 7:00 to his platoon sergeants, who in turn tell their squad leaders to have their Soldiers formed up and ready to go by 6:50.  Before you know it, you’ve got Soldiers standing in formation at 6:30 for an event that isn’t kicking off until 8:00.  It’s part of the lifestyle, and we’re used to it, so I definitely can see the whole, “I can’t stop to help, because I’ll have my face chewed off by The Boss when I show up late” thought process.

I can also, to an extent, understand the “don’t talk to strangers” mentality.  Some people are afraid to pull over and help a stranded motorist, because there’s a change we might end up stabbed or shot while someone drives away with our car.  It’s happened before, and it’s likely to happen again.

But all of that doesn’t matter to me.  It actually makes me ashamed to know that these people saw a couple dozen vehicles leave a military installation and drive right past them in their time of need.  It saddens me to know that even though we don’t make a whole lot of money (they don’t pay any of us enough, but if we can’t take a joke we shouldn’t have joined), at least there is money in our bank accounts every two weeks while a good sized chunk of our fellow citizens haven’t gotten a paycheck in years.  And it infuriates me to see my fellow service members being unwilling to forgo the cost of a couple of cases of beer or a new Xbox 360 game for themselves in order to help out someone less fortunate than them.

The military is a service, meaning we serve the nation, serve the people, serve the public.  It’s our duty, our responsibility to lend a hand to our fellow citizens (or non-citizens if that’s the case) when they ask for it.  I’ve heard of a little thing called common decency, something that the rest of the country is supposed to practice.  People hold us in the military to a higher standard that the rest of the country, meaning we should rise above common decency.  Apparently, common decency isn’t so common, because when I paid for their gas and apologized on behalf of my fellow service members for not stopping to help, the wife started to cry.

My fellow Soldiers, please tell me we’re better than this.

– Sergeant Van

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“Give me some cover fire, I’m about to do something stupid!”

The title of this post says it all: I’m about to do something stupid.  Military service members have always had trouble with blogs, and I expect this to be no different.  I’ll try to avoid the pitfalls other military bloggers have encountered, but I may very well end up sticking my foot so far into my own mouth that I might end up swallowing my own ass.  On the other hand, this may turn into something worthwhile, as I do enjoy writing from time to time.

When it comes to writing, my mother and a multitude of teachers will happily tell you that English wasn’t my best course in school.  Oh, I understand the language easily enough, but proper grammar and sentence structure always eluded my grasp.  I also tend to over-use commas and put semi-colons in the wrong places.  I’m not perfect, and I certainly don’t seek to be.  Oh, my spelling is also atrocious, but luckily my browser has a spell-check, so hopefully I won’t screw that one up too bad.  I guess what I’m trying to say is that I ask that people be gentle when judging my ramblings.  I’m not writing an English paper, and I’m not asking that these posts be graded.

I’ve spent 5+ years bumming around the internet and posting in various forums and message boards.  The last 5+ years have given me a healthy respect for other peoples’ opinions and points of view, as well as broadening my understanding of the world we live in.  As a result, I’ve decided to start this blog as a way to express my own thoughts and concerns outside of the various social networking sites and topical discussion forums I’ve frequented.  I don’t expect this blog to get a whole lot of traffic, honestly.  It’s just something I’ve decided to do in my free time.  I normally don’t have a lot to talk about, so I can’t see myself making a post every single day.  On the other hand, I might blog myself stupid once I get the hang of this.  Since I’m not limited to specific topics, I might go whole-hog and live on this damn thing.  Who knows.

By the way, my language is going to be kept as PG as I can, but occasionally I’m going to get rather colorful.  Someone I highly respected once told me that profanity is a sign of mental weakness, that if you can’t express yourself without using profanity then it displays a lack of intellectual ability.  I agree with that, to an extent.  People who can’t convey a thought without swearing every other word are definitely coming across as lacking in the brain-power department.  At the same time, though, sometimes you can’t express a feeling adequately without an appropriately placed four-letter-word.  I’ll keep my posts “family-friendly” more often than not, but not every post of mine should be included into a grade-school weekly newsletter.  For the most part, though, this blog will be safe enough for Prime Time broadcast television.

I’m going to go ahead and close this post out for now, but I do leave you with this: I’m going to ramble on about a variety of topics, and if anyone wants my opinion on something, feel free to ask.

– Sergeant Van

 

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