I was 7 when I shot a gun for the first time, and probably 17 before I realized guns were a big deal in national politics. Some of that comes from growing up in Texas. Guns aren't controversial in this part of the South: I once bought a pistol and three old Soviet rifles from a dude in a parking lot for $300. Even our hippies conceal-carry handguns in the waistbands of their hemp pants. But on a national level, the gun debate rages on.
And for some reason we've handed off the responsibility for this debate to the loudest, angriest people in America. On one side are pissed-off but well-meaning folks who know less than nothing about the objects they plan to regulate. And on the other side is Ted Nugent. It's not exactly the recipe for productive debate. As Cracked's resident weapons expert, it's my duty to shoot a hot, steaming load of perspective into this argument. If we want a productive discussion about guns, we all need to accept a few things:
#6. Gun Owners Aren't a Unified Group
The Washington Post / Getty
You don't have to travel far on the Internet (or in the South) to find people defending the Second Amendment because it protects us from government tyranny. The basic idea is that, at some point in the perpetually imminent future, millions of Real Americans (TM) from across the nation will surge forth with their M16s and John Wayne commemorative six-shooters to take back this country from the twin demons of BIG BROTHER and YOUNG PEOPLE.
Faith in the ability of American gun owners to fight back against government tyranny is often expressed through image macros.
Thermopylae comes up a lot for two reasons: 1) Xerxes asked the Spartans to give up their weapons, and 2) Zack Snyder's 300 gives members of the "patriot" movement hard-ons that could burst a carbon-fiber condom. I've made a habit of correcting these macros whenever possible:
Molon LAME, is more like it.
But there's a certain ring of logic to the premise: A vast army of patriotic gun owners might provide a check to the government. Forty-four million armed angry people (minimum) could threaten the military, even in this age of flying murderbots and boat-mounted lasers. Alas, this grand army of tyranny-hating middle-aged white dudes rests on one flimsy premise: the idea that "gun owners" are a unified block.
But gun owners are just about as divided as the general population. There's no silent, unified army lying in wait for Obama's mad campaign of moderate health-care reform to finally go one step too far. About 55 percent of Republicans own guns, as do 40 percent of Democrats. Oddly enough, this represents a high point in gun ownership among Democrats. Our soldiers tend to mirror the country: Half of them don't give a fuck about politics, and the other half split pretty evenly between the two parties.
Marco di Lauro / Stringer / Getty
"I support whichever party gives me more Xbox time and less getting-shot-at time."
Gun owners don't even agree on gun control: The NRA loudly opposes universal background checks, but the vast majority of actual people with guns sees no problems with making sure the dude buying a Glock doesn't have a restraining order or history of schizophrenia. Eighty-five percent of all households support universal background checks, including 74 percent of NRA households.
"OK," I hear you ask in the half-Swedish, half-deaf-Portuguese-woman voice I attribute to all my readers, "if most gun owners aren't hiding out in the woods shooting at cutouts of U.N. peacekeepers, why won't you let us ban assault weapons already? Those aren't useful for anything but war."
Ted Aljibe / AFP / Getty
And certain species of duck.
#5. Assault Weapons Aren't the Devil
I own a semi-automatic version of the AK-47, and it's good for so many things that have zero relation to killing. It can cut down trees, disassemble old cars, and, in a pinch, help me hammer tent poles into the ground. It's like a Swiss Army Knife, but powered by explosions and Communism. You can even cook a goddamn omelet with one:
The legal definition of "assault weapon" is based primarily on things that could not ever possibly decrease gun crime. Most people assume that an "Assault Weapons Ban" must make the terrifying black rifles we're all most frightened of illegal. So this AR-15:
Paul J. Richards / AFP / Getty
... would clearly be illegal in a world with the Assault Weapons Ban. You could assault the shit out of people with a weapon like that. But guess what? That gun is as legal as flamethrowers and thermite charges. In fact, it isn't legally an assault weapon at all. Meanwhile, this pile of ugly:
U.S. Tactical Supply
... IS an assault weapon. Not because it shoots more bullets, or bigger bullets, or even faster bullets. This bad boy has a collapsing stock and a pistol grip. More than one of these "evil" features turns your humble rifle into a murder-hungry assault rifle. Other terrifying features include "threaded barrels," "bayonet lugs," "foregrips," and a long list of features no one needs in order to commit extremely efficient murder.
Here's the reality: The top 10 guns used in violent crimes are nearly all revolvers or pistols. None of them are rifles, and only one is a shotgun. We tend to fear huge black rifles with giant army-style magazines, but those guns are used in a tiny minority of crimes. In fact, the average number of shots fired per weapon in a gunfight is between two and four. Gunfights are terrifying, and real bad guys are more likely to pop off a round or two at close range and then run like fuck, rather than reenact the shootout from Heat.
PRO TIP: Successful heists rarely end in shoot-outs with dozens of cops.
And if the anti-gun people can agree to stop banning shit like "foregrips" and "collapsing stocks," the pro-gun side should agree that ...
#4. Self-Defense Is Less of a Factor Than Fun Is
Ted Aljibe / AFP / Getty
Gun owners are defensive of their hobby, like many nerds are. If you're talking to someone who clearly thinks what you're doing is "weird," your brain kicks its Flimsy Justification Lobe into overdrive. Most gun owners claim they bought their weapons for self-defense. But if you were actually there at the gun show when Jimbo picked up his AK-47, you wouldn't have seen a hard-bitten desperado sizing up defense tools or a violent madman looking for a people-ender. You'd have seen a big kid forking over $700 because he wanted to do this:
Try shooting a flaming M16, and you'll start to understand why we lost Vietnam.
Take a camera to Comic-Con and find somebody who just dropped $700 on a super-rare comic. Ask him why, and I guarantee his response will include the word "investment." People get embarrassed when they're called out for spending a shitload of money on toys. Of course, guns aren't comics, and no Spider-Man fan ever tried to justify his obsession via vigorous lobbying. The same isn't true for the NRA.
They never tire of citing that 2.5 million people each year use their guns to heroically fend off bad people via tiny controlled explosions. It's easily in the top three most commonly cited gun facts on bumper stickers:
In parts of the South it's illegal to put this on anything smaller than an F-150.
There's a reason the NRA brings that "fact" up on a schedule more regular than a cranberry farmer's urinary tract. If it were true, the whole debate over gun control would be over. But here's where that number came from: A breathtakingly shitty criminologist did a phone poll of 5,000 people and asked how many of them had used a gun in self-defense. More than 1 percent claimed they had. This Michelangelo of conclusion-jumping extrapolated that to the national population (200 million at the time) and came up with 2.5 million.
These numbers came out in 1995, and they've been "coming out" on a yearly basis ever since. In reality, self-defense via firearm is incredibly uncommon, because very few Americans will ever need to defend themselves from a violent attacker. If you want to keep a gun at home as potential security for that unlikely day, fine. I certainly do. But don't pretend that gun is a guarantee of safety -- gun owners are actually at greater risk of homicide and suicide than the general population.
That said, a Mossberg 500 makes any night in the woods 400 percent less creepy.