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Viewpoints: Letters / Opinions


By David G. Hanger


April 30, 2013
Tuesday AM

I have no idea what political calculus Senator Mark Begich has come up with to justify his recent performance with the question of background checks for gun purchases; the idea that it is too emotional a time, his words, is pathetic.

I have been listening to my friends and neighbors on this issue of guns, and I got the message; you like your toys.  And you are all nuts.  Every damned one of you.  They are not toys!!!  Combat weapons do not belong in the hands of private citizens; what revolution are you planning on starting?  There are two things all of you have in common:  1) None of you are military veterans; and 2) None of you are technically qualified to use these weapons.  Oh, you think you know how to use them, but you don’t.

I am a qualified expert with every one of these weapons; that was my military occupational specialty; but it also turned out that I have a real knack for this stuff.  You can completely cover my shot groups with a dime, and I was a member of the Army Rifle Team.  By comparison you are virtually all amateurs, and guess what……. I would never think of having any one of these weapons around my house.

Despite all the Hollywood blarney, my understanding of gangster history in the USA is that prior to 1965 only one Tommy gun was in the hands of organized crime.  There were apparently a few BARs around, definitely a very dangerous weapon, but also difficult to manage in close quarters.  That’s it.  In 1961 Sears and Montgomery Ward began catalog selling surplus World War II M1 Garands and M1 carbines.  Both were semi-automatic weapons, and the carbine came with a 15-shot “clip” or magazine.  I remember suggesting to my Air Force officer father that perhaps we should buy one of these as a hunting weapon, to which he adamantly and immediately responded, “The M1 is designed for killing people, and the carbine is a piece of crap.  Both are useless for hunting.”  As I have learned, that is fact.

One of the major problems that military men have never been able to satisfactorily resolve is how much lead fired down range it takes to kill one soldier.  In the days of Gustavus Adolphus, Charles XII, Peter the Great, Frederick the Great, and, finally, Napoleon Bonaparte, it was so difficult to kill one man with the crappy muskets of the time that they lined up elbow to elbow in long rows and in dense columns.  Artillery and thinner rows (the legendary “thin red line”) cured the dense column nonsense, but as many early nineteenth century commentators complained, it took well over a ton of metal fired down range on average to kill one man. 

This lament remained accurate through the time of our Civil War, at which point about a ton-and-a-half of lead was required to kill one soldier.  Thereafter, weapons improved dramatically as the result of improvements in metallurgy and in chemistry.  Cartridges were invented, machine guns, and in the first three decades of the twentieth century the gas cylinder technology necessary to produce hand-held semi-automatic and automatic weapons.  In a handful of decades incredible advances were made to small arms technology, most of which involved the weapons being lighter, more accurate, and capable of effective rapid fire. 

Despite this, or because of this (you pick), now on average it takes more than two tons of metal fired down range to kill one soldier; some argue for three tons. 

On the modern battlefield everything is spread out, and you can’t see anybody.  Small arms direct fire is designed to keep the bad guys in their hidey holes, so spraying the neighborhood to keep them suppressed is actually considered routine.  Indirect fire weapons like grenade launchers and mortars then finalize the demoralization of the bad guys. 

While Sean Bean was bad enough in TV’s “Sharp’s Rifles,” chasing the French around the Spanish peninsula, it was the Battle of New Orleans that showed up those Baker Rifles for the junk they were.  The first battle in which the primary weapon on both sides was the rifle, or at least the rifled musket, American mastery of aimed fire resulted in incredibly disproportionate casualties, something along the line of 15 to 3000.  It is the concept of aimed fire that results in the schizophrenic split between the semi-automatic rifle and the fully automatic assault weapon. 

Recall that the gun began as a tube filled with a powder charge that spit out a lopsided projectile down range somewhere now and again when not inclined to blow up in your face.  That even during the Civil War you were capping your Springfield or Enfield with a fulminate of mercury cap (to fire the powder) that went off an inch or so from your eyeball if you were really trying to aim the weapon.  So it is quite understandable that massed volley fires (using a number of variant techniques) without aiming except in the most general of directions was in fact the preferred method employed by most military commanders for the first 500 years of gun use in warfare.  The machine gun is derived conceptually from directional fire, i.e. by massed volley, rather than aimed fire. 

The semi-automatic weapon is derived from the concept of aimed fire; a definitive enhancement in fact of aimed fire.  Maintaining a stable sight on a target through the recoil of multiple shots is only possible with a semi-automatic weapon; and even then only in the hands of someone who really knows what they are doing.  In a way these are the real scary guys because they can drop you from a long way off with a shot or two.  But the modern battlefield has proven their utility is in fact limited.  There just aren’t that many opportunities on the modern battlefield for such talent to manifest itself.  

“Aimed fire” or “massed fires,” (ultimately suppression through firepower), began as an argument as quickly as the introduction of breechloaders and cartridge ammunition.  The U.S. Army, to its chagrin on occasion, in the 1870s followed the German (Prussian) example and opted for long-range “aimed fire” weapons.  At Calhoun Hill on Custer Ridge the Sioux and the Cheyenne concentrated 75 Henry rifles and Winchesters (both short-range, lever action jobs) on the left flank of the cavalry position at a range of about 125 yards, and this mass fire sufficiently suppressed the only cavalry troop actually deployed in the area, allowing another group of 50 to 75 Indians (it wasn’t thousands, it was just a few dozen) to get in close and hack the surviving soldiers to death, thus causing a stampede that resulted in a series of four mass slaughters.  The general experience of the Franco-Prussian War, the colonial wars, and the Spanish American War all emphasized mass fire over aimed fire as still the most expedient on the battlefield.  Yet despite this, as the 19th century crossed to the 20th, highly accurate bolt action rifles were produced for military use by numerous countries, many of which were still in use through World War II. 

These bolts were all excellent long-range weapons, and some marks served as preferred sniper rifles until the late 20th century, but their utility on the battlefield was limited by the machine gun and by long-range artillery fire.  By the time of World War II the primary function of the soldier carrying a bolt was to hump ammunition for the squad machine gun. 

At the beginning of World War II the United States military did something quite revolutionary by putting an M1 Garand semi-automatic rifle in the hands of virtually every infantry soldier.  It was essentially an “aimed fire” weapon that by virtue of mass deployment could as readily be used as a “massed fire” weapon as well.  It was rather heavy.  Where the Germans had already advanced to squad machine guns, the Americans stopped at the squad BAR, a good weapon but much inferior to the MG42.  The Russians were concomitantly experimenting with fully equipped submachine companies and regiments.

All of these weapons had their problems, many of which were being studied intently even as World War II progressed.  The M1 was a heavy weapon that fired an 8-round clip; reloading was a hassle.  The MG42 was an incredible weapon, but with a cyclical rate of fire from 750 to 1500 rounds a minute, it was very difficult to support and supply.  The World War II submachine guns and carbines all fired pistol rounds, thus limiting them to short-range use at best. 

Then the Germans at Adolf’s insistence developed what came to be called the STG44, an assault rifle.  This was a revolutionary weapon, and is the precursor of the horror many of you think belongs on our streets.  A shorter barrel and stock made it somewhat lighter and easier to use.  A 30-round magazine with the ability to shift from semi-automatic fire to automatic fire at will was added to the mix.  Not revolutionary in itself; what was revolutionary is this weapon which could be used as a long-range “aimed fire” weapon could as readily be used as a shorter range “massed fire” weapon, because it was firing a slightly shortened rifle cartridge.  This was not a submachine gun that fired pistol rounds; this was a submachine assault rifle, specifically designed using the experience of modern combat as the supreme small combat arm; it fired rifle bullets. 

The STG44 was reverse engineered by the Soviets, and it became the AK47, 7.62mm, compact, accurate, reliable, and semi-automatic or automatic at your discretion.  It is cheap, and it is nasty, arguably the best weapon of its type since the Spanish short sword.  It doesn’t shoot you through the head; it blows your head off, literally vaporizes it.  Pistol rounds will tear you up if you get a number in you, but rifle bullets in ones and twos blow you apart.  These are combat weapons that are designed to take on the best soldiers in the world in the worst possible environmental conditions.  They are not self-defense weapons.  They are weapons of intimidation and of insanity.

After World War II the United States military analyzed various weapons systems and did some good things and some bad things with small arms, as it turned out.  The M14 was an upgraded M1 with a 20-round magazine that fired the NATO 7.62mm cartridge (those crafty Commies, our 7.62 rounds could be fired readily in an AK47, but those Commie 7.62 rounds could not be fired by any NATO weapon); the Brits had a similar weapon; usually issued semi-automatic, but could be adapted to full automatic, albeit rarely was it done.  A somewhat heavy, long-range weapon that limited the soldier to carrying at most 300 rounds, it was superseded by the M16 in Vietnam because long range was not required, but carrying lots of ammo on your person was.  I gather some crazies carried as many as 750 rounds of 5.56.

The M16 was something of an accident (and in Vietnam not a real happy one for awhile) in that it was designed originally to replace the M1 carbine as a U.S. Air Force sentry weapon to protect B52s.  The M16 is queer in two respects:  It is accurate only out to about 200 meters; the small bullet tends to tumble; and the muzzle velocity of the bullet is so high that when it hits something it tumbles and disintegrates in a completely indiscriminate and unpredictable manner.  It can hit you in the shoulder and come out behind your other knee.  The ranges in Vietnam were always tight and close, so 200 yards and nasty damage on anyone who is hit, and the ability to carry lots of ammunition, was good enough.  This is a weapon that if you get shot in the gut, you die.  The bullet shatters into thousands of shards, and not even modern medicine can save you.

These are the two choices that you have out on the street.  You have machine pistols like Uzis and such, but your primary choices are Armalites or Mini-14s, 5.56mm weapons, or AK47s, 7.62mm weapons; all weapons that are designed to fire a ton or two of ammunition for each casualty inflicted on the battlefield, the place for which they are designed.  These weapons are normally fired at soldiers who are already hiding.  When used in a civilian environment where no one is hiding, what chance does anyone nearby have?  The heavier weapon destroys its target by pulverizing the impact area with a large bullet fired at a muzzle velocity of about 2800 feet per second.  The entry wound may actually be small, but the pulverizing will affect a radius of three to six inches of tissue for the extent of the wound track, and the wound will invariably be through and through.  At close range the sound and shock wave magnify the pulverizing effect.  The victim is not intended to survive being shot once.  The 5.56mm round has a muzzle velocity that varies from 3250 to 3750 feet per second, depending upon the weapon used.  The wound tract is unpredictable and marked by thousands of small shards, as the bullet breaks up into larger and smaller pieces.  Through and through is much less common.  The victim is not intended to survive being shot multiple times, but once is often good enough.

These are not hunting weapons.

Every time I hear someone try to justify keeping this crap around the house I have to wonder who are you planning on shooting?  What war are you planning on starting?  Oh, I am assured, it is just for self-defense; against who never specified.  No, I hear, the only thing that needs to be done is to keep these weapons out of the hands of crazy people.  That works up to the point of identifying who has already done some crazy crap, but it does not begin to touch all of those who have not yet done any crazy crap, but will be the subject of next week’s news, as the cop lady kills her baby, as the jilted lover kills the kids and the ex-wife, etc.; or as the crazy sombrero headed out to do the next group of people normally and innocently going about their day. 

The problem is we are all crazy in our own way, and anyone of us could be crazier than a loon tomorrow.  That does not mean you should have the right or the opportunity to hose the neighborhood, just because you have gone over your own personal edge. 

It all started in the summer of 1966.  Richard Speck carved up eight nurses in Chicago earlier in the summer, then Charlie David Whitman in August did his Texas Tower bit, killing something like twelve people and wounding three dozen.  He had a brain tumor in his head and mostly bolts, shotguns, and maybe an M1 carbine.  He had the high ground, but his firepower was actually somewhat limited.

In the 1970s the Armalites and the AK47s first flooded the market, and so the crazies started with McDonalds and Lubys, eating establishments, and killed 21 and 22, if I recall my numbers correctly.  It has become almost an American tradition, if one feels that bad, it’s time to blow the neighborhood away.  Let’s go postal, let’s go shoot the boss.  Where’s that bitch, where’s that bitch of a wife?  Where are all my children?  It’s an easy jump to start killing everyone else’s children, isn’t it?

This is all new stuff.  People weren’t getting blown away by the baker’s dozen until these weapons were turned loose on our society.  Hell, these are the creatures of Hitler and Stalin, nasty metallic things good for nothing but killing.  Somehow you think you need these things in your household? 

If you really believe that, you are nuts.

As anyone knows, though, it is hand guns that do most of the gun killing.  Oh, I know, some human being picks up the gun and uses it, so blame the person, not the tool.  But if we re-phrase that to read “blame the first tool, not the second tool,” the contradiction becomes a bit more apparent.  It takes the combination of both tools to do the killing.

The IRS got everybody electronic filing their tax returns in less than 15 years.  We can actually do things much faster than that when we want to. 

To hand guns there is an easy answer.  It is time to make all existing hand guns museum pieces, if not destroyed and recycled.  To be replaced by a personalized weapon that only you can use, and for which you will receive a substantial credit or rebate on your tax return.  To every gun not just a name, but a hand, and that can be done now.  It also has the added advantage of keeping the gun makers busy for five to seven years, thus allowing them plenty of time to re-tool and re-invest.  We use computers and computer chips in our cars, we use computers for sex.  I certainly don’t see any reason why we can’t use computers and computer chips to resolve some of our violence issues.

You cannot keep guns out of the hands of crazies, because you might indeed be the next crazy; the daily headlines should tell you that.  And we are absolutely a gun nut, out of our minds, goddamned culture.  It is time to wise up, and give it up, for the sake of all of our children.

David G. Hanger
Ketchikan, Alaska


Received April 25, 2013 - Published April 30, 2013


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