Popehat's Ken White Talks About Guns The Way I Want To

Ken white wrote a great guide to being less wrong about guns. I encourage y’all to read it:

Last night the President of the United States — the President of the United States — suggested that people should be deprived of Second Amendment rights if the government, using secret criteria, in a secret process using secret facts, puts them onto a list that is almost entirely free of due process or judicial review. Because we’re afraid, because they could be dangerous was his only justification; he didn’t engage the due process issue at all. But he was merely sauntering down a smooth, comfortable, well-lit road paved by most Republicans and Democrats before him since the rise of “tough on crime” rhetoric and especially since 9/11. The President — and other Democrats — may hope that Americans will trust progressives not to overreach in restricting rights. [Emphasis in original omitted- again: Read the whole thing.]

The number of guns I own is precisely one. Here’s a picture:

For those unable to load or see the image- it’s a Nerf gun.

My interest in guns is mostly limited to an admiration of all things clockwork and mechanical. And let’s be honest here: Explosives are fun, as Mythbusters have demonstrated time and time again. They are often beautifully engineered, and even the pieces of crap like derringers are interesting to think about from an engineering perspective. You know what though? So are nuclear weapons, and I’m personally of the position that if we’re going to have them, the people who wield them should meet a level of responsibility that exceeds that of most. So my fascination with guns (or nukes) is not enough to compel me to own one.

That leads me to the next cogent idea: The idea that responsibilities are part of life, and with regards to this discussion, part of owning a firearm. Just because I find guns kind of interesting, it doesn’t mean that I’m in hurry to get one and go through the rigmarole of licensing, storage, and practice. I have no use for one and likely never will. I take a dim view of people trying to evade any kind of consequential imposition on their ability to own guns. Impositions that often amount to the codification of responsibilities.

That being said, I also understand that the ability to own a gun (whether we restrict it to muskets or allow people to own a fucking tank) is a function of liberty. It’s easy to say that guns are solely for killing people, but the number of gun owners who haven’t killed and will never kill anyone is a sign that this is less true than people think it is. For most, guns aren’t necessary. But, I think it’s important to acknowledge that life is so much more than what is necessary. That often what we consider most intrusive is the arm of the state reaching into our lives to divert not our needs, but our wants. There is the altogether noble and difficult to dismiss belief that individual rights cannot never be fully indulged, but should be maximized when and where possible.

Then comes the entirely reasonable question: Where and when is this possible with weapons? We don’t let people own armed-and-ready battleships for instance. We acknowledge that there are limits, and that these limits are founded on society’s interests as a whole. Simply crying out that a liberty is being taken from you is meaningless when you already acknowledge that not all liberties are permitted. If it was for no reason, then sure, having liberties taken is unjustifiable. But every now and then a credible reason comes along that is more than a whimsical overreach. People who like guns very much often convince themselves that the people who seek greater restrictions are somehow always acting out of whim and emotion, but history has shown that they often react to concrete cases of gun violence. Do more people die in traffic? Sure, but there’s a balance between what we need as a functioning commercial society, the liberty interests at stake, and the number of fatalities. We license drivers, we demand insurance, we police the roads, and we take precautions as a society to mitigate the damage. We don’t throw our hands up in the air, helpless, and pretend that nothing can ever be done to at least reduce road deaths based on the premise that there will always be bad drivers.

Then again when I listen to the rhetoric from the left, I often find that they are all too ready to dismiss my right to be treated like everyone else. Claiming to respect the equality of all is well and good, but meaningless if you only respect equality and justice when it doesn’t clash too harshly with other beliefs. The rush to a consensus on the left ban people on the watchlist from having guns is understandable, but betrays an abandonment of principle. We all know that these lists aren’t open, subject to real examination or audit, that they target minorities disproportionately. they were born out a fear of the other. I may not be Muslim, but I sure as fuck have a Muslim name, and I sure as fuck share the color scheme. I am the other. I’ve also been mentally ill, the new favorite sacrificial lamb of the right.

So have a lot of Americans. Mental illness does not a murderer make. It simply doesn’t. There is no criteria in the DSM-V that has “murderer” as a symptom of a mental disorder or disease. Sometimes the mentally ill can be a danger to themselves or others, but so can people who have no mental illness whatsoever. If someone is a danger in this way, they shouldn’t be in possession of a weapon regardless of mental status. Is Brock Turner mentally ill? Did it “force” him to rape someone? No. We acknowledge that he’s a piece of shit who’s the sole owner of his actions. We don’t minimize it by pretending some non-existent mental illness made him less culpable. We don’t need to be restigmatizing mental illness to create a shitty and unreliable criteria for who can own a gun.

It’s not okay to throw vulnerable populations under the bus because they’re losing a right you personally don’t want to see anyone have. Seeing minorities lose their rights selectively should not be a consolation prize. I don’t want a gun, but I do want to be equal under the law. It should not be a big ask, especially on the left, to demand that we treat everyone equally and demand equal access to due process as a basic condition for legislation. This tendency of the left to quickly forget the vulnerable in the short term is beyond disturbing, and I have no interest in letting it slide by.

Do I have solutions and thoughts and ideas about how gun ownership in this country should work? Sure I do. But I’m one person. I can’t make the discussion functional just by injecting my ideas into it. If the discussion doesn’t work on a basic level (where people can at least acknowledge the points they disagree with), then I’m not interested in having it. This is more than some nihilistic attempt to call everyone out as irrational. I think this is an important issue, and I think the way we talk about it makes much-needed progress impossible.


That whole “persons on a watchlist” canard literally has me seeing red.


Inflammatory comment incoming.

When has being able to kill more than three+ 100+ lbs animals per minute ever been worthwhile?

The answer: wars, and to a slightly different degree shooting ranges.

(To the gun enthusiasts here, you know I am not denigrating you. Shooting is fun. But I don’t think we have found the reasonable line yet)


See, I weirdly can understand the nice parts of having an AR-15 or one of its compatibles (vis-a-vis lower receiver). You don’t need it, but it’s satisfying to shoot, you don’t have to reload or rechamber as often, which is convenient when you miss, and it’s good for bigger game as you alluded to. Also, it’s got some kewl factor.

However, all of those things minus kewl-factor make it a nice military rifle, which is why it was developed for the military. But then so were MREs and I wouldn’t begrudge someone having a few in their basement during tornado season. I think it’s partly psychological and cultural. For instance, I personally find the AK-47 so historically significant based on its global proliferation that I would like to fire one, just to get a sense of it, even if I don’t want to own one.

I understand the reasons to some extent, but I don’t find them terribly compelling. They come down to wanting something and convenience. There are a lot of things we want the government won’t let us have, and we don’t complain about it. There already exists arms-control at higher grades of munitions and we all know why. That while the vast majority of the population aren’t murderers and pick up after their dogs, no one wants to step in a turd at the beach.

I think the thing for me is the irretrievable nature of murder. When people die, they’re not video game sprites- they’re gone forever. They and their families are instantaneously deprived of a lot of rights. I happen to think that people’s lives are sacred, that we should do whatever is reasonable within our power to keep them from dying prematurely. I’m not stupid, and I understand that people will die or be murdered no matter what. To me, it’s a risk-benefit thing, not something that is absolute. The benefits of allowing high-capacity semi-automatic rifles don’t seem to outweigh the number of lives lost to them. I’m not saying the numbers are huge compared to say, traffic fatalities, but they’re high enough relative to the benefit. Let’s be honest here: The benefit amounts to little more than a hobby. I’ve never seen gun owners present any threat to government overreach ever since government began overreaching. And bear in mind that the Whigish sentiment behind militias had a lot do with a disdain for standing armies that never translated into the abolition of a standing army: We have a standing army.


I understand what you are alluding to. I avoid dog turds and hear guns multiple times I week. That doesn’t mean I want to ban guns or dogs.

Dogs behind fences, guns in lockers. Don’t let incapable people buy dogs (which we already sorta enforce), and responsibility for more deadly force should be viewed appropriately.

I have always enjoyed Mr. White’s writings. There are few people who can explain the First Amendment as clearly and concisely. And his gun article makes some excellent points. Especially about the idea of people who want to talk about enacting restrictions should have a reasonable knowledge of the subject of their proposed laws.
Those who have read my posts might know that I am a gun owner. Actually, a fair part of our family business is restoring antique arms. We don’t sell them, nor are we NRA members. Probably more than half of the customer or museum owned guns we work on are too valuable to be fired. But I have always liked guns in much the same way that Actionabe wrote about. There is a mechanical elegance that some of the older firearms have that I really admire. I feel the same way about swords. We have a house full of swords.
Anyway, I have exactly one AR-15 style rifle in my vault. It actually belongs to my oldest son, who built it for his high school senior project. He actually redesigned and manufactured some of the key mechanical components. (No, the assembled gun was not taken to school. ) It is also not in the common .223 caliber. I probably own rifles in 30 or more cartridge types, but I have never owned a .223. Even so, the misinformation that people are propagating is really frustrating to me. I do not expect gun control proponents to have the knowledge of a Special Forces armorer, but it gets to the point where I start to think that the person talking about their gun control ideas do seem to talk about the subject a lot, and must also think about guns a lot, so the misinformation has to be deliberate. Yesterday, Harry Reid explained to the senate that “you can go down to a gun show, and come away with a fully automatic assault rifle, without a background check” The only place that his words might come close to accurate would be if the gun show was in Peshawar. I have always believed that if you have to lie or exaggerate the facts in order to make your points, you need a different position. Anyway, I will make one small point about the .223 The following image shows three cartridge sizes-

The first one is the .22LR, which ispopular for target shooting, or even the old gallery guns that people shot at carnivals. The .223 is our modern military round that is usually used in the AR-15. The largest cartridge there is the 30-06, which is what US troops used in the world wars. The advantage of the .223 is that they are lighter and it is easier to carry more. There is an issue of lethality. in war, wounding the enemy has a strategic advantage over just killing them. A wounded enemy requires help to leave the battlefield, so that is three less to fight. Also hospital resources, and transport back home, and all the resources to feed him, rehabilitate him, and pay for that pension. The .223 is a wounding weapon. Our recent villain spent 3 hours locked in the club with his victims. He had reasonable training in marksmanship, and apparently met little resistance. So he walked from group to group, shooting some people as many as seven times. Half of his 100 victims are still alive, and some ( I hope many) will recover more or less completely, including the guy who was shot seven times. The AR-15 is not the ultimate military killing machine. It is also not easily converted to a machine gun. That is a big difference between the civilian and military versions. Even the military semiauto has a space milled out to install the auto sear to convert it. Civilian guns are constructed deliberately to make that conversion very difficult. just drilling the first holes to start the conversion makes you a felon.
My two cents on the AR-15


Neither do I. I think that’s an extreme position. I do find arguments about particular kinds of guns (or features or combinations of features) convincing, however. We don’t have to be stupid about it and ban suppressors or sawed-offs (fucking Canada allows sawed-offs!). I say, and maybe this is just the scientist in me, let’s take an evidence-based approach here.


Obama tried the “let’s ask Congress to write sensible gun laws that restrict everyone’s rights the same way” tack earlier in his administration.

It didn’t take.


That 30-06 is huuge. Do you get knocked down when firing one? :smiley:


I dont buy that because we can’t pass common sense rational reform that we should immediately move for irrational terrible PATRIOT ACT affirming bullshit. Just because you can’t find your car keys, it doesn’t mean you buy a whole new car.

The Obama administration’s comfort level with Bush era civil liberties erosions are bad enough without people suddenly accepting them just because they voted for him. I almost wish we had a Republican president, so at least there could be one side in this country that acts as a political opposition to this kind of overreach. Now it seems we’re hopelessly inured to bad practice if you can slap a D and an R on it. Then we call it “bipartisan” and immediately switch off our brains and our consciouses.


The focus on “assault weapons” is a red herring really.

I say ban everything that can be easily concealed and carried,everything that is automatic or semi-automatic, and put together some reasonable restrictions on ammunition types.

Let hunters have their bolt-action, lever-action, or single-shot rifles. Register and license them like cars. Record and limit ammunition purchases like we do with Sudafed.

Maybe let licensed, regulated shooting ranges have the “fun” stuff so if you want to go fire off a few hundred rounds at a target, you can do that – but the guns and the ammo don’t leave the premises, ever.


Not if you keep the stock hard against your shoulder. The picture makes them all seem big. The bullet has a diameter of about .308 inches. That size was pretty standard for most military bullets worldwide. The German standard was .323. When we talk about “assault rifles” from an academic, non-political standpoint, we are speaking of a select fire (fires auto or semiauto, your choice) with an intermediate sized cartridge. Why that mattered at the time was that there had been submachineguns that fire pistol cartridges in use since the end of WW1, or much larger machine guns which fired rifle cartridges, but were not portable. So the intermediate cartridge had better range and accuracy than the pistol round, but was lighter and smaller than the rifle round. The Germans introduced the STG44, which looks like this-

And is much bigger in person that it looks. It fired a cartridge that had a bullet with a diameter pretty much the same as the standard rifle round, but with a smaller case and less powder. The bullet was shorter and lighter, and had about half of the energy of the rifle round. Here are the two compared, with a 9mm pistol round on the right-

Well, I see that I have gone off on a tangent with more information than you need. Or probably care about. But the point, is that the .223 round that the AR-15 uses is not particularly lethal. It was designed as one of those intermediate cartridges. It is a compromise, a round that is fairly inexpensive and light, but pretty fast. Not much penetration or stopping power.


Not so much. You feel it though. It depends a lot on the mass of the bullet and the gun as well. I’ve fired an old WWI bolt action (M1917) where the mass of the rifle was enough to keep it from being particularly harsh.


The suppressor ban has a lot to do with Hollywood. It is people’s perception of what a “silencer” does. In the real world, it is just a thing that keeps the gun from being so terribly loud that everyone nearby has permanent hearing loss. There is a something that we call “Hollywood quiet”, but that is a complicated combination of specially constructed firearms, very special ammunition, as well as the suppressor. The best analogy would be that suppressors serve the same purpose as the muffler on a motorcycle. They can be crazy loud without them, but even with them, they are pretty noisy.


Come on out to the desert and you can find out. :slight_smile:

Crazy thought, but maybe “we’re” going about this the wrong way.

I wonder how many gun owners would opt for “increased legislation” for a coresponding “decreased legislation”.

Say, trade in the right to an AR-15 for the cessation of the War on Drugs?

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America requires a license to operate a motor vehicle, right?

  • Why is gun operation so much more privileged?

Medical conditions limit driving, but not shooting.

(I know about the 2nd, but it’s time to grow up)


I think that two things need to be kept in mind about the second amendment:

  1. Like all the other amendments at the time of its conception, it was only a question of whether the Federal government could do anything about your rights. States could restrict whatever rights they wanted. The Federal government wasn’t seen as being responsible for ensuring day to day law and order beyond the interests of the federal government itself in particular. That’s why you could write some vagueness into how the right to bear arms can’t be infringed, because it came with all kinds of asterisks that changed without the wording of the law itself ever changing. Whether or not the right to keep an bear arms is an individual right is literally not something that was addressed in the amendment.

  2. Amendments don’t create rights, and they don’t take rights away. Whether you believe rights are intrinsic to all humans or whether they are a negotiated social contract, there is nothing about the Constitution that makes it inherently right or wrong. I for one don’t give a shit what dead people think. They don’t have to live in our times or our world. These people used to die in duels over trivial insults. We’re the ones who have to live with the damn laws, so I can’t take the excessive deference to their opinions seriously at all.


I still like Cass Sunstein’s take on it.


I’m still trying to figure out which of the many mass-shooters in recent years has been on any kind of terrorist watchlist or mysterious no-fly list at the time that they bought their guns.

Being really really tough on a set with zero members is at best a waste of time, and at worst an expensive and arbitrary apparatus that will try to expand its scope to justify its existence.

And I’m still in shock and awe at the NRA calling out Trump on his “armed drunks are the greatest idea” brain-fart.