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They weren’t lying

I have heard a lot of actors say comedy is harder than drama. Probably, but I don’t know, for sure. My acting career was very short, a thing for which we should all be grateful. All I know is that I sucked at dramatic acting. I can’t imagine trying the comedic stuff.

Everybody has things they say are “the hardest” I guess.

A lot of writers have told me action/fight scenes are the hardest to write. I don’t know if they are the hardest. I do know that if they are not, I have no desire to learn what is the hardest. The one I’m working on may be the most exquisitely difficult thing I have ever written. The best part will be when my volunteer reviewers get hold of it and tell me I need to rewrite it.

Being a deck ape* was easier than this.

*Deck ape is a USCG and USN term for members of deck force, the most traditional of sailors in the modern USCG and USN. They are to be differentiated from all the wannabe sailors in the various engineering, admin and aviation ratings.

I was wrong

Forgive me if this rambles a bit.

In November, 1983, I enlisted in the United States Coast Guard as, of course, an E-1. On November 1, 2006, I became a civilian, retiring as from the United States Navy as an O-3E. While I like to think of myself as occupying a reasoned position regarding the 2nd Amendment and the right to keep and bear arms, I understand that to some people, my reasoned position seems to be somewhat extreme.

I do not care. One of the reasons I do not care is that I was wrong.

Allow me to explain.

I grew up in a household where firearms were always present. They were seen as tools for very specific tasks, just like the implements we kept in the barn or the garage, or both (depending on where we were living at the time). My dad was a printer for many years, as was my paternal grandfather. My mom was a proofreader and one uncle was a press operator. My first jobs were all in newspapers and print shops. It is fair to say there is a sense in which I grew up in and around newspapers and print shops. The result of all this? Both the First Amendment and the Second were very important to me.

As above, in 1983 I joined the USCG. Then, something happened. We started hearing about “cop killer bullets” and the like. Remember, the push was still on at that time to highly regulate or even ban handguns. I started to hear arguments about why civilians should not have handguns and the dangers they posed to everyone. It was noted that handguns were the primary firearms used in the commission of crimes involving guns (that was and remains the case). So, I was told, only certain people should have access to them. Specifically, “those people” were military and law enforcement personnel. This was of great significance to coasties because we were military people who did law enforcement. Because of our training and expertise we could have handguns when we did our jobs. Even better, depending on the nature of the handgun legislation we were assured would pass, we could own them as private citizens. Because of, you know, our training and expertise.

What complete and utter nonsense.

Since those days long ago, I have seen many, many people with neither law enforcement nor military experience out shoot with one or both. I have seen military and law enforcement personnel, including some whose regular job involved weapons, engage in such sloppy disregard for the “4 Rules” that surely Jeff Cooper will come out of the ground — if he ever stops spinning.

More than nonsense, though, it was dangerous. It was dangerous because it suggested that we, those of us in the military and/or law enforcement, were some sort of special class. It suggested we could be trusted with the exercise of a liberty enumerated in the Constitution in a way that should and could be denied the average or typical citizen. It had an allure, an appeal, too. It reaffirmed what we were tempted to think, anyway, to wit that we were somehow special because we wore a uniform and had taken an oath. Essentially, it suggested we were some sort of super citizens.

I came very close to buying it. The Officer-in-Charge (OIC) of our station certainly seemed to buy it. Fortunately, the petty officer in charge of our law enforcement training though otherwise. With the Cold War still in full swing, he frequently asked “why don’t we do things this way (“this way” could be any number of things that might have made the law enforcement portion of our jobs safer and easier)? His answer was always the same: “because this is not the Soviet Union” and “the Constitution guides what we do, not what might work better.” Then, he would talk about First Amendment freedoms. Those resonated with me, so I listened when he branched out into discussing the others. I actually listened.

Thank God.

Recently, a retired general (a three star as I recall) spoke on CNN about modern sporting rifles. You may recall he used the term “full semiautomatic.” The term was unfortunate (it suggests the good General’s knowledge does not live up to its billing) but that is not the issue. The issue, from my perspective, is that he seems to think military (and perhaps law enforcement) experience makes some people special and more entitled to exercise a liberty than other citizens. He bought into the lie. And that is far more than unfortunate. It is appalling. It would be no less appalling had it come from a civilian law enforcement officer.

Perhaps the greatest risk to law enforcement and military personnel is this: that we should not only begin to look upon ourselves as special in ways we are not, but that we should look upon those who are not part of our communities with disdain.

Once, long ago, I had started to think that way. I came so very close to stepping over that line. I came so terribly close to violating my oath — to placing my safety above the Constitution I had sworn to support and defend. Over the intervening years I have spent more hours than I can count examining the Constitution and thinking about liberty and what it means to be free. I have come to a conclusion.

Regardless of what one thinks about the First Amendment, the Second, the Fourth or any of the others, this much is true — there are no special classes of citizens who get to legitimately exercise their liberties in ways denied the common/average/typical citizen. The very idea is repugnant to liberty.

I was so very, very wrong.

 

I hate lies

It should come as no surprise to anyone who bothers to read this tiny little corner of the blogosphere to learn that I am rather fond of firearms. Nah. That’s not it. I like guns (that is a hard word for a guy who split 22 years between the USCG and the USN to toss around, but I am getting better). I use them to hunt, for defense of self and others, for punching little round holes in targets and as a way of ensuring my children will inherit no liquid assets. So, feel free to think I am somewhat biased. I am.

I said all that and need to add this: I really do not care how you view firearms. If you like them, great! Maybe we can go to the range, sometime, and waste money disguised as ammo. If you dislike them intensely, that’s fine too. Really. I might find your dislike odd and disagree with your reasoning, but ultimately, that is your decision to make. I would not dream of trying to force you to believe otherwise. The other thing I would not and will not do is attempt to change your mind with dishonest arguments.

Several times over the past three or four years I have encountered something interesting. When I have attempted to correct, as gently and politely as I know how I promise, people who use the specifically defined term “assault rifle” and the vague, nebulous and lacking-in-a-coherent-definition term “assault weapon” as synonyms, I have gotten an interesting response. I have been told that I am “using semantics to avoid facing the truth”. When I have referred my college sociology professor who said “fuzzy definitions produce fuzzy thoughts” and suggested that perhaps many gun control advocates are seeking to regulate something they do not understand, I have had no end of people tell me I was wrong and that “I/we understand guns and how they work, completely.” And, of course, I have been told everything from “no one wants to take your guns” to “no one is contemplating a wide-ranging ban on guns.”

Uh huh.

For today, I will limit myself to the current bill’s attempt to ban most handguns.

“No.” you say. “That’s not what is going on at all.”

Uh huh.

“D) A semiautomatic pistol that has the capacity to accept a detachable magazine and any one of the following:

“(i) A threaded barrel.

“(ii) A second pistol grip.

“(iii) A barrel shroud.

“(iv) The capacity to accept a detachable magazine at some location outside of the pistol grip.

“(v) A semiautomatic version of an automatic firearm.”

If you do not recognize this, it is a section from the proposed “Assault Weapons Ban of 2018“, which serves to let us know what firearms and sorts of firearms are included in said ban.

Please note the first 21 words, which I have placed in bold. Now that you have done that, I have a question. How many semiautomatic pistols have the “capacity” to accept a threaded barrel?

Virtually all of them. In fact, there is no difficulty in finding one that will accept a threaded barrel. It is quite difficult to find one that will not.

Next question. What is the best-selling and most popular type of handgun?

A semiautomatic pistol with a detachable magazine.

Note that the language says “capacity” is the important characteristic, not the presence or absence of a threaded barrel. I am forced to conclude, then, that if gun control advocates do, indeed, understand guns and how they work, that their insistence of not wanting a wide-ranging ban on guns is a lie. They are seeking to ban the most common and most popular type of handgun.

No one is perfect. I get that. Truly, I do. People make mistakes with words. It’s just that you cannot have it both ways. Either the people who write and knowledgeably support such bills are attempting to regulate that of which they are incredibly ignorant, or they are liars.

One can be corrected with education, if dealing with people who are amenable to education. Liars are a different matter, so, you call it. Do they not know what they’re talking about, or have they been lying?

Thoughts on the mission

I started my military career as an E-1 in the United States Coast Guard. A good part of my USCG time was spent in law enforcement, primarily chasing those who sought to bring various and sundry forms of recreational pharmacology into our Fair Land. Occasionally, we even caught some. Understand that in spite of 22 years of military service split between the USCG (semper paratus!) and the USN (anchors aweigh!), I was never some sort of high-speed low-drag operator. On the other hand, I have been places I had no desire to be, doing things I did not wish to be doing in response to people who were doing Truly Bad Things. What I learned from that, is this: when at all possible, do not try to second guess the decisions of those who are in situations remote from where you are sitting in relative safety. Though I did, in a fit of pique, answer a question on Quora regarding my thoughts, that “learning” has been sufficient reason for me to not comment here on the recent school shooting in Broward County, Florida.

 

I also learned some other things. For instance,

  • Whether in law enforcement, search and rescue, combat or healthcare, you have a job to do, a mission to complete
  • Though you do everything you reasonably can to protect yourself, to make sure you can “go home at the end of the day/deployment/sortie/whatever, this is always secondary to the mission
  • People who forget the primacy of the mission can be counted on, at some point, to sacrifice the mission for some cause far more convenient
  • This can be expressed this way: The Mission Comes First*

People have suggested multiple reasons the deputy in Florida did not enter the building to engage the shooter. Among those are

  • He did not want to get shot
  • He was scared
  • He is not paid enough to risk his life

My responses to those are

  • I doubt the coach who shielded students with his own body wanted to get shot, either
  • I suspect the young man in JROTC who held the door so other students could escape was scared, too
  • My understanding is the deputy made just over $100,000.00 last year. By way of contrast, the median pay for a Navy Hospital Corpsman who is an E-4 (HM3/petty officer third class) is $27,260.00 For that paltry sum, these folks deploy with the Marines and crawl out to retrieve and tend the wounded while under fire.

So, you will pardon me if I find the bull**** excuses questionable justifications for the deputy not entering the building somewhat less than compelling.

Years ago, when I was much younger and believed life would be simple and easy, my dad told me something that made all the difference when I was scared or facing the possibility of something profoundly unpleasant, or when thinking I was not being properly appreciated for what was being asked or required of me. He had been an Army combat medic in the Korean war. To paraphrase, he said that a person needs to think about every eventuality he can and decide what he will do if he faces it. You can’t think of everything, but you can think of general situations. That way, you don’t have to spend time making the decision then. Instead, you can just do what needs to be done.

Law Dog, who undoubtedly has far more tactical experience than I ever will, puts it this way

“In 2006 — 12 years ago.  Bloody hell — I banged off a thought about bright lines in which I opined that every adult should sit down and decide where the line was at which point they would use Deadly Force against another mother’s son.

My opinion on this matter goes double — a hundred-fold — for those who put on a badge.  Before you get out of the Academy you should have decided where that bright line was.

And I’m here to tell you:  if that bright line isn’t on the proper side of “shooting up a school full of kids” then don’t you dare pin on that badge.”

I would apply that standard to anyone who purports to serve others or to put the safety of others above his own. If you cannot do it, do not put on the uniform, pin on the badge or take the damn oath.**

*NOTE: the only thing that arguably comes before the mission is honor. Leaving schoolkids to die when you had the opportunity to do something about it is a lot of things. Honorable is not one of them. My question: when did honor become such an oddity?

**NOTE: it is reported that at some point there were other officers on scene who stood behind their cars while the shooting was still going on. The same observations apply to them.

 

Your muse, my muse

I have read various writer’s descriptions of their muse (muses?). Some of them are interesting, to say the least.

“Elegant, like a woman of impeccable breeding and decorum.”

Uh huh. Impeccable breeding and decorum don’t produce the drivel that shows up on my screen when I write.

How about this one. “My muse is like the ocean washing in, forcing me to write, and then washing out, but like the tide, inevitably returning soon.”

Oceans and tides? Really? Mine would wash up the contents of someone’s chum bucket.

“My muse is the silence of night, pulling my thoughts from my mind and onto paper.”

Okay, but I sleep at night, and I would pay to have someone pull coherent thoughts onto paper.

I wish I had one of these muses. I don’t, though. Mine is…different. Mine is a fickle and capricious toddler, running from one shiny thing to another with the attention span of a gnat with ADHD and a $500.00 a day crack habit.*

What’s yours like?

*about 1500 words written today and each one of them has been exquisitely painful.

A link to a “Mad Mike” post

Michael Z. Williamson (aka “Mad Mike,” aka “Crazy Einar”) has written a post for his blog over at The Sacred Cow Slaughterhouse. Like much of his writing, it is not for the delicate or faint of heart*. And, like most of his writing, it is very insightful and delightfully shorn of pretense or obfuscation. You man find the specific post here.

Anyway…

He suggests people inclined to do so should by an AR-15, or perhaps even another one. I had the same thought as Mike Williamson, but the Lady of RM Ranch has frowned upon another gun purchase until we take care of more pressing issues (priorities, woman, priorities!). His firs argument for doing so is, I think, the best one in terms of practical politics. If enough people buy enough of them, they will become so normalized, so much a part of everyday life for millions of Americans, that “asking to ban them is like asking to ban Toyota Camrys, not Dodge Vipers.” This is an area in which I believe we so often fail, so I am glad to see him address the greater picture of how to normalize what we do. Look, I get it. Teaching our kids and grandkids about guns is vital, and for many families, guns really are a family thing. But this tendency we sometimes have to only “spread the word” vertically limits our ability to normalize the legal ownership and use of firearms. We must find a way to spread our influence and point of view horizontally, as well. I do not know if all or many of us buying as many AR-15s as we can will do it, or not, but it is a place to begin. Besides, look at it this way: he lists several other reasons for buying an AR-15, so it is likely a win, either way.

*NOTE: For those easily offended, it is a movie reference. You will understand once you read the first sentence of the post. I could tell you which movie, but Google is your friend.

Two approaches

 

It occurs to me that, broadly speaking, there are two approaches to liberty. These two approaches highlight the differences between privileges and rights.

The first approach is this. Those in power, usually the state, grant various privileges to those of whom they approve. Typically, it works out something like this:

  • the state provides a set of criteria one must meet in order to be allowed to exercise a privilege
  • a citizen provides to the state documentation that he/she does, indeed, meet those criteria
  • depending on the privilege under consideration and the nature of the governing authority, permission to exercise that privilege may or may not be granted

Note that the nature of this approach does not change simply because of what the state calls the privilege. Calling it a “right” may sound better, but this is irrelevant to the approach (lipstick on a pig and all that). Also note that those in power reserve to themselves and their successors the power to later rescind the privilege, even if nothing about the citizen and his/her circumstances have changed.

The second approach is different. In this case we are not concerned with privileges. All states grant those, but our focus is on something else. We are concerned with rights that are rights, indeed, rather than privileges with a more convenient name (as per the previous paragraph, it is not the name which makes it different, but the approach).

It works like this.

  • before the state may limit or prohibit a person’s right to do, act or possess, it must demonstrate why it should be allowed to do so
  • the state must provide the documentation/evidence supporting its assertion
  • absent such evidence, the person is at liberty to do the thing in question, whatever that thing might be

The first approach says “you may not do this, unless…” The second says “anyone may do this, unless…” The first approach places the burden of proof on the individual. The second places that burden on the state. The first approach treats liberty as a thing that proceeds from the largesse of the state. The second recognizes that liberty proceeds from ones personhood. The first approach is far older, and far more common in the world. The second approach is as radical now as it has ever been. A brief excerpt from John Kennedy’s Inaugural Address comes to mind.

“The world is very different now. For man holds in his mortal hands the power to abolish all forms of human poverty and all forms of human life. And yet the same revolutionary beliefs for which our forebears fought are still at issue around the globe–the belief that the rights of man come not from the generosity of the state but from the hand of God.”*

When one views liberty as proceeding from the hand of man, it becomes very easy to suggest it should be subject to the calculus or either need or social utility. Such a view in incompatible, I submit, when one understands liberty is based simply on the fact that one is a human.

*NOTE: Whether you have any positive regard for JFK or not, it was a hell of a speech. I wish I had written it.