Please Check Your Firearm Ignorance At The Door

NOTE: while this entry is not explicitly about organizational democracy (the putative subject of this blog), it is certainly about leadership, and the idea that leaders prefer fact-based decision making – even when the facts make decisions more difficult

I don’t get involved in Hockey discussions – for the simple reason that I don’t know much about Hockey. Call me quaint, but I don’t like to offer up opinions on matters in which I lack basic knowledge. I guess you could also call me a freak, because my reluctance to discuss matters on which I am ignorant seems a rare trait indeed.

Some also call me a “gun nut,” because I own guns and because I choose to know something about them. I offer the following information for those that would like to seriously discuss firearms and their role in society without tripping over misused terminology – or resorting to name-calling. We need to talk about firearms in this country, but we cannot understand one another’s ideas until we get our facts straight. Emotions  – and idyllic fantasies – have no role whatsoever in the discussion.

The following images depict the two most common types of handguns: the revolver and the semi-automatic pistol. Many people in the media seem to believe that a semi-automatic pistol is a machine gun. This is not correct. A machine gun is an automatic weapon, which fires continuously while the trigger is held. A semi-automatic pistol fires once each time the trigger is squeezed. This is also true of double-action revolvers, though few people seem to know this.

Contrary to popular belief, there is a big difference in firing speed between an automatic weapon and a semi-automatic weapon, but there is NO difference in firing speed between a semi-automatic weapon and a double-action revolver.

(A single-action revolver, such as you see in movie westerns, requires manual cocking of the hammer before each shot, and will be slower to operate in all but the most practiced hands. Single-action revolvers are excellent for hunting and target shooting, but less so for self-defense for two reasons: 1) the aforementioned manual cocking makes them more complicated to operate under stress, and 2) the cocked hammer lightens the trigger pull, which makes accidental discharges more likely – especially under stress.)

These are Glock semi-automatic pistols. I purchased the top one in 1992, and won the others in target competition. A semi-automatic pistol fires once each time you pull the trigger. Ammunition is fed into the firing chamber from a magazine inserted into the grip of the handgun. Glock has come to symbolize high capacity semi-autos because the company got a lot of press for their use of plastics. In fact, high capacity semi-autos have been very popular since 1903.

This is a Colt Detective Special double action revolver. It fires six shots as fast as you can pull the trigger, just like a semi-automatic pistol. Ammunition is loaded into the cylinder, which rotates a round into firing position as the hammer is cocked.

This is a Colt Frontier Scout single action revolver. To fire this, you must first manually cock the hammer. "Single action" refers to the fact that the trigger does one thing only: it releases the hammer. A double-action trigger cocks and releases the hammer as you squeeze the trigger. So you the shooter must do two things to fire a single action revolver, but you only have to do one thing to fire a double action revolver.

A significant difference between semi-autos and revolvers is capacity. A medium-caliber revolver cylinder typically holds five, six, or seven rounds. Some small-caliber revolvers carry ten rounds. Semi-automatic pistols, on the other hand, are fed from magazines that can hold many cartridges in a very compact package. My Glock 19s, for example, each hold fifteen rounds in the magazine, plus one in the chamber. Thus, if I carried both firearms fully loaded, I would have thirty-two rounds ready to fire. I’m told you can buy 30-round magazines, and it wouldn’t surprise me if larger capacity magazines are available. In any case, that is a lot of firepower.

The situations that might call for such capacity are horrific to consider, but not impossible to imagine. Those of us who witnessed the Watts riots of 1965, the so-called Rodney King riot of 1992, and the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina have to concede that social order can deteriorate very quickly, if rarely and briefly. There’s a big difference between watching such events on television and being responsible for your family’s safety in the midst of the action. In other communities, the rise of gangs has increased the possibility of multiple assailants, leading citizens to embrace higher capacity weapons for personal protection. For people who sit at home every night watching television, self-defense seems a moot point, but for those who like to be out in the world, it seems a sensible precaution.

Under normal circumstances, serious students of self-defense feel perfectly well prepared carrying a five-shot revolver with a spare speedloader (as the name implies, a device that allows one to fill all chambers of a revolver cylinder simultaneously). For the record, I prefer the Glock semi-autos not for their capacity, but because they fit my hand well – I shoot Glocks more accurately than I shoot my revolvers. I’ve only purchased one of my four Glocks – I won the others in target competitions.

For the last thirty years or so, criminal gangs and police departments have called attention to high capacity weapons by embracing a “spray and pray” attitude that endangers innocent bystanders. Every firearm self-defense training course I’ve seen concentrates on situational awareness (to avoid having to defend oneself) and accurate fire (to stop a threat quickly and efficiently). Citizen self-defense shootings rarely exceed two shots fired, according to FBI statistics.

As I said before, we NEED to discuss firearms in this country, but we need to do so without the usual emotion and demagoguery. There are bigger issues on the table than magazine capacity. For example, we know that medical malpractice, swimming pools, and automobiles each kill and injure far more people every year than do firearms, but we accept this because doctors, pools and cars are not designed to kill or injure (with the possible exception of my orthopedist, but that’s another topic).

Before we decide I should be fingerprinted every time I buy practice ammunition (a California requirement as of next month), I’d rather discuss whether we believe self-defense is an inalienable human right, and, if so, whether firearms are a legitimate and sensible means for personal self-defense. If so, how do we balance the rights of individuals with the realities of society? That’s a truly complex discussion, presuming the debaters actually think about the issues.

Speaking of thinking about the issues, I was going to call this article A Handgun Primer, but realized that, like many words in English, “primer” has multiple meanings. Since the goal of this note is to reduce the amount of ignorance that swirls up around firearms debates in the wake of public shootings, I thought it best to change the title. “Dumbing down” seems a necessary condition of public communication these days. The need for it represents a far greater threat to freedom and liberty than does firearm ownership. Before we renew cries to ban specific types of magazines or firearms, let’s agree to ban ignorance from the debate.

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2 Responses to Please Check Your Firearm Ignorance At The Door

  1. Lisa says:

    Thanks, Dean, for the thoughtful and carefully explained post. I have a question for you: Living in Canada, we see far fewer gun deaths here, but I’m told that gun ownership per captia is about the same as in the United States. Do you know why this might be the case? I’m honestly curious. It might be any number of things, including the number of hoops people have to jump through to purchase guns, or the state-funded treatment of the mentally ill, or other social factors. Have you read or heard anything that might explain this discrepancy?

    • deanzat says:

      It would not surprise me if the American diet had a lot to do with violence in our country. Widespread, heavy consumption of both MSG and HFCS means that a lot of people’s blood sugar is constantly crashing, leaving them short-tempered and muddle-minded. People seem to get very upset over mundane things. I wonder how much of our violence is chemical.

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