Ugly Guns Make America an Uglier Place

David Ryan

David Ryan is a boat builder and USCG licensed master captain. He is the owner of Sailing Montauk and skipper of Montauk''s charter sailing catamaran MON TIKI You can follow him on Twitter @CaptDavidRyan

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52 Responses

  1. Dan Miller says:

    Thank you. This is why the proposals to have armed guards at schools–or, worse, to arm teachers directly–are so depressing. We shouldn’t have to live like this.Report

  2. Slade the Leveller says:

    Radley Balko has a long history of commenting on the militarization of local police, as he terms it.

    As for something ugly and awful happening when you see a policeman with a machine gun, it’s my humble opinion that the something happening is, usually, law enforcement heavily guarding the already open barn door. In 2007, family and I took a spring break vacation to D.C., where we saw some machine gun totin’ coppers patrolling the Capitol grounds, generally with the usual law enforcement stone face. Depressing isn’t the word for it. I don’t know if the Capitol was in any danger then, but it was having the sh*t protected out of it.Report

  3. James K says:

    Perhaps one of the “gun guys” can clarify this for me, but from my uninformed perspective it seems like a spectacularly bad idea to give rapid-firing weapons to law enforcement. If there’s a dangerous criminal in a public place, the very last thing I want police to do is start blazing away at them.

    Collateral damage is a way bigger issue in a civilian environment than it is in a military one. I want police to aim carefully before they fire and giving them a fully automatic, or even burst-capable weapon seems inimical to that goal.Report

    • David Ryan in reply to James K says:

      I have purposely (mis)used submachine gun. Strictly speaking the weapons carried by (almost all?) US law enforcement are not machine guns, because they lack fully automatic fire capacity. They are semi-automatic, which means one trigger pull, one bullet fired. I’ve done this because I’ve come to the conclusion that the distinction is next to meaningless in these sorts of weapons. As outlined in my previous post about guns, my research indicates that fully automatic fire from these sorts of weapons is rarely as effective burst or single shot. Fully automatic fire reduces accuracy and empties magazines with ineffective fire. Selective fire is the preferred mode of operation for these weapons in nearly all circumstance.

      What makes weapons like the HK, or AR15 deadlier than a revolver is magazine capacity, and the last couple of decades we, as a society, have embraced the idea of police and ordinary citizens carrying weapons that are (nearly) identical to battlefield weapons. That’s not so different from 150 years ago, except that battlefield rifles have become capable of causing much more mayhem. “The greatest implement of battle ever devised.” is what General George Patton said about the M1 Garand, an 8 shot autoloading rifle. That’s how big a difference autoloading and magazine capacity make.

      As far as police firearm use is concerned. My understanding is that ordinary police are trained that if they decide they need to pull the trigger of their weapon, they should empty their weapon at the threat. This doctrine is why you have instances such as four police officers firing 41 shots at Amadou Diallo. The idea is that once the decision is made to use deadly force, the officer should bring maximum force to bear to neutralize the threat. I don’t know if or how SWAT teams are trained to use their weapons differently.Report

      • Murali in reply to David Ryan says:

        AR15s have an “Auto” mode. i.e. you can switch from “safe” to “semi” to “auto”. It is true that auto is less accurate and continuous firing on auto can cause the rifle to jam, but you can fire a whole bunch of shit (it was more than 8 years ago, so I can’t remember if it came out as a continuous stream or in bursts)Report

        • greginak in reply to Murali says:

          No fully auto weapons can be bought over the counter in the US. They don’t have an auto mode here. If you get a special license you can upgrade weapons to full auto.Report

          • Murali in reply to greginak says:

            That’s weird because the primary weapon I was trained with was the AR15 and it came with an Auto mode. You would think that they would call it something different if it came with a whole additional capability that made it even deadlier.Report

            • just me in reply to Murali says:

              Where were you trained on a fully automatic ar15? I thought the fully automatic version is a m16.Report

              • Kolohe in reply to just me says:

                Frankly I think the names are interchangeable. What I do know is that even the US Army issues a couple of different types of M-16s depending on your job – some with full auto capability, but many with just single shot and 3 round burst modes. (and as Mr. P said elsewhere, full auto from a rifle is highly discouraged in any case. That’s what 240B or a SAW is for).Report

              • Damon in reply to Kolohe says:

                Generally the M-16 and variants are military versions w/. caliber .223

                The AR-15 is the civilian version of the M16
                No civilian rifle can fire anything other than semi auto without modification (illegal without a permit). Military may come in a variety of selective fire options. It’s my understanding, stemming from the Vietnam War, where soldier “sprayed and prayed” that full auto was determined to be wastefull, so the burst mode was developed. Full auto fire is very innacurate due to muzzle rise and such. Some of innacuracy can be countered by better design and additional “add ons”.Report

              • Murali in reply to just me says:

                The difference between the AR15 and the M16 IIRC was that the M16 had this button (I can’t remember what its called) just behind the hole where the spent shells are ejected out of (I can’t remember what that’s called either). Pressing it if your round was stuck sometimes helped get your round in position.Report

      • James K in reply to David Ryan says:

        But an Uzi is fully automatic, isn’t it? And I really don’t get taking an assault rife, and de-assault rifling it? I wouldn’t have though magazine capacity was especially important for law enforcement. If they’re firing that many shots something has gone horribly wrong.

        If revolvers are considered too slow for law enforcement use, what’s wrong with a Glock 9mm? It’s semi-auto, compact and doesn’t look like you’re ready to start a massacre.Report

        • Damon in reply to James K says:

          I believe that most LEOs now have .40 cal weapons. I’ve heard that the military and cops find the 9mm to be a “light weight” bullet with much less stopping power, ie more bullets need to be fired to provide stopping power, than the .40 and .45 cals. It’s a tug of war between the weight of the ammo to carry vs the stopping power for the military.Report

        • David Ryan in reply to James K says:

          I’ve no doubt the Uzi is available as both a fully automatic “machine gun” and and “civilianized” semi-automatic.

          As far as “de-assaulting”, the Thompson submachine gun was developed to fulfill a very specific role. It was nicknamed the trench broom, and it’s purpose is for very up-close and personal clearing of trenches, pillbox, etc. as in sweep the confined space with indiscriminate fire in the attempt to kill everyone in it as quickly as possible. Even on the battlefield, the fully automatic submachine gun is a specialty weapon.

          Revolvers are not slow to fire. John Hinkley fired six shots before a single person could react. Revolvers are of limited capacity (6 or 8 shots) and slow(er) to reload. Upon a time they were regarded as more reliable.

          Glocks and other semi-auto pistols don’t fire any faster than revolvers, but they hold more rounds and can be reloaded more quickly.

          The looking like you’re going to “start a massacre” is a good point. An MP5 holds 30 rounds of 9mm; a Glock holds 19. The MP5 is massively more intimidating, but presumably the police I’m seeing around town are carrying semi-automatic MP5s there’s not that big a difference in the blow they can deliver. (Or unless NYPD thinks they’re going to be clearing trenches, in which case maybe they are fully auto. Who knows.)

          In anycase, we didn’t used to have people walking around with these sorts of guns in this country. Not the police, not ordinary citizens. I suppose whether you think that’s a good thing or a bad thing is a matter of taste.

          I do, however, find myself puzzled by libertarians who’ve made names for themselves noting the militarization of the police being able to turn on a dime and make impassioned arguments for ordinary civilian ownership of the exact same weapons. If we’re going to sell AR15s at Walmart it should come as no surprise that the police want to be similarly armed, and visa versa.Report

  4. Matty says:

    I find the whole idea of routinely arming police slightly terrifying though this may be because of my background. British police are not armed (and according to polls don’t want to be) so if I see a police officer with a gun it means something has gone wrong enough they need to send in the specialists. This attitude that police with guns only show up when it is extra dangerous carries over so that when I travel to other countries I subconsciously rate the places where I see police with guns as the places they are more likely to use them and so as more dangerous.Report

    • Damon in reply to Matty says:

      I’ve seen cops at Heathrow carrying military assault rifles. I’ve also seen them in Switzerland.Report

    • aaron david in reply to Matty says:

      When I was in Belfast, every office carried a Browning 9mm. Foot patrol was done in pairs, with one officer carrying a Sterling submachinegun. In the downtown area, there was a soldier on each corner, armed with an IW (UK’s military assault rifle.) That was in 1989. I have read that in some cities in the UK, every fourth officer is armed, but I can’t find the link, so take that for what it is worth.Report

      • Matty in reply to aaron david says:

        Northern Ireland is the exception it was for many years effectively a war zone and not a good example of policing with guns in a ‘safe’ environment. I have also seen it argued by former Chief Constable of Northern Ireland Hugh Orde that the guns increased the sense among Catholics that the police were the enemy and made their job harder.

        I’ve also seen the guns at Heathrow and other airports, frankly they make me uneasy there as well even though rationally I know those are safe places.Report

  5. Kolohe says:

    Wow, cool it with anti-government, anti-union rhetoric, willya Mr. Ryan? Plus we’re supposed to be emulating Europe these days, doncha know.Report

  6. Damon says:

    There is indeed “something wrong”. We’ve allowed our LEOs to become paramilitaries. They tendency to shoot first and ask questions later coupled with the weakness of oversight. Radly has document many times where cops go overboard. It’s an outgrowth of the drug wars.

    Here’s how you know if something is wrong. Example: you’re driving or walking along and you realize a cop is following you. Your first reaction is: fear, concern, worry, etc. Anything other than a “meh” and you’ll know. Legit citizens aren’t supposed to fear cops.Report

    • M.A. in reply to Damon says:

      Here’s how you know if something is wrong. Example: you’re driving or walking along and you realize a cop is following you. Your first reaction is: fear, concern, worry, etc. Anything other than a “meh” and you’ll know. Legit citizens aren’t supposed to fear cops.

      A cop following you means a cop is looking to, at minimum, write a ticket for something. Where I live, they’re most likely looking to get a ticket and move on because they do not want to waste the time doing arrest paperwork; that’s less time they can be writing tickets and tickets are their major revenue source. They’ve got quotas, and we all know they have quotas off the books even if the Supreme Court ruled they can’t have quotas on the books.

      There needs to be a solution to decouple police revenue from ticket and fine revenue. I don’t know what it looks like, but as long as there’s a financial or disciplinary (quota) incentive for cops to write false tickets, cops are going to write false tickets.Report

      • Roger in reply to M.A. says:

        “There needs to be a solution to decouple police revenue from ticket and fine revenue. I don’t know what it looks like, but as long as there’s a financial or disciplinary (quota) incentive for cops to write false tickets, cops are going to write false tickets.”

        And once again, the transition to a libertarian mindset begins…. In another twenty years I predict he will own the Ayn Rand fashion tee shirt collection. Reminds me of the Clash line that “He who bleeps nuns will later join the church.”Report

        • M.A. in reply to Roger says:

          I like Kazzy’s idea below. Put money from tickets and fines in a pot to be used later, and then use them on things that aren’t related in any way to police budgets.

          I also like the idea of you not trolling, but I see that’s not going to happen.Report

      • Kazzy in reply to M.A. says:

        “There needs to be a solution to decouple police revenue from ticket and fine revenue. I don’t know what it looks like, but as long as there’s a financial or disciplinary (quota) incentive for cops to write false tickets, cops are going to write false tickets.”

        Higher taxes. The PD’s budget is based entirely on taxes. Take money from fines and the like to fund parks or something else. Something cops won’t have such a perverse incentive to fund.Report

        • Chris in reply to Kazzy says:

          Take the money from tickets to fund civilian review boards. Let’s see how many tickets they hand out then.Report

          • Glyph in reply to Chris says:

            The only problem with this is, we WANT CRBs.Report

          • Kazzy in reply to Chris says:

            My favorite part of the massive scam that ticketing is is the “processing fees”.

            “You mean I have to pay you $50 so that I can pay you $100?”
            “Why don’t I not pay you anything? Than you won’t lose money.”
            “Well, it seems as if you are telling me that it is going to cost you $50 or thereabouts to process my $100 payment. That seems wildly inefficient.”
            “Actually, we instill the processing fees because judges can’t waive those. Even if they waive your fine, you still have to pay that so we can still make revenue on the offense.”
            “At least your honest.”

            True story.Report

    • BlaiseP in reply to Damon says:

      The situation can go the other way, too. Cops aren’t supposed to fear for their lives on a traffic stop or a domestic violence incident. It’s a vicious cycle. I have no illusions about the billy badasses and Barney Fife types attracted to the profession of law enforcement but if we want thoughtful, circumspect, law-abiding officers acting on our behalf, we might think through the proposition of that officer being a human being. If he’s a legit officer, why is he so fearful? Because America is exceedingly well armed and therefore exceeding dangerous.

      The bigger problem IMHO is the plethora of little agencies running SWAT teams, managing their own incidents, allowing the aforementioned billy badasses onto the assault team in the first place.Report

      • David Ryan in reply to BlaiseP says:

        Absolutely. And it’s telling who makes this connection, and who does not.Report

        • I admit that I hadn’t given much thought about the idea of a connection between the militarization of police and civilian ownership of, as you put it, “ugly guns,” until your OP above last night.

          That is no longer the case.Report

          • Chris in reply to Mark Thompson says:

            It was a big theme in the 80s (I think there were lines about it in Lethal Weapon, even): the criminals have so much more firepower than the police that the police are helpless.

            However, it should be noted that the connection is less about the guns that some redneck in the hills of West Virginia is collecting, and more about the guns that drug runners are using to protect their shipments. Because the militarization of police is one of the many gifts we’ve been given by the war on drugs.Report

        • BlaiseP in reply to David Ryan says:

          The Second Amendment comes in two parts. The Gun Nuts are forever giving us the second half of it. But if ever there was an argument for a Well-Regulated Militia, it ought to be applied to the burgeoning and unregulated SWAT teams. How many times do we have to read about some SWAT team shooting the dog? Our own Erik Kain wrote something about this a while back.

          During Prohibition, the FBI entered the same vicious cycle with the bootleggers. The bootleggers got faster cars, the FBI got faster cars. The bootleggers got powerful weapons, the FBI got powerful weapons. I contend a good deal of this cyclic madness could be attenuated by getting the drugs trade out in the open.

          Furthermore, I’d like to see anyone with an assault rifle obliged to register as part of an extension to a local constabulary. They’d go through some weapons and civil disorder training. Does two things: one, these people can form a regulated extension to the local police force in the event of looting or massive civil disturbance, surely as good an outlet for the Barney Fifes and the Preppers / Civil Disorder crowd as any. Two, it identifies all the assault rifle owners. Doesn’t take their weapons away and does give them some sense of community, as well as a tie-in to some local law enforcement.Report

          • M.A. in reply to BlaiseP says:

            The Founding Fathers didn’t give a crap about putting “self-defense” in the Constitution. They left that up to the states, and didn’t mention word one about it even in the 2nd Amendment.

            They didn’t give a crap about the idea that guns might be needed to “overthrow the government” either. The first time that happened, George Washington called up his Well Regulated Militia and mowed down the Whiskey Rebellion with little trouble. And every time since it’s been the same story.

            What they were worried about was the security of their new nation. Frenchmen to the north of them, Spaniards to the south of them, and increasingly-hostile native tribes to the west. That was why they needed a Well Regulated Militia, and they wanted to run it as a BYOF (Bring Yer Own Firearm) affair.

            The rest of it that the NRA crazies have fed us over the past 30 years is such low-grade bullcrap it couldn’t even be used to fertilize my lawn.Report

            • BlaiseP in reply to M.A. says:

              That’s pretty much nonsense. Read the Fourth Amendment and tell me what that “secure in their persons” business means. The authors of the Fourth Amendment knew what had happened when the Catholics of Great Britain had been disarmed. The Crown had attempted to disarm them at Lexington and Concord. They were not in any mood to tolerate that sort of thing from their new government.Report

              • M.A. in reply to BlaiseP says:


                The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

                Operational phrase: “Secure… against unreasonable searches and siezures.

                Nothing to do with “self-defense” bullshit there. It’s a restriction of the power of police forces to engage in searches. They are “secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects” that the police shall not search without due cause or issuance of a warrant.

                Please don’t misrepresent the constitution. It gets me angry when people do that. It’s not a document to be flippantly misquoted.Report

              • BlaiseP in reply to M.A. says:

                … how do you suppose seizures are accomplished? By a collection of nebbishes armed with a piece of paper and nothing more?Report

              • BlaiseP in reply to M.A. says:

                You know what angers me about Misreading the Constitution? In a nutshell, everyone seems to want the government to uphold their little reading of that august document and no other. The constitution grants powers to government, powers over the citizen, powers to enforce laws. It also grants us rights to be free from overweening government. The very idea that the Constitution doesn’t say anything about “self-defense” is horribly amusing. The entire Bill of Rights is an exercise in defending the citizen from the government and one citizen from another.Report

              • M.A. in reply to BlaiseP says:



                Let’s see: right of speech/press. Right to peaceably assemble (no mention of overthrowing government there, hrm) and petition for redress of grievances.

                Right to keep/bear arms, with context of a well regulated militia for security of the state.

                No quartering soldiers in private homes, unless at a time of war in a manner left to A Law To Be Written Later.

                Restrictions on ability of police to search/seize, requiring warrants and/or due cause.

                Requirement of a Grand Jury indictment for capital or “infamous” criminal trials (with exceptions for military, time of war, public danger, etc). No double jeopardy, no forcing someone to testify against themselves. Legal stuff about seizures requiring due process of law, and eminent domain.

                Right to speedy and public trial in the district the offense is determined to have occurred in, right to jury, right to full information of charges, right to compel witnesses, right to counsel. (Aside: Wow, the founders never saw that whole “internets” thing and jurisdiction-shopping problem coming on that one.)

                Right to trial by jury in civil lawsuits where the value in dispute is over $20. Prohibition on reexamining the “facts” determined by a jury in appellate cases except “according to the rules of the common law.”

                “Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.” Sounds pretty damn clear.

                Amendment 9-10: who else gets what powers we didn’t already mention.

                Here’s my question, you tell me, wiseguy: where in that whole mess is there a right to yank a gun and shoot someone when you feel threatened?

                I think it’s an important right. Self-defense is important, so important every state and jurisdiction recognizes it and I would be very worried to find a jurisdiction that didn’t. But it’s not in the fishing constitution and I am tired of people claiming something’s in the constitution when it clearly isn’t.Report

              • BlaiseP in reply to BlaiseP says:

                Restrictions on ability of police to search/seize, requiring warrants and/or due cause.

                I rest my case.Report

              • M.A. in reply to BlaiseP says:

                And this allows for citizens to yank a weapon for self defense how?

                You have a “right” to blast bullets through the door when the police arrive and order you to open up, warrant in hand?


              • Jaybird in reply to BlaiseP says:

                “Papers, please.”Report

              • BlaiseP in reply to BlaiseP says:

                Now you’re just being silly. The Fourth Amendment says the only people who can search and seize anything are officers of the law, armed with a warrant from a judge and a bill of particulars. That rules out everyone else. Two-bit self-appointed posses, church authorities, some irate neighbour coming over to grab one of your cows which he contends is his — everyone is disallowed from conducting searches and seizures. Secure in their persons.

                You want me to open up on you, M.A. When I do, I say things people don’t forget. You really do not want me to go there. I said I was wrong about the Whiskey Rebellion. But I won’t back down from what I’m saying here. Best you just take a chill pill.Report

              • BlaiseP in reply to BlaiseP says:

                Yeah, Jaybird. We don’ need no steenking badges.Report

            • BlaiseP in reply to M.A. says:

              I might add, both the Second and Fourth Amendments were added as a direct result of Washington’s over-reaction to the Whiskey Rebellion. Re-read the Constitution with that in mind and you’ll see why they erected such strong fences around the presidency itself.Report

              • M.A. in reply to BlaiseP says:

                Bill of Rights:
                Adopted by House of Representatives August 21, 1789.
                Formally proposed to the states by joint Congressional resolution, September 25, 1789.
                Fully ratified December 15, 1791 after enough states had ratified each clause.

                Whiskey Rebellion:
                Preliminary meeting regarding the tax: July 27, 1791.
                First hostility September 11, 1791 (tarring and feathering of tax collector Robert Johnson)
                Second meeting regarding the tax: August 1792
                Insurrection and federal troop response: 1974.

                both the Second and Fourth Amendments were added as a direct result of Washington’s over-reaction to the Whiskey Rebellion.
                No, they weren’t, unless the people proposing and ratifying them all had time machines. Please don’t just make things up.Report

              • BlaiseP in reply to BlaiseP says:

                So stipulated. I was wrong. In looking over this, I see the problem. President Jefferson repealed the whiskey tax, believing its enforcement was a serious overreach of Federal powers. It’s Jefferson who gives SCOTUS its power. It was a serious overreach: federal excise taxes are still a problem. And we still have the bootleggers with us to this day.Report

              • Burt Likko in reply to BlaiseP says:

                Many people confuse the Whiskey Rebellion and Shays’ Rebellion. It’s okay.Report

  7. Burt Likko says:

    David, are there weapons — guns, I should be specific — which you find aesthetically pleasing?Report