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The Aesthetics of the Gun Debate

Marcus J. Ranum

Marcus Ranum

What is Going On?

For the last 14 years, since I first became a gun owner, I have been watching the Great Gun Debate play itself out in the American mind. I have a lot of mixed feelings on the topic since I:

- Only shoot targets
- Don't hunt
- Like serious military weaponry
- Used to live in a high crime area
- Now live in a low crime area
- Have been held at gunpoint 3 times in my life

I am libertarian enough to believe that people should be allowed to make their own mistakes, and conservative enough to believe that they should suffer for them. In short, politically, I am a radical righto-leftist.

Americans refuse to make up their minds about broad issues of national policy. Is it a fundamental human right, for example, to poison oneself with cigarette smoke? If so, then it's absurd that people are suing the tobacco industry. If not, then ban tobacco outright. Our lawmakers, since they are basically cowards who serve at the whim of an ignorant people manipulated by television, attempt to back their way into a position that makes sense by a process of stepwise legislation. It's OK to poison your lungs if you're over 18, and you pay a lot of taxes on the poison. It's NOT OK to consume LSD but it's legal to drink so much alcohol you fry every neuron in your head, etc, etc, ad nauseam.

.22 for plinking
A .22 plinking pistol made to look "bad".

Guns are used to kill lots of people in the US every year. They're much more convenient for killing than, say, a knife or a crowbar, and marginally more convenient than, say, a Buick or a gasoline bomb. Clearly, say the lawmakers,
GUNS ARE A PROBLEM and therefore SOMETHING MUST BE DONE ABOUT IT

Conveniently, they neglect the fact that the gun would not do anything if it was just left to sit there. I've had guns sitting unused in my safe for years and they haven't fired at anyone or even loaded themselves.

Anyhow, the lawmakers are on the job, and they're going to solve the problem of those nasty guns. Only, it turns out to be a bit difficult.

There happen to be folks like myself who own guns who appear to be completely harmless. There's also the matter of the second amendment to the constitution, but if the American People get concerned enough about a problem they'll waive their rights by not complaining. There are target shooters, hunters, security guards, instructors, all kinds of people who happen to have legitimate reasons to own guns. So what's left for a lawmaker to do?

Try to identify types of guns that are often associated with criminal activity and ban them.
How brilliant. This is like saying "Volvos are in a lot more accidents than other cars. Therefore let's ban Volvos." It's not the car – it's that people who are lame drivers with no taste in cars prefer Volvos. But, because there's a correlation, if Volvos are banned, there's a dip in accidents while Volvo owners all buy Econowagons, and there are no more Volvo-related incidents.

When a heinous crime is committed with a particular "type" of gun, there's usually a big hue and cry about that type of gun. Some guy uses an AK-47 to open fire on a crowd of schoolkids and there's a big push to ban AK-type "assault rifles" (rather than nutcases or even schoolkids). Now, 7 years later, a couple schoolkids open fire on more schoolkids, using a .30-30 lever action hunting rifle and a bolt action rifle, and USA Today actually ran an article asking whether there should be restrictions on hunting weapons. During my lifetime, I can recall so far bans on "mail order guns," "assault rifles," "Saturday night specials," "assault pistols," and – what's next? Just about everything except "gun toting crazies."

Defining a "gun toting crazy" is a hard problem. Do they wear camouflage? Do they drool on their shirts? Do they mumble? Or twitch? Senator Strom Thurmond does all of the above except wear camouflage – is he a "gun toting crazy?" Defining attributes of people is hard because you can't get into their heads, yet. So you define the properties of "bad guns" so you can separate the "bad guns" from the "legitimate sporting purposes" guns.

Dayglo-green Uzi is better than icky, nasty black Uzi. For some reason, Bill Clinton's bodyguards still prefer the black kind... Dayglo-green Uzi

How stupid can you get?

Bad Guns are Mean Looking Guns

Slowly, I realized that the lawmakers are legislating not safety, but aesthetics. There's not really anything that makes a FAL an "assault rifle" while a FAL with a thumbhole stock and no flash suppressor is a "sporter." My Uzi is no more dangerous than anything else that puts a 9mm bullet downrange. It's just a mean looking gun, is all. I think, truly, that the logic here is that Bad People are attracted to Bad-Ass-Looking Guns. Nobody has articulated it yet, but that seems to be what's going on.


Lime-green AR15
Sportster AR15 in people-friendly lime-green color scheme.

The Clinton administration recently banned importation of the H&K PSG-1 rifle. I don't know if you feel safer knowing that. In case you're not up on these things, the PSG-1 is a semiautomatic sniper rifle; the finest in the world. We certainly don't want crazies running around with things like that! Oh, yeah, they cost $10,000. When was the last time you heard of someone sticking up a 7-11 with a $10,000 sniper rifle? Or, for that matter, with a FAL? My FAL weighs about 14lbs and is about 4 feet long. I suppose I could fit it under my trench coat to look inconspicuous. Yeah, right.

My Uzi'd fit under my trench coat. So would a Ruger 10-22 – a very sedate semiautomatic plinking rifle – with its stock sawed off and a pistol grip installed. Oh, of course, if someone did that, they'd be breaking the law. No self-respecting crazy that shoots up schoolyards is going to have the guts to saw down a rifle stock. So we're safe.

What do the PSG-1 and the FAL have in common? They are both Bad-Ass-Looking Guns. Incidentally, those sedate Ruger 10-22s have spawned a huge aftermarket for stocks and bipods and cheap curb feeler crap that makes them look kind of like Bad-Ass-Looking Guns if you squint.


Peptobismol pink AK47
Peptobismol-pink AK clone.
Any color you like Hi-res

Good Guns are Pretty Guns

So, I have a simple proposal that would have as much effect on gun crime as a lot of the restrictions that have been passed in the last 13 years:
Make All Guns Pink.

That's right: Pink.

We know that psycho schoolkid killers think they are tough. They'd never use a pink gun. Have you ever heard of a psycho crazy using a pink weapon before? Absurd. Therefore, if all the guns are pink, we'll be safe. Safety orange and lime green will be OK, too, I suspect. No self-respecting psycho crazy'd be seen dead with a lime green .44 magnum.

Oh, and make it illegal to repaint them.

Do you feel safe, now?


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