I’m going to share a little secret, just between the two of us; I always get nervous, during gun control debates, when the topic turns to the technicalities of different types of guns.
Don’t get me wrong; illiteracy about guns is one of the things that gun controllers exploit to ram down their factually-vacant, emotion-laden “points”. When the vast majority of people, and even some shooters, don’t know the difference between an “assault rifle” (an intermediate-caliber (less powerful cartridge than a rifle!) selective-fire long arm) and an “assault weapon” (a set of fluid cosmetic characteristics that have nothing to do with lethality), it’s impossible to have a literate debate.
Which, to gun controllers, is a feature, not a bug.
But this reared its head in an illuminating way in the Dallas shooting.
Exactly as predicted by Berg’s Eighteenth Law of Media Latency, the media got everything wrong about the Dallas shootings for the first 24-48 hours. It was not a group of men “triangulating” their prey – it was one guy, Micah Jackson.
And he was not shooting the official boogeyman (also: only gun most media people can name, other than “Glock”), the AR15.
There are many configurations of AR15.
He was in fact shooting an “SKS” – a World War II-vintage Russian design.
It’s as rugged as any other Russian design; it’s bone simple to maintain; it’s just about the least-expensive military-grade rifle available on the legal market in America (still widely available for under $350; a few years ago, they were around $100 apiece). It’s become an incredibly popular hunting firearm.
And, since “big magazines” are the boogeyman-du-jour, it holds ten rounds, in a non-detachable magazine, in its unmodified form.
Some gun-rights supporters jumped on this, to note that this, in and of itself, invalidates the “assault weapons” debate entirely.
It does – but not in the way the pro-gunners think it does.
Because while the SKS isn’t a modern, utterly modular design that can be rebuilt in a nearly infinite variety of permutations like the AR, it is the basis for some ingenuity. There are parts on the aftermarket to turn an SKS into a poor man’s AK47:
This, too, is an SKS – with aftermarket adjustable stock, replacement magazine well that uses AK47 magazines, and an aftermarket forearm with an accessory rail holding the foregrip and bipod, this “tacti-cool” SKS is not one degree behind the fashion curve.
Now, while parts of the media are announcing that Jackson used an SKS (after frantically learning how to spell it), not a single outlet (as this is written) has shown a picture of the murder weapon.
Maybe they don’t have it.
And maybe they do, but it resembles the first SKS – a humble, unadorned, vaguely antique-looking rifle that looks like an awkwardly-designed hunting rifle.
My point: like the AR, almost any rifle can be modified into an almost-unrecognizable form.
There are, as we’ve seen above, SKSes that metamorphose from awkward, boxy antiques to menacing-looking Hollywood specials.
And there are AR15s that are modified to look and function little differently than Grandpa’s hunting rifle:
Wood furniture, ten round magazine. That’s not threatening, is it?
Even better example: the Lee Enfield Mark1 “SMLE” was the standard rifle of the British army from the early 1900s to the late 1950s.
An “SMLE” Enfield that served in both World Wars, and quite possibly well beyond. It looks like a hunting rifle, because these days it is.
It looks like a hunting rifle – and indeed it was, and is, used as one in vast numbers in the US (although the ammunition is hideously expensive; $2 a around. Ask me how I know).
Early in World War 2, when the British Army had left most of its equipment in France, there wasn’t enough production capacity to build enough machine guns to equip the Australian and New Zealand armies. An Australian officer invented a Rube Goldberg-esque contraption based on an Enfield that turned it into a light machine gun:
Yep – it’s a Lee Enfield rifle, with a bunch of home-made parts bolted on, turning it into a machine gun.
The real point being, cosmetic and even technical definitions of firearms are virtually meaningless in the long run; even under Nazi occupation, machinists built fully-automatic submachine guns in machine shops for the various resistance movements (the “NRA” of their day, in the various Nazi-occupied countries).
One of these two was built in Enfield, England. One was built in a machine shop somewhere in occupied Poland. Take a moment and guess which is which.
No, cosmetics, and even abstruse technical terminology, has absolutely nothing on the motivation and, sometimes, ingenuity, of the person doing the shooting. Some, like the Polish guerrillas and the Australian Army, use those motivations and ingenuity for good (or “as good as we can get”, anyway).
Micah Jackson’s technology was more or less irrelevant; he could have committed precisely the same mayhem with any number of common hunting rifles. Maybe more.