Monday, February 11, 2013

The Wannabe Wolverines

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One of my favorite movies in the so-bad-it's-awesome genre is director John Milius' 1984 right-wing paranoid fever dream "Red Dawn."
This American cinematic masterpiece tells the story of a group of teenagers who take to the hills and engage in an insurgency against an invading Soviet/Cuban force that, for some reason, begins the conquest of the United States by attacking a high school in the hinterlands of Colorado.
Naming themselves the "Wolverines" after their local sports mascot, the plucky teens (played by, among others, Patrick Swayze and a pre-insanity Charlie Sheen) disrupt and sabotage the occupation, all while maintaining their perfect '80s hair.
 It was a fun movie, largely because it was so completely absurd, sort of like Milius' other '80s masterpiece, "Conan the Barbarian."
Sadly, however, a lot of America's current gun debate seems to be driven by people who think this movie is some sort of manual for political action. We need to have high-powered military-style weapons, they assert, in case we have to take to the hills and go full Wolverine, this time against our own government.
Their poster child is James Yeager, the fellow from Tennessee who declared on YouTube that he was going to get his gun, fill his backpack with food, and "start killing people" over executive orders that no one had even read yet.
You know, I remember when even mildly criticizing the President Who Must Not Be Named in a newspaper column was enough to draw angry letters and emails accusing me of treason. It was, after all, a time of war. Now, a few years later, we're still supposed to be at war, but these Wannabe Wolverines talk openly about needing assault weapons and lots o' bullets to commit actual treason because they're mad at Barack Obama for - well, they're just mad at Barack Obama.
As we've seen from the example of Mr. Yeager above, the president doesn't really have to have done anything to excite their rage. I'm not sure what the Wannabe Wolverines think they're going to do, even with the most tricked-out AR-15, against an Army that can field attack helicopters, artillery, bombers, drones, tanks, etc.
If you really follow their "logic," then the right to bear arms would also include the right to anti-tank weapons, land mines, shoulder-launched surface-to-air missiles, etc. But, you know, that would be crazy.
So let's leave aside teenage-movie fantasies about taking on The Man with the AR-15 in your gun safe. Let's recall Justice Scalia's statement in the landmark D.C. v. Heller case that "the Second Amendment right is not unlimited. It is not a right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner whatsoever and for whatever purpose" and approving of the "historical tradition of prohibiting the carrying of dangerous and unusual weapons." So why not a blanket ban on assault weapons?
Well, the last time we tried to do that, it didn't work too well, largely because they tried to define "assault weapon" using the same criteria the medieval peasants in the movie "Monty Python and the Holy Grail" used to ID a witch: "It looks like one!"

Many of the characteristics that defined a banned weapon were cosmetic: folding stocks, pistol grips, barrel shrouds and the like. Manufacturers found it childishly easy to circumvent the law by making minor changes and giving the banned weapon a new model number. They didn't address the core characteristic that made people want to ban assault weapons, then and now: the ability to mow down lots of people, very fast, without reloading.
I've said before that the problem of gun violence in this country can be summed up as "too many guns in the hands of too many crazy people." Upon reflection, I'd amend that to "too many guns able to throw too many bullets in the hands of too many crazy people."
To solve this problem, we need a solution that addresses all of those. That means better mental health services, better background checks, and - yes - some limitation on the availability of high-power, high-capacity weapons.
While polls show that a simple "assault weapons" ban sounds good to a majority of Americans, to just slap on a ban and walk away thinking the problem's solved would be as simple-minded as the fantasies of the Wannabe Wolverines. In the words of another great film, it's not our job to be as confused as they are.
All kidding and all film references aside, life is not like the movies. Complicated problems require multifaceted solutions, and we need to start considering all our options and not let the entire conversation being about one kind of weapon.