Category Archives: Guns

Sturm und Drang

The term, sturm und drang, is German for storm and yearning–often translated storm and stress. It refers to the wild emotions and actions of romanticism in the arts of the late eighteenth and into the nineteenth centuries. But for today’s discussion, I’m using the phrase about black powder guns.


That’s me, touching off my Pietta copy of the muzzle-loader Remington New Model Army revolver–ably photographed by my partner at Oghma Creative Media, Casey Cowan. Regular readers of this weblog know that I enjoy firearms, but I have a special love for the charcoal burners. The revolver in the picture was, in fact, my first gun. Yes, my advice is to start with a .22 Long Rifle, but such words of wisdom as I have to offer come from going about things all the backward way. Or perhaps not, since pouring powder into one chamber at a time, ramming home a wad and ball, then smearing Crisco across it is an interesting occupation for an afternoon. Oh, and eventually, I get to shoot the thing…


But perhaps you need a little more to see the joy here. As I said, it’s a fiddly beast, and I enjoy fiddling. Then there’s the connection with history. As a writer of westerns, I want the feel of the old smoke engine. Yes, I can read about that, but it’s a lot more fun to try it out myself. And no book can tell your nose what burning powder smells like. (O.K., it’s bad eggs, but you just have to smell it.) But the best part is the thuder. It’s not a crack or a bang. It’s a deep bass boom. All in all, this revolver lets me add realism to my stories of the Old West.

At least, that’s my excuse. It’s research, you see.

What’s Your Take?

Have a look at this video:

I see a fine example of the human spirit to overcome whatever obstacles life throws at us. I also like the man’s remark that foreign invaders should think twice when even this fellow will be armed.

But notice what one of the Internet’s best known gun control freaks uses for a tag in his post about this:

He called the man in this video a disqualified person.

We’ve been discussing what makes someone qualified or disqualified to own guns over at Mikeb’s site. He has stated that physical disabilities, including obesity, make someone unfit to own a firearm. Of course, my assessment of his position is that he wants few if any Americans to be armed. He would disagree with the way I interpret his desires, and that’s fine. But I find the idea that someone who has no arms but who demonstrates his ability to operate a firearm safely is still disqualified from owning one to be a revolting notion.

Remember these two articles, Mikeb’s and mine, when you think about supporting gun control.

The Three Ps

Want to get a fight started? Go to a gathering of gun nuts and shout, nine mil or forty-five? Immediately afterward, get behind cover.

When I was entering the gun nut forest for the first time, the writings of Col. Cooper showed me the way. He favored the M1911 in .45 ACP. Even though I have committed heresy at times, I still hold a fondness for single-action self-loaders that pitch a half ounce of lead at the gentle speed of 850 ft/sec.

The question remains, though: What caliber is the best in a handgun? Oy vey, here we go. It’s an old debate. Back in the early years of the twentieth century, the Army was embarrassed by the poor performance of its .38 Long Colt revolvers in the Philippines and wanted something better. Two fellows by the names of Thompson and LaGarde were commissioned to come up with the answer–in other words, were told to find that .45 was best. A careful reading of their study, however, shows that the data support no particular caliber as being any good out of a handgun. (The .30 Luger performed better than many other rounds, ironically.)

More recently, we keep hearing that the .22 Long Rifle is the round that kills the most people in a given year. Or perhaps it’s the woebegotten .25. So what’s a gun-toting person to choose?

Here, submitted for your consideration, are my three desiderata of cartridge and gun:

1. Placement

If the gun’s too heavy to manipulate or the recoil is so much that I develop a flinch, the thing’s useless to my purpose. There’s no miss that’s good enough, no matter how much noise it makes or how deep a hole it makes in the scenery. Now it’s no good saying that standard calibers are too hard to manage. I’m telling you that I don’t carry a .500 S&W.
Dirty Harry’s round is the one on the left.

The key here is to find something that you can put on target in a hurry. And I’m not talking ten rounds through one hole. What good does that do? You need to be able to empty a magazine or cylinder into the area covered by a sheet of typing paper or a two liter bottle in short order and at whatever distance you expect to have to defend yourself. Also, the smaller the bullet, the better your aim has to be.

2. Penetration

The FBI standard is that the bullet has to penetrate twelve inches of tissue to be good enough. That really is the minimum, since people come in all sizes and don’t always cooperate by standing at the right angle when they’re trying to kill you. These
don’t penetrate as well as these
do. Generally speaking, for small calibers–.22 LR, .25 ACP, .32 ACP, .380 ACP, and 9mm Makarov–the bullets are too light or the powder charge is too low to get enough penetration out of hollow points, presuming they even expand at the typical velocities of those rounds. By contrast, .38 Special rounds on up are heavy enough to keep on going, so expanding bullets are better–the bullet does no good once it leaves the bad guy.

Whatever your choice of handgun, the round it spits has to get in deep enough to do what needs accomplishing.

3. Punch

As I said above, the good ole .22 LR and .25 ACP hit way above their class, but that’s probably because those are common guns. I might rely on a .22, but that’s only because I know what I can do with mine. The safer answer is to go with something that’s going to do a lot of work where it’s going. Yes, an icepick can be used as an effective weapon, but your chances of success with that are far higher if you start the fight first and have trained yourself to drive the shaft exactly where you want it every time. In other words, it’s not all that useful for us good guys who aren’t going about starting animosity. We have to react to someone else’s bad choices in life, rather than picking the time and place to act.

Here’s where the 9mm vs. .45 ACP argument really gets thick in the weeds. In days gone by when semiautomatics worked best with hardball, a 9mm wasn’t such a good choice. Just like the icepick, it was small and ran in a hurry straight on through whatever it hit. But we live in interesting times, as the Chinese would say. It’s true that while hollow points don’t always expand, there ain’t no such thing as a shrinking bullet, but expansion is highly likely with today’s ammunition. This means that .38 Special, .357 Sig, .357 Magnum, .40 S&W, 10mm, .44 Special, .44 Magnum, and .45 ACP hollow points are probably going to get big enough to discourage a bad guy. Of course, little bullets also do a lot, but as I said above, the smaller the round, the smaller you’d better be able to aim.

I’ve mentioned a number of rounds in this discussion. I’m not endorsing any of them. I carry several of them and have at my disposal several others. I gravitate toward .38 Special, 9mm, and .45 ACP, but that’s just because my guns that shoot those are the easiest to carry. My Colt Pocket Hammerless is elegant, and now and then I grab my Polish copy of the PPK, but those tend to stay locked away these days.

The takeaway message here is get something that’s easy to carry and feels good in a common caliber, and you will have nothing to feel ashamed or apologetic about, so long as you’re good with it. The caliber wars are endless, and the only certain conclusion from the data about shootings is that it’s bad to get shot. The only real confidence comes from having close air support and a company of Marines at the ready. Short of that, the handgun you can operate well is likely to be good enough in an emergency.

(By the way, there are a pun and a piece of firearms history buried in this article.)

God, guns, and gays

I’ve written many times before on the question of gun rights and gay rights. Sometimes, I’ve even put the two together. Today, since both subjects are drawing the attention of America, I’m joining them to show the common thread.

As I’ve said many times, if you’re not hurting me (or an innocent person), do as you will. The Wiccans use that saying as the basis of their ethics, and it’s a good summary of the libertarian philosophy. It is also at the heart of the American way of doing things.

At the same time, Americans have a Puritan strain running through our collective consciousness. Recall H. L. Mencken’s line about Puritanism–the haunting belief that somewhere, someone is having a good time. It’s the reason that our missionaries wandered the globe making women wear woolen dresses in the tropics. It’s the reason that we forced a change of governments in Iran in 1953 and in Chile twenty years later. It’s tied up in the reason that we removed Saddam Hussein from power. In all of those, we had the belief that people were doing things in a way that we didn’t approve.

In our nation and in any society, there will always be a tension between the individual and the group. It’s been my observation, both as a student of history and by keeping my eyes open, that while individuals screw up from time to time, to make a royal mess of things requires the idiocy of crowds. That being said, I generally favor regulation to increase in direct proportion with size. Individuals deserve wide liberties, while groups often need to be restrained.

At the same time, I recognize that actions do have consequences and those consequences at times demand a response from the rest of us. When that’s the case, we have to balance the harm that could be done against the rights that we all should value.

Consider, then, the two issues that I named above. Take gay marriage first. A recent article in The Wall Street Journal considers the evidence of harms and benefits. The conclusion given, based on a review of the literature, is that there is evidence toward looser unions when same-sex couples are allowed to marry, and those same-sex couples have a lower concern about monogamy. That being said, children raised in same-sex couple households do as well as children in other relationships, and the time a relationship lasts and the number of partners tolerated in a relationship reflects overall changes in society in general.

What about guns? About 30,000 persons die in a given year from gun fire, and a couple hundred thousand are injured. The majority of deaths are suicides. Accidental deaths come in around 600. Contrast that with the number of defensive gun uses in the same period–in other words, cases in which someone uses a firearm to defend against a lethal threat–run anywhere between 108,000 and 2.5 million, depending on which study you accept. We also see that over the course of the last two decades, as gun laws have loosened and more states have allowed citizens to carry guns, the rate of violent crime has dropped. While cause and effect are hard to link, the evidence does show that more guns in more hands doesn’t result in more violence.

In other words, both gay marriage and gun ownership and carry have a mixed bag of results for society. This is where I have to fight against that Puritan yearning that so pervades American thinking. It is not the job of society to sweep in and right every wrong. A world in which no wrongs can occur is a soulless existence. Human beings are born with the power to choose, and that includes choosing right or wrong. It also includes a vast territory of grey, even presuming that our understanding of the two opposites is as good as we wish to believe.

I come back to my original idea. The fundamental principle of a society must be that each member is entitled to as much liberty as can be. The limits of liberty are defined by what would destroy the society or harm its members unduly. I realize that these terms are vague. To introduce clarity, look at the data that I cited above. Despite the mixed results, we see no evidence that either freedom will destroy us all. In fact, on balance, both freedoms create more good than harm. That being the case, I ask here a question that I often raise when the subject of control vs. freedom comes up:

Give me a reason to support control that does not depend on the theology regarding your favorite deity.

That means, obviously, the Christian God, but it just as well applies to pronouncements from social theorists in the absence of proof. Yes, the Bible in a literal reading is against homosexuality. Yes, a number of political philosophies are against private citizens having firearms. But America, a Constitutionally defined secular and agnostic nation, cannot base its laws on theology. Understand that by secular, I mean the law must be independent of any reference to an outside power, and by agnostic, I mean that without evidence and in the presence of speculation, the law must admit to not knowing.

We in this country have made the extraordinary choice to build our law on that principle. It was a good choice, both in terms of utility for the individual and the society as a whole. It was the correct choice if we believe that we all are born with rights. It is a choice that each generation has to make again and defend again.

An Open Letter to David Horsey

David Horsey is a political columnist and cartoonist for the Los Angeles Times. In that capacity, he wrote and drew the following, titled, “While most Americans shun guns, the fearful keep buying more.” I’ve added a link, but since articles disappear from the Web, I’m adding the following quotation from what he wrote:

Gun owners make up half of the GOP. I would be surprised if there is not a correlation between that half and the half of Republicans who, in other polls, expressed the belief that Saddam Hussein was responsible for the 9/11 attacks and that weapons of mass destruction were found in Iraq. I would bet they are also many of the same folks who believe Barack Obama is a Muslim or a terrorist sympathizer or a socialist or Kenya-born or all of the above. They are likely the ones who think that liberal scientists have concocted the global-warming hoax and that the Justice Department and the United Nations are plotting to disarm Americans.

Dear Mr. Horsey:

Your article drips with prejudice, and as is typcial for people afflicted with that condition, your sneering attitude has blinded you to reality. I have known quite a few gun owners since I joined their ranks. What I have seen is a subset of America that is just like the whole of the country. Some gun owners are jerks. So are some Americans. Make any disparaging remarks about gun owners you like, but the same statement would be true about any other group you care to name. What I have seen, though, and what you’d see if you took the time, is that a great many gun owners are friendly people who welcome newcomers. At shooting ranges, I’ve had the chance to shoot several types of firearms that I don’t own, thanks to the openness of others. Given the prices of ammunition these days, that’s not as small a thing as you might imagine. I’ve learned things from my fellow enthusiasts. Whatever you would picture as being the case among a group of model train collectors, the same is true about gun owners. We share with each other and with anyone who wants to be a part of our group.

But, yes, we also involve ourselves in the politics of our country. What would you do if proposals floated around constantly to limit what a columnist or cartoonist might say or draw? We do stand up for our rights. And we stand up for yours. I made my voice heard in a variety of fora when a Danish cartoonist was attacked for his cartoons about Muhammed and Islam. As a writer and college English instructor, I care a great deal about freedom of expression and academic thought. As an Other with regard to religion, it is in my interest to live in a country that respects the right of each person to make individual choices about spiritual beliefs and practices. Before you say that I’m only acting in each case in my own advantage, I am a straight man, but I support equality in marriage for gays and lesbians, and I support the right of a woman to decide what she wants to do with her body and her pregnancy.

Contrary to the quoted paragraph above, I am more of a Libertarian than a Republican. In fact, on some issues, I’m Green. I wanted a public option in the healthcare reform act, and I wanted it to take effect immediately. While I recognized Saddam Hussein as a dangerous dictator, I had strong reservations against the invasion of Iraq and was aware that he had nothing to do with the terrorist attacks of 9/11. Barack Obama is an American citizen, having been born in the State of Hawaii. He identifies himself as a Christian, and while I’m satisfied as to his honesty there, I also know that under our Constitution, there can be no religious test for holding the office of president. On the question of climate change, I accept the scientific evidence and consensus, as I do on evolution by natural selection. The Libertarian in me wants government to have strictly defined and limited powers. I want government to protect the rights and liberties of all people in this nation and to create opportunities for everyone where such creation is possible.

When it comes to the idea of some power attempting to disarm Americans, do recall that Dianne Feinstein once said in a 60 Minutes interview that if she had had the votes, she would have pushed a bill to demand that all of us turn in our guns. The treaty that the United Nations is discussing is a thicket of bureaucratic language, but the implications of the proposals are clear. Senator Schumer’s recent bill regarding background checks includes language that if taken literally would make felons out of a great many gun owners just for doing ordinary things such as loaning a gun to a friend or leaving one stored in a home with a roommate–things that are not harmful acts. But perhaps you regard suspicion of the government as paranoia. If so, please tell me how much you trust a government that over the years has done many things that any clear-headed human being would find despicable. Suspicion and watchfulness aren’t paranoia. They are necessary and healthy states for all citizens in our kind of society.

To show you how I am not the person that you depicted in your cartoon, I make this offer: If you’re ever in northwest Arkansas, you’re welcome to join me for a day of firearms instruction and freewheeling discussion. I offer this to you, someone who showed no generosity of spirit with regard to people like me. Now, is that the action of a paranoid sociopath who resides in some alternate reality?

Greg Camp

Reducing Gun Violence

Regular readers of this weblog will know that I am a believer in the basic right of all human beings to own and carry firearms. I have as much right to be armed as I do to have my tongue and my opinions with me wherever I go. I may be justifiably asked to keep my mouth shut and other matters concealed, but no one has the right to require more than that.

That being said, I do recognize that we have a problem of gun violence in America. Every year, around 30,000 of us die by gunfire. More than half of those deaths are due to suicide, but regardless of the cause, the number is too high. So what do we do?

Some propose restrictions on ownership and carry, while wanting to ban some types of firearms altogether. This approach makes no sense, given the more than 300,000,000 guns in private hands in this country and our long and porous borders. But there are things that we can do:

1. Create a functioning and available mental healthcare system. This ideally would be a part of general healthcare reform for everyone. I don’t have much faith in Obamacare, given its lack of a public option and the weak and mealy-mouthed manner of its passage and implementation, but that’s a step in the right direction. More–specifically the public option–needs to be done. Note that I don’t mean involuntary commitments or the violations of privacy. What I’m suggesting here is healthcare available to all who need it.

2. Reduce poverty. In my previous article on Alexandria, I named an educational system as a necessary element of any working democracy. I add to this the idea that education, such as I discussed here is a way out of poverty. Other intelligently run programs would have the same effect. We can debate at length whether poverty causes crime, but certainly living in poverty puts a person at greater risk–both for being a victim and an offender of violent crime. (Being wealthy brings a whole different class of crimes to commit, but that’s not generally related to guns.)

3. End our foolish drug laws. Much of our violence is related to illegal drugs. Treat drugs as a health problem, not a crime problem, and that motivating factor goes away. Al Capone didn’t sell beer nuts, after all.

We often hear from the gun control freaks that Europe is a model for good gun laws. Most countries in Europe have strict gun control–the Czech Republic being a shining exception for the moment–and those countries have lower gun violence than America. The difference is not actually that great, especially compared to other parts of the world, but the fact remains that Europe has fewer acts of gun violence than we do. But let’s note that Europe also has the three items that I just proposed. Certainly, it’s in doubt whether the Europeans will be able to afford the first two much longer, but in many cases, the problematic countries have chosen the California approach to government–lots of goodies, paid for by borrowing. Effective work for the first two can be done without requiring deficit spending–provided we are willing to pay for it. The third item would in fact save us money, both in prison and court costs and in expendatures for public health.

My three solutions have the advantage of not infringing on the rights of those who did nothing wrong in the vain hope of restraining those who make a life of doing bad acts. My answers also would show benefits in a variety of areas unrelated to gun violence. They are measured responses to a problem that has been getting better over the last two decades.

Perhaps they lack the quality of breathless bloviating, but I see that as a feature, not a bug.

Carl Sandburg Rises from the Grave?

On the 21st of January 2013, the Chicago Tribune reported on the discovery of an unpublished poem supposedly written by Carl Sandburg.

Here is an image of the document:


And this is the text, reproduced in full:


Here is a revolver.
It has an amazing language all its own.
It delivers unmistakable ultimatums.
It is the last word.
A simple, little human forefinger can tell a terrible story with it.
Hunger, fear, revenge, robbery hide behind it.
It is the claw of the jungle made quick and powerful.
It is the club of the savage turned to magnificent precision.
It is more rapid than any judge or court of law.
It is less subtle and treacherous than any one lawyer or ten.
When it has spoken, the case can not be appealed to the supreme court, nor any mandamus nor any injunction nor any stay of execution in and interfere with the original purpose.
And nothing in human philosophy persists more strangely than the old belief that God is always on the side of those who have the most revolvers.

The article informs us that this poem was discovered by a volunteer at the library of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, one Ernie Gullerud, an eighty-three year old who once taught social work at the school. Gullerud has been entering Sandburg poems into the library’s computer system. His comment about the piece is telling: “Golly, someone could have written this today.”


The Tribune offers no skepticism, but I hereby state mine.

1. Old sheets of paper are easy to come by. So are antique manual typewriters.

2. The timing of this “discovery” is interesting. Gun control is on the political agenda at present, and this poem arrives just in time to suggest that an American icon would stand on one side.

3. More importantly, the language of the poem strikes me as having been written by someone who has read a lot of Sandburg, but isn’t the man himself:

A. Sandburg used specific details to express his point. He focused on the miniature to bring out the important. Phrases like “amazing language,” “umistakable ultimatums,” “terrible story,” “magnificent precision,” and “original purpose” sound wrong. They’re vague, showing me no image, no concrete thing.

B. Sandburg favored the smallest word that would convey his meaning. There are a good many polysyllabic words in the “discovered” poem. Of them, “amazing” is particularly odd. That’s a word that weak writers use when they can’t do a better job of describing what they mean. I’ve looked through Sandburg’s work to check, and while I may have missed it, I haven’t seen any poem in which he used that word.

By contrast, let’s look at a genuine poem of Sandburg’s, one on the same subject:


There will be a rusty gun on the wall, sweetheart,
The rifle grooves curling with flakes of rust.
A spider will make a silver string nest in the
darkest, warmest corner of it.
The trigger and the range-finder, they too will be rusty.
And no hands will polish the gun, and it will hang on the wall.
Forefingers and thumbs will point casually toward it.
It will be spoken among half-forgotten, whished-to-be-forgotten things.
They will tell the spider: Go on, you’re doing good work.

(A.E.F. stands for American Expeditionary Forces.)

Note the smallness and the specificity of the language. It makes its point without being blunt. It shows tiny details that add up to the main idea. “A REVOLVER” is more of a shotgun than a target pistol.

Based on the evidence, here are my conclusions as to what this poem actually is:

1. It might be an early draft that Sandburg never finished. If so, it shows us the work that he went through to take his creations from idea to art.

2. It’s a fake, made perhaps to push an agenda, but timed to garner the most attention.

I’m going with the latter conclusion.

Crossposted on