Barrel of Fun

Sunday Comics

Jim Gabour takes a plunge into the murky world of America's firearms industry, and recalls one childhood misadventure that has shaped his view of the gun control debate.

Jim Gabour
12 August 2012

The American National Rifle Association has its PR hands full these days, as every literal loose cannon in the country now seems to be firing, and firing into the crowd. Even a majority of its own membership is in favor of tighter gun control laws, even if the more vocal and strident national staff are not. MSNBC commentators called NRA Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre “a blood-drenched lobbyist” whose salary and relevance is completely dependent on his ability to generate fear, paranoia and a thick skin turned toward violence.

The official NRA response to the Colorado “Dark Knight” shootings was the fantasy that if some other law-abiding citizen in the audience had been packing heat that night, maybe he/she could have shot the offender down. But going by their own war-game rules, they ignored the fact that the murderer was wearing full body armor and carrying multiple automatic weapons. Movie-going might get a little cumbersome if everybody viewing the new lame version of “Total Recall” was packing an AK-47 with their already oversized tub of popcorn. Though sales of extra 25-round magazines might be a good source of revenue for revenue-frustrated theatre operators. Political animals like LaPierre inhabit a world where taking human lives is merely a matter of procedure. His organization even offers ‘Stand Your Ground’ insurance to cover legal costs incurred by shooting people “in self-defense”.

I went on-line this past week to determine how easy it is to gain access to major weapons. As a result of that hours-long internet search, I am probably now both being tracked by the FBI, and being put on the NRA membership recruitment mailing list. But I did find what I was seeking: an immediately accessible list of places to skirt the rules and buy a machine gun.

There is terminology to understand first. Legally machine guns are “assault rifles”, which are fully-automatic; that is, they fire when the trigger is pulled, continue to fire until the trigger is released. “Assault weapons” are semi-automatic and shoot one bullet every time the trigger is pulled, ejecting the spent cartridge and putting the next in place.

There was a US Federal Assault Weapons Ban on new manufactured guns between 1994 and 2004. It was complex, had loopholes, and avoided many issues, but at least it was there doing something to inhibit gun-toters for ten years. Congress and the White House have been waffling about on re-enacting the law for almost a decade, mute, other than the occasional publicity-grabbing, self-serving moan on a network soundbite.

Meanwhile, if you are 21 years old you can buy a machine gun in the following 39 states: AL, AK, AZ, AR, CO, CT, FL, GA, ID, IN, KY, LA, ME, MD, MA, MN, MS, MO, MT, NE, NV, NH, NJ, NM, NC, ND, OH, OK, OR, PA, SC, SD, TN, TX, UT, VT, WV, WI, WY. The gun (or its constituent parts) has to have been manufactured and registered prior to May 1986, and has to be registered with the federal ATF, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

You just read “Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives” – did the combination of that mandate strike anyone besides me as peculiar? A dry martini, a pack of Gauloises, an extended-magazine Uzi and a 55-gallon drum bomb of nitrate fertilizer, all come within the purview of this single agent of bureaucracy.

In my on-line search, I wanted to see the effectiveness of this current registration aspect of “gun control”. So I looked up the form required for legally owning such a monstrously deadly weapon. That requirement is the “U.S. Department of Justice Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives Application for Tax Paid Transfer and Registration of Firearm (OMB No. 1140-0014 (01/31/2014))”.

The questionnaire involved brings some questions to mind, like “What sort of a moron would answer ‘Yes’ to any of these questions if he/she really wanted a machine gun?”

Actual excerpts:

The following questions must be answered by any transferee who is not a Federal firearms licensee or government agency. The transferee shall give full details on a separate sheet for all “YES” answers. (See instruction 2d)

13. Are You:

a. Charged by information or under indictment in any court for a crime punishable by imprisonment for a term exceeding one year?
b. A fugitive from justice?
c. An alien who is illegally or unlawfully in the United States?
d. Under 21 years of age?
e. An unlawful user of or addicted to, marijuana, or any depressant, stimulant, or narcotic drug, or any other controlled substance?
f. Subject to a court order restraining you from harassing, stalking or threatening an intimate partner or child of such partner?

14. Have You:

a. Been convicted in any court of a crime for which the judge could have imprisoned you for more than one year, even if the judge actually gave you a shorter sentence?
b. Been discharged from the armed forces under dishonorable conditions?
c. Been adjudicated mentally defective or been committed to a mental institution?
d. Renounced your United States citizenship?
e. Been convicted in any court of a misdemeanor crime of domestic violence? This includes any misdemeanor conviction involving the use or attempted use of physical force committed by a current or former spouse, parent, or guardian of the victim, or by a person with a similar relationship with the victim.

Are you a fugitive from justice? An alien? An unlawful drug user? Mentally defective? I am very very sure that any single truthful person who falls into one of those categories is going to be responsibly answering “yes” to those questions.

Meanwhile, my machine gun search revealed dozens upon dozens of willing sellers, very explicit in their descriptions of how they manipulate the law:

“11-5036 IMI full sized UZI 9mm submachine gun, registered receiver.... this gun is a perfect example of an IMI (Israeli Military Industries) UZI submachine gun.... identical in every way to a post 86 factory IMI UZI machine gun only fully transferable.... the weapon has a factory type, correctly marked UZI machine gun trigger pack with large full auto SMG sear, small trigger pack take down pin, receiver blocking bar removed as part of the original conversion to allow use of un-slotted submachine gun bolt, trunion opened up to accept factory spec SMG bbl, feed ramp is correct to same specs as the SMG as well as rear bbl ring has been remove to be factory correct for an open bolt UZI submachine gun (most UZI conversions have the semi auto feed ramp and bbl ring still in place which causes feeding issues, as most conversions were done on the "cheap", or the gunsmith had no clue how to do the conversion correctly)... the gun is correctly marked "SMG" as well as having a ratching top cover.... also has a nice parkerized undercoat with a high quality cerakote exterior finish.... has just received the upgrade/"once over" by A… of NH to make sure this vintage registered receiver is as perfect inside as it looks on the outside.... we were fortunate to purchase this gun back from its former owner from SC, to whom we sold this firearm several years ago.... this gun has been given a top shelf up-grade to make for the closest thing one can own to a factory IMI UZI SMG... the UZI submachines guns have been used for decades the IDF and other elite military and law enforcement agencies worldwide and was used by the U.S. secret service, protecting former president Regan [sic] as seen in the file footage.... the UZI's are great shooting machine guns and always in demand and as a registered receiver this UZI can use the available .22 and .45 conversion kits that come up on the market from time to time... complete with 25 round mag. suppressors, BETA C 100 round dual drum mag kits, 25 and 32 round stick mags, discreet weapons cases, hard pelican cases and other accys in stock and available. email for price”

One-hundred-round magazines, multiple stick magazines, suppressors and “discreet weapons cases”. Makes you wonder what sort of hunting these legal weapons will be used for.

“Colt AR 15 Assault Rifles. Pre-Ban COLT (R6830) 7.62X39 Carbine (16") Made only 1992-94 in this configuration as a pre-ban (see Blue Book). Upper believed to be unfired. Lower fired about 50 rounds with a flat-top upper. Has a Jard match, single stage trigger/hammer assembly. Also has a Smith muzzle brake. Do not have original parts or box. Includes red Accuwedge. The white mark on the left side of the upper receiver removed with rubbing of oil after photos were taken. Appears sear block was removed to allow new trigger/hammer installation. Shipping and handling postpaid to the lower 48. Sorry, no sales to California or any location where prohibited by local laws. This is simply the best buy on the internet for a pre-ban Colt in 7.62X39”

New configurations, use of many older “pre-ban” parts to manufacture a new weapon, is standard procedure.

“UK VZ 59 VZ59 SEMI AUTO BELT FED 7.62x54R THIS SEMI AUTO BELT FED RIFLE WAS DESIGNED AND ASSEMBLED BY HISTORIC ARMS. The Universal Machine Gun Model 1959(Czech: Univerzální kulomet vzor 59) is a machine gun developed in Czechoslovakia in the 1950s. This weapon is still used by the Czech Army and the Slovak Armed Forces. This gun fires 7.62x54mm R ammunition delivered via an ammunition belt. The weapon can serve as a light (light barrel and bipod, vz. 59L model) and medium machine gun (heavy barrel and tripod), and can also be used as a co-axial mounted weapon”

“Brand New American 180 Machine Guns assembled on registered receivers from our long lost collection of machine gun parts. All of our receivers were sent to … Manufacturing in Oregon and Custom built by …. These are some of the finest 180 around as new parts are becoming very hard to find. they are test fired only and put back in the case for the lucky customers that jump on the opportunity to purchase one of the five guns that are available.”

Only five 180s left. Get ‘em while they are hot.

CBS News reported a week ago that Illinois Governor Pat Quinn was responding to recent shootings by proposing a new assault weapons ban, but one doomed to failure in light of NRA pressure nationwide. The proposal – which like the terminated federal law specifically bans the AK-47, AR-15 and TEC-9 -- was first reported by The Associated Press. "It's very clear that these particular weapons are not designed to do anything but to have human targets," Quinn told reporters in Chicago.

The National Rifle Association begs to disagree.

* * *

Other than target practice in the Army, I haven’t fired a weapon since I was 17. A rather unpleasant event compelled my own father to enforce a multi-year weapons ban on me at that point, and it seems to have stuck. My best friend and accomplice was a wonderfully sensible Cajun boy named Saucier who also played the accordion, and he received similar paternal discipline.

We hunted in those days for protein, for food. It was a pleasure maneuvering through the quiet but wild Bayou Boeuf swamp, searching for dinner. That day, while I poled his dad’s venerable flat-bottomed bateau down the tree-covered bayou, only Saucier had a gun in hand, an ancient and rusty double-barreled twelve-gauge shotgun. My flimsy-in-comparison bolt-action .410 lay on the bottom of the boat as I moved us along from the bow end, while Saucier watched the trees for squirrels from the stern. Squirrel season is chronologically the second hunting season of the fall allowed in South Louisiana, right after dove, so we were excited at our prospects.

We were about half an hour into the swamp on that incredibly hot and still early autumn afternoon when we both simultaneously heard a rustle. We looked up to scout for squirrel, only to both immediately freeze in terror. The willow branches overhanging the water above us were literally filled with sunning water moccasins, the snakes’ long mottled bodies draped across the branches in loops. A dozen tangled nests of deadly sleeping reptiles were positioned just overhead, as we drifted down the waterway.

We had reason to worry. We knew that moccasins are poisonous, but even worse, they are aggressive and come straight at you when disturbed, rather than slithering away.

There we were, right under a veritable nest of the monsters, and we had both instantly moved from easy tranquility completely into a state of shock. I was frozen in place, but realized we would drift further toward shore if I did not resume poling. I tried not to panic, to quietly shove us further away from the bank, toward the center of the water and out from under the threat. Just then Saucier, trying to get better footing in case he had to shoot, accidentally kicked over our water jar, which fell to the metal bottom of the boat with a loud crash and shattered. Six, seven, eight snakes fell directly into the boat and began moving rapidly between us, mouths open, fangs bared. Saucier aimed his shotgun down at the largest and, before I could say a word, unloaded both barrels, vaporizing at least two moccasins. But …

… he had blown a four-inch-wide hole in the bateau. And the noise of the gun’s discharge had startled every snake, dropping from the trees for a quarter mile. It took only seconds for the boat to sink straight to the muddy, vegetation-clogged bottom and leave us thrashing in the same water with what seemed to be hundreds of moccasins.

I cannot describe the five minutes that followed. It was an horrific scene, something lifted directly from the frightening “Twilight Zone” or “Thriller” TV series that were on at the time.

But we did somehow get to the bank, and home, without being bitten. I was left with years of nightmares about that incident. It is still hard to describe. But I was also given plenty of time to contemplate and purge the images, as Saucier and I received a two-year ban on gun use and, for the same two years, we were grounded from all but required school social events.

It was a gift from our fathers who had to go back out on the bayou to retrieve and repair the boat, and the guns. Neither man was too fond of the company of moccasins. And actually they had been more than a little frightened for their sons’ safety at our recounting of the tale. So the punishment was more the result of love than anger.

In the end, the dramatic bombardment of the Saucier bateau was to be my last non-military gun experience.

* * *

Now we are living in the year 2012, and the guns are going off all around us. The poisonous snakes once again seem to be filling the water, even in non-swampy safe places like malls, and theatres, and churches. Wayne LaPierre and the NRA want us to all to carry double-barreled twelve-gauges. Or something larger.

Sorry, Wayne, we are not sinking the boat this time around.

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