Gun Lessons from the Malheur Occupation

Guns are mini nukes, and shouldn’t exist


The occupation of the Malheur Wildlife Refuge in Eastern Oregon is an interesting snapshot of dysfunction in our society.  In a previous blog entry I expounded on relocalization as an antidote to the felt separation from disconnected, far-away government.  The other main lesson I take from that affair is how firearms make troubling situations far worse.  In the end, guns are mini nukes and ideally would not exist at all.


The reason the occupation at Malheur had legs is that the men carrying it out (note it’s almost always men doing such things) had many guns, as well as explosives.  Without them, it would be a mere protest with headache for those charged with claiming the buildings back, not a nationally-reported standoff.  Instead, the occupiers were ‘militants’ and everyone involved (inside and out) faced the possibility of death.  Hence any level of law enforcement faced a tricky risk in reclaiming the buildings and arresting the occupiers: their lives were automatically threatened.


The other threatened group was the militants.  Because of the ever-present possibility of suicide, they were hostages to themselves.  The very final person of the group had to be talked down from suicide for hours, just to get him out alive.  With no guns involved, instant suicide becomes much harder, and others don’t have to walk on eggshells.  The “nuclear option” is always on the table when guns are involved, raising the danger level of any encounter, especially an intentionally conflictual one.


All this trouble is facilitated by a little tool that weighs only a few pounds, a compact or long piece of metal that looks innocuous yet can kill living things in a quick moment.  This power-packed device makes violence toward prey animals (hunting) and each other (homicide) far easier than it has ever been in human history.  The reason is because it elevates the bearer to a somewhat godlike level of deciding what lives and what dies.  This is an immense power for a mere unenlightened human, i.e. most individuals who possess these weapons.  Guns are not intuitive – instead of killing something by squashing it with a heavy object or stabbing it a bunch of times, the user merely points the metal at its victim, moves a finger, and carnage ensues.  This is magic; it can be explained by the impressive science that invented it, but is hard for humans to understand.  It is a very unnatural thing, and so our ethics have to catch up to this qualitatively new technology.  This is a risky jump, especially when millions of people worldwide have a firearm and therefore need to understand just how powerfully dangerous it is.


Guns are reminiscent of nuclear weapons — they are also very small for the destruction they cause, are high-tech tools of violence, are magical and non-intuitive, and can take hostage by their mere presence.  Thus, guns are mini nukes and nukes are big guns (the biggest yet developed in the fancy-man arms race).  Both should be thought of in the same way; they are categorically the same.  The difference is scale – one can fit in a pocket and only kills one person per pull, and the other is the size of an appliance and can kill hundreds of thousands of people per use.  There are nearby one billion of the small version, in every country in the world, and about 9000 of the large version, controlled by a handful of governments.  (It’s worth mentioning the other remote killers we’ve invented, from explosive apples that injure/kill the people their thrown at, to all calibre of missile and bomb – these are bigger than a gun and smaller than a nuke, and should be treated the same way.)


I find this comparison helpful in understanding what the future of guns should be (i.e. the campaign issue of gun control).  The best circumstance for nukes, mini and full-sized, is that they never be invented, because on balance they are a harmful addition to the world.  The second option is that they all be deconstructed and no new ones ever made – this is the idea of nuclear abolition, a stretch goal in geopolitics today among a small group of governments, but a likely impossible task on the level of global firearms.  What is Plan C, then?  This is what public figures are actually discussing – not Plan A to ‘never invent’, nor Plan B to ‘eliminate’, but Plan C of ‘what to do now that we’re stuck with them.’


I think it’s crucial to recognize that the gun control conversation in the U.S. almost always takes place on a thin level, making tweaks to lessen the symptoms of these deadly devices but not actually solving the problem.  This is the case for nearly everything I hear other 2016 Presidential candidates espouse — it is a big distracted game of symptom management, not conceiving of addressing problems at their roots.  For years I’ve believed that if you put enough people in a room with guns, someone’s going to get shot — I see this as common sense.
The Malheur occupation has brought the problem of firearms, the miniature nukes they are, to view once again.  May we get the point this time, and recognize that the destination is a world of zero remote killing devices, whether in the hands of military or civilians.  Their continued existence would perpetually create tricky situations like militant occupations and innumerable unnecessary deaths around the world.  We can do much better — together let’s wise up to this.