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The false power of guns

Posted: November 26, 2012 - 1:01am

After the Juneau Assembly unanimously voted to amend the city’s code two weeks ago, the Planning Commission seems set to grant a Conditional Use Permit for a private company to build an indoor gun range near the airport. People will then be able to practice firing automatic weapons. That’s what 20-year-old Blaec Lammers allegedly recently did in Missouri. He never owned a gun until he purchased two assault weapons. According to police, who were contacted by his mother, Lammers stated he went to a firing range to practice using them because he was planning to commit mass murder.

I know a ban on assault weapons might not have prevented the July shootings in Aurora, Colo. that claimed 12 lives. The one in place from 1994 to 2004 didn’t stop the Columbine High School shooters from killing 13 people. Obviously something else is wrong. Part of the problem may be that we’re locked into the wrong debate. If we look at Japan’s gun history we might understand the issue is about a false sense of personal power, not freedom.

In Japan, private ownership of most types of guns is illegal. In 2006 there were only two gun homicide cases there. But what’s really worthy of study is the period known as Sakoku when no foreigners were permitted into the country. One of the most detailed accounts of this unique piece of firearm history is presented in Noel Perrin’s book “Giving Up the Gun: Japan’s Reversion to the Sword, 1543-1879.”

Prior to Sakoku, Japan used more guns in military battles than any European nation. But during those two centuries they almost entirely disappeared from Japanese consciousness. One of the primary reasons was the belief that guns diminished the valor of the warrior class by shifting the value of one’s fighting skills from the individual to the gun manufacturers. In other words, they recognized that power belonged to the gun, not the person wielding it.

All power has the potential to corrupt, and guns are no different, especially when the overwhelming fire power of automatic weapons is factored in. I’m suggesting that Lammers and the mass murderers who used them were psychologically corrupted by the power of their weapons. They mistook the power of the gun as their own.

We have to ask ourselves if the false sense of personal power derived from firearms could be predominantly a male problem. Men have lorded over the domain of guns forever. The board of directors of the National Rifle Association (NRA), the largest and most powerful gun lobby in the country, is almost 90 percent male. About four out of five attendees at its national conventions are men. But the main evidence is that men were the assailant in all but one of the 60 gun related mass murders that have occurred in America during the past 30 years.

Men, not guns, kill people, gun rights advocates will argue. That may be true, but it doesn’t matter to the killer who can’t distinguish between personal power and the false power gained from possessing firearms. And a male dominated culture that glamorizes its most powerful weapons not only enables such delusions, it makes it difficult to recognize the young men among us susceptible to developing an unhealthy attachment to them.

Now I’m willing to accept guns as a necessity for law enforcement purposes. I believe they have a place in our society for hunters and for those who believe they need them to feel safe in their homes. Not assault weapons though. No one benefits from the absolute sense of false power they hold. As Mitt Romney said in 2004 when he signed a law banning them in Massachusetts, they’re “instruments of destruction with the sole purpose of hunting down and killing people.”

In pursuit of his presidential ambitions Romney succumbed to a different kind of false power and changed his view. But private ownership of AK47s and other machine guns is not a matter of freedom just because the NRA argues that it’s our constitutional right to bear arms. They should be banned. And without fully understanding the corruptive power of these weapons, gun lobbies and businesses shouldn’t be encouraging people to fire them for entertainment.

• Moniak is a Juneau resident.

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