Talking Assault Rifles.
In recent weeks, since the crimes in Newtown, Ct., I’ve been inundated by requests for technical, historical and legal background on what people call, with a range of different definitions and motivations, “assault rifles.”
Motivations are motivations; each has his or her own. I won’t try to disentangle them here. Definitions? Well, there are reasons for the many definitions of “assault rifle,” and, no matter your passions or your opinions, there are reasons that in many cases both sides of a given argument about the best definition can be more or less right.
Why? Historically, “assault rifles” do have a definition, just as they have a particular origin. But definitions can shift with the passing of decades, and in this case the term in question has been complicated by changes in what militaries have wanted from their shoulder-fired arms and by the different legal definitions assigned to “assault rifle” by different legislatures and jurisdictions.
Some people tell me that assault rifles are only assault rifles if their selector lever allows for automatic fire. That’s certainly a historically accurate definition (cf, the photo above, of the world’s first mass-produced assault rifle, a military product of Germany’s late Nazi period). But such a definition, particularly when advanced in the United States, neglects that the Pentagon largely phased automatic fire out of its various descendants of the AR-15 line when it began issuing assault rifles en masse (think: the M16A2) that did not have a fully automatic feature, replacing “auto” with “burst” (which fires three rounds only) instead. Add in that the predominant strains of training in recent decades for most American military riflemen has emphasized keeping the assault rifle selector levers set on “semi” and relying on single, well-aimed shots (although often in rapid succession), and arguments about what can rightly be called an “assault rifle,” and what features of “assault rifles” make them most effective (as in, lethal) and this often bitter conversation only becomes messier.
My beat and most of my work is abroad, where assault rifles typically have a different role and often have different uses than those of the various constituencies (which are different from the various criminals) in the United States. One matter is clear to me. It involves the long view, going back to the drawing boards. It is this: Assault rifles, whether we are discussing the original mass-produced items (the MP-43, or the design patterns that followed it, including the Automatic Kalashnikov and AR-15 lines and their many offspring) were conjured to form solely for the task of allowing men to more efficiently kill other men, with firearms that would be smaller, lighter in weight, more tactically versatile and require a lighter per-man effective ammunition load than the infantry rifles that preceded them. That much is beyond reasonable dispute. From there, conversations diverge.
As the domestic gun argument in the United States is not my specialty or the area of my research, I am in no position to offer fuller opinions here. But I do share the Small Arms Survey’s primer, pointing to it as a useful background note for those engaged in this conversation.
Again, the link.
Now, back to work, and more from Syria.
ABOUT THE PHOTOGRAPH
Top, a German sturmgewehr. One of the originals. Captured from a Syrian armory this summer in Aleppo, Syria, by rebels seeking the overthrow of President Bashar al-Assad. Bottom, closer view of stampings on the magazine in this rifle, and from another sample in the same room. Photographed by the author in Tal Rifaat. August, 2012. More on these particular assault rifles (I use the term in this case with confidence) later, though in the context of the international arms trade, not of American gun-control policies and law.
When Israelis in the occupied territories now claim that they have to defend themselves, they are defending themselves in the sense that any military occupier has to defend itself against the population they are crushing… You can’t defend yourself when you’re militarily occupying someone else’s land. That’s not defense. Call it what you like, it’s not defense.
“Tom Hardy is always imaginative, and his best stroke in Warrior was to treat the camera as a prying threat. The more he ducked away, the deeper we were drawn in… Better yet, no kind of movie is alien to Hardy. If the joyless Daniel Day-Lewis that audiences know today seems fit only for cathedrals, Hardy has something that went missing in Day-Lewis’s acting long ago: a sense of mischief. He’s so naturally droll that he found a curdled wit even in Warrior’s dysfunctional Americana, just as he adds a zest for life (not John Le Carre’s specialty) to Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. Next year, he’s reuniting with his Inception director, Christopher Nolan, to play the villain in The Dark Knight Rises, and try to feel bad for Christian Bale if you can. Between being overshadowed by Heath Ledger last go-round and facing off against Hardy in this one, the guy just can’t catch a break.”
-Tom Carson for GQ (Dec. 2011)
lol at pseudo-cinephiles who reblog and foam about brigitte bardot. not only was her acting in godard’s movies terrible, but she is also a fascist, a xenophobe and an Islamaphobe. that’s right, she has been fined thousands by the french government for her idiotic hate speech. and it looks like her outside has finally begun to reflect her true character. personally, i never found her to be attractive. even when she was young there was a lack of intelligence and depth to her appearance.
I just woke up in a sudden sweat and I don’t know if it’s because it’s hot outside or because I awoke from the worst dreams ever. Not nightmares, because there was a lot of stuff in there I liked (though the presence of the good put the bad in starker relief).
I was getting ready for a huge Puja, to be held at a different high school other than the one in Charleston. I haven’t been to Puja in years, but the last time I went is a dream itself. The organizers, it seems, threw a lot of effort to make this a fun time for the kids. I was dressed up in a tight white bike suit with mustard yellow details, and a helmet, possible full character makeup. I had a young child with me, probably Rimi, and in front of me was Roland. He didn’t have to turn around for me to know it was him, and vice versa. I wondered if I looked good with my hair all away. I kept my eyes down when I curtly and quietly said thank you, and quickly clipped away. As the distance between us became bigger and bigger, I thought to myself that I had become one of those people who ignored the first person they had ever kissed. I used to think it was impossible, criminal even, to lose that kind of relationship.
On each floor of the high school, and there were many floors, a sort of battle was going on with fake guns. The knowledge that it wasn’t real didn’t make my heart beat any slower. This was what I had always wanted, to be a CIA operative or a soldier, fighting when there was another, albeit lesser, thing at stake.
With two excitable, middle school boys behind me, and with Rimi by my side, I gauged the situation by gingerly opening each door. I wasn’t looking for a quiet battle- I was looking for Roland. I didn’t know what I would say or do once he was in my view- I think having in my view would have been enough.
Eventually I did make it onto a floor. I didn’t want to play anymore. A bespectacled young boy held me up with a gun, I assured him I had one too and fumbled to prove it. I remember shooting a lot of people with blanks. I wanted to find Roland and tell him it was actually loaded. I don’t know if I imagined this while dreaming or if it happened in the dream. I don’t remember if he saw me and chose not to come over, because I do remember not speaking with him at all in my dream. Or in any dream for that matter.
Later I was sitting in a comfy living room on a huge coach with Monica, flipping through channels that showed the various happenings at the Puja, similar to how the Capitol broadcast the Hunger Games. We were eating saucy pizza. I was looking for Roland on the TV, and even an entire channel dedicated to Novak Djokovic tennis could distract me. Then I saw James Franco on a luge (I guess the Shah of Iran was in charge of all this), and behind him was Roland. They looked alike.
Four years ago, me and Roland had a fight because I told him that I knew had only called to comfort me because Leslie had told him to do so. He was only sympathetic when he had an audience. After that, he didn’t call me for weeks. I had read in books about nervous women wringing their hands, and mentally that’s what I did for the month of June. Our friendship was surely beyond repair if we were estranged for so long. He did call again, to tell me gleefully, as if on a rollercoaster, that he was friends with Leslie again.
Last night was June 9. Also the three-year anniversary of my senior dinner cruise, the last time I ever hung out with Roland. Ever. I spent a good time last night re-reading our old AIM conversations and his new online resume account and made a few conclusions. It became glaringly obvious yesterday that though I can charm the pants off anyone and leave many people thinking I am the most interesting person they’ve met, I was a terrible conversationalist with Roland. I cringe at the thought of how…boring I was. I would spit out random facts about tennis and movies- which is not talking! I never talked about myself, what was going on in my head, my hopes and fears and causes. I wasn’t funny. I only flattered him. I doubt our phone conversations fare much better. Mostly he talked about himself, and anytime I attempted to lead the talk, he would sigh audibly and say goodbye. I also looked through his facebook conversations with Leslie. She wasn’t afraid to be mean to him, to tease and also make herself vulnerable. She was funny, and I couldn’t resent her for Roland liking her much more than he had ever liked me. He called her names and told her he missed her, things he was too dour to say to me ever. I know Leslie made him laugh so easily, that he was probably in love with her and always would become more vital around her.
I know this doesn’t sound romantic at all, but I can’t spin it. Not anymore. It’s starting to hit me that I had built up a lame friendship on an enormous foundation of elegiac surf-rock bands and discrete indie films. So quickly did lyrics and quotes make up my consciousness that the foundation became solid steel, unbreakable and beyond reproach. No one had ever felt what I had, I thought as I stood on a ground that was neither shaky nor there. It really wasn’t till yesterday that I realized that nothing from Roland or myself contributed to base I had lived on for the last six years.
I was relieved. I was missing something I had never had. I didn’t have to worry anymore about how I had lost him or how I would get him back. I’d love to talk to him, maybe once more, but I’d settle for him talking to me in one of my not-so-nice dreams. He may not have anything to say. I doubt I do. It would be just like old times.