Twenty eight years ago, I was living in Venezuela when an alleged “social explosion” happened. For almost a week, the city of Caracas and adjacent zones suffered total social dislocation and for at least the first three days, rioting, arson, looting and murder went unchecked. I spent 52 hours straight awake armed only with a single shot shotgun with 15 rounds of buck, 5 of slugs and a Walther PPK in .32 ACP with a spare mag and a box of 50 rounds. To say I felt overwhelmingly under-armed does not start to explain it.
It took the government three days to get its ass in gear and start to control the mayhem. And it was not done gently but with the brute force of the military since the police forces had already been battling (and losing) and were tired to the bone. Soon enough the Army was on the streets and the hammer came down savagely. By late in the afternoon on day five I dared to go out to search for bread, milk, soda and most importantly cigarettes which were consumed at an accelerated pace on prior days. The Army was everywhere and with a nasty mood. I bought what I could from the couple of stores that were open and returned home. Some of the stuff I saw was not nice and is still fresh in my memory.
At the time, the Venezuelan armed forces sported the FN FAL in different versions and I always lusted after the paratrooper version as seen in the picture. Now, the funny thing is that FAL was not only used by the military but also by some of the police units that did rolling road check up points we called “alcabalas.” And this was not a bunch of orange cones and bubblegum lights while a trooper politely greeted you but military or police vehicles blocking the road and pointing the rifles at you just because they could… and don’t ask about trigger fingers. Depending on the mood, I would face one of these alcabalas a month, or every week if they felt like doing some crime-suppression dog and pony show.
Move forward in time. I am now living in the USA and while watching a TV gun show about the FN FAL, I hear for the first time the term “The right arm of the Free World” applied to the gun I had seen so many time by the wrong end. I could not help but laugh heartily. Were they joking? This is the gun I was raised seeing pointed at me most of my life, used by tyrannical governments and power seekers of both ends of the political spectrum in Latin America against people and here is touted as “The right arm of the Free World”?
You’d think I would be in favor for the absolute control of these type of weaponry and only to be kept in the hands of those sworn to protect freedom. And you’d be wrong. I wanted a FAL, I still want one because I can and I want to say “f*** you” to all the assholes that pointed one at me. And because it is my right to own one to precisely avoid the abuses of those who have forgotten their oaths and want to “get high” with their firepower. And also because I saw first hand that a rioting mob cannot be controlled by low capacity feeding devices your government allows in your firearm and I want something capable of deliver lots of bullets downrange without having to reload often.
But that is my own individual history and experiences. Obviously not the average experiences your normal American Citizen has had. So why, in this second decade of the 21st Century, rifles like the FAL or the AK and specially the AR are so popular? Once again we must return to the American Attitude for the answer.
My take is that back in the Clinton Era, the Gun Control forces felt they were kinda stuck with no real progress moving forward visible for its consumers. The wretched Floridians were starting to enjoy Concealed Carry ( its sickness was starting to propagate around the nation) and none of the predicted massacres at the local supermarkets were occurring. But there was a sad event at Gun Control California where one Patrick Edward Purdy shot an elementary school with a semi auto AK and killed 5 kids wounded 30 others before putting a round through his head.
After that, there was a new goal for the Gun Control crowd: To ban these weapons from existence. Mind you, they were so scarce in the US that they accounted for less than one percent of all firearms crime in the country and even a top LEO chief said that there was a bigger chance for his officers to be attacked by a tiger than by somebody with an AK 47. Forget the fact that they were not popular back then and that only a few people cared for ARs and even less cared for AK which many veterans hated because it was a commie gun. Forget that then the most popular rifle was the lever-action in 30-30 and the rifle culture was circumscribed to hunting and a minority to precision shooting done with expensive bolt rifles. Forget that in real life, the only ones you saw with those ugly rifles were the police and our military forces and that even the very few times Gang Bangers used the darned things for they drive-byes (inspired by Hollywood versions of the Gansta Life) git rid of them because they were hard to manipulate inside a car and even harder to hide or discard. “Forget all that!” said the Gun Control Advocates, “We need to do it, for the children!” And they were so loud and shrill, something else happened: Regular people started to take notice.
Now as politicians, you would want people to notice the good you are doing for them, right? You want them to know the sacrifices you are making in their name and they should be grateful to you. “Look at me! I am trying to keep you safe! Be a good boy/girl and vote for me! Send me money for my campaign and second summer home!” But as I stated before, Americans are ornery and do not want to be told what they can or cannot have. And suddenly Americans started to pay attention to the actions in congress and much to the surprise of Gun Control, they started to buy the Evil Black Rifles in all shapes, qualities and forms. The initially easy battle to ban these weapons started to go uphill and thanks to the efforts of Gun Rights organizations and the own ignorance of the Gun Control groups, a ban on weapons was passed that dealt mostly with decorative issues rather than its operation and calibers, a ban on magazines carrying more than 10 rounds was to be imposed (while factories churned tens of thousands before the ban was enacted effectively flooding the market and lowering the prices for a while) and the ban had an expiration date that could be renewed. The last one proved to be the biggest legislative mistake of the century.
Once the ban was enacted, something unexpected by the politicians happened: Manufacturer started to produce AWB-Compliant rifles and people started to buy them like they were possessed. And in a way they were possessed by the American Attitude of “What do you mean I can’t have it? F*** you and gimme three! And about a dozen of them pre-ban magazines too.” The dam broke and the American households were getting flooded by rifles that maybe a year ago, people might have not contemplated owning or even heard about. In many cases they became the first rifles they ever owned simply because they discovered something amazing: Shooting just to make holes in paper targets is fun!
Eugene Stoner’s design proved popular: Lightweight, user-friendly and accurate. Those characteristics are also what made author John Ross describe the AR as being “a girlfriend gun” in the sense even a petite woman would have no issues shooting the rifle with comfort and on target (Unless you are a columnist for the NY Daily News and then you get PTSD.) It did not look like grandpappy’s M1 or greatgrandpappy’s Springfield rifles, but modern and more appealing to a generation that was raised in Legos and plastic GI Joes rather tan Lincoln Logs and metal Tonka trucks. And when the Gun Controllers tried to push the slogan of “these are not guns for hunting Bambi” they missed the small detail that the new generation, what was going to be called Gun Culture 2.0 simply did not hunt and could not identify with that statement.
The other unintended consequence (and another tip of the hat to John Ross) is that those new owners of Evil Black Rifles who wanted not only to keep them but wanted models without the stupid restrictions, became politically involved and joined Gun Right movements or at least supported them. And they were Internet saavy to boot, depending no longer on the TV and newspapers to get information, but networking with like-minded citizens who shared info, tactic and resources to fight the good fight. First in Usenet and then in Forums, people organized and attacked the problem. Some of the most popular tidbits of information shared was how to write to your Senator or Congressman and how to write to Letters to the Editor. The last one was so effective and so abundant that newspapers like the Miami Herald imposed restrictions on the numbers of letters they would accept from the same households and they would “edit the content to fit” the Letter to the Editor section. And yes, they got caught playing loose with that.
By the time the expiration date on the Assault Weapons Ban came to be, something major had happened: Gun Rights People had turned congress and the presidency on its ear, helped defeat anti-gun candidates and became the most feared lobby organization in Washington. “Holy shit!” the politicos must have thought “they not only have guns but effing go out and vote! I mean even a presidential candidate was not able to win in his state of birth? That is some serious s***!” And the AWB sunset came and went without being renewed, people rejoiced, Gun Controllers cried and forewarned of massive killings everywhere and that the country would never be the same. And on that last instance, they were right.
While the AWB was active, demand for the “killing machine” grew so much that small shops starting to pop up everywhere they could as demand needed to be fulfilled. I don’t remember the numbers exactly, but I think prior to the AWB there were possibly 3 companies manufacturing ARs and by the end of it had jumped to over 15. Right now? I have no idea, specially if you include the aftermarket and accessories manufacturers. But when you have foreign gun manufacturers like SIG, and FN building and selling AR rifles to the public, you know damned well Gun Control lost that battle. Freedom won and sheer dirty Capitalism with the free exchange of quality products between the manufacturer and the consumer also won.
I can’t help to think that gun controllers like Josh Sugarmann, Ladd Everitt and Mr. and Mrs. Brady may had thought at least once that maybe, maybe if they had left the damned black rifles out of their target list, they would have not become as popular as they are now. Instead of creating a great divide between Old School Gun Owners and Regular Folks to ban a type of weapon with ease, what they did was send more people into acquiring guns and fighting them.
In a twisted way, Gun Control zealots like Dianne Feinstein helped create Gun Culture 2.0
Say “thank you” boys and girls, be polite at their misery. You are allowed to smirk.
(link to “American Attitude, Capitalism and Guns. (Part one)”
PS: I think I have one more post on this. The final one, I promise.