Naval Commander, Police Officer and competitive shooter John Tate responds to the Get rid of assault weapons editorial by Jay Parini, a poet and novelist whose opinion piece on firearms was posted by CNN.

[Editor’s note: Perhaps CNN should consider that firearms issues are better addressed by competitive shooters, police and military personnel, and others with relevant training and experience instead of random poets and novelists.]

To: Jay Parini
Your editorial, Get rid of assault weapons [1], prompts a response.

I’m not sure how to categorize our differences, but they seem to center on the ideas behind the words. So what grabbed my attention first and motivated this response? It was your sentence: “Why does anybody not on the front lines of the military in a war zone need to have access to a submachine gun?”

There the words are key: wants versus needs. For both there are involved balances between risk and benefit. But, in the ideal nation established by the Founders, the pursuit of happiness was viewed as only slightly less substantive than life itself. Thus, the justification for someone to have access to a submachine gun, or a machine gun … or even a canon, is the same as the justification for some folks to drive a 200+ mph capable automobile: BECAUSE THEY WANT TO.

Folks should be able to do those things that are, for them, fun. Sometimes things go wrong. As much as our nanny state, zero defects whiners would like life to be without risk, it is not. Sometimes race car drivers are injured or, as in the case of Tony Stewart, Kevin Ward is killed. But, it happened not on the street, but where a higher risk is part of the game. Sadly, a shooting instructor trying to entertain a young girl made a mistake and Mr. Vacca was killed. But, it happened not on the street, but where a higher risk is part of the game. You wrongly use accidents in amusement facilities to illustrate chaos on the streets.

You identified a crucial point about the political right to arms: regulation. Yes, rights are accompanied by responsibilities. For some reason, this nation has abandoned the requirement for the training that was once mandated along with the right to arms. Yes, by your photo, I presume you too are of the age where firearms training was given sometime in a young person’s school days. My high school had a rifle team; we shot at an indoor range under the gym. All the boys were given an opportunity to qualify with an M1. The problem today, the right remains without a concomitant obligation for discipline and training.

Then, you say, “this gun thing in America isn’t working.” Whether “this gun thing” is working or not depends on geography, or more accurately the societal climate. There do appear to be problems in some US inner cities, but not in all. And in the vast stretches of rural America, guns are still as common “tools of the trade.” As a police officer, on a traffic stop, I expect the driver and/or passengers to be armed.

There are flaws in your article: inaccuracies & philosophic integrity issues.

You say the notion of an individual right to arms dates from the 1980s. This is preposterously wrong as the bunch of right-wing think tanks’ historic evidence caused even a liberal’s liberal, Lawrence Tribe, to admit. [2] And, that is one of the philosophic flaws: a lack of balance. You mention an offhand remark by Burger, but not a scholarly work by Tribe.

You say, “Chaos is what we now face on the streets in this country every single day.” Such hyperbole is harmful to any serious discussion. I currently work as a homeland security analyst; my daily studies are of street crime. Our streets have never been safer. A random riot or two don’t change that. And the latest chaotic scenes were brought about by police shootings. I’m not happy about “74 school shootings,” but I also recognize that we have some 100,000 schools in the US. The bell curve would suggest there are 1:1000 whacko kids out there.

You say, ” But nobody needs an assault weapon who is not fighting in the Middle East, or perhaps going after drug lords in Mexico.” I already defended the value of wants. The inaccuracy here is the suggestion that folks have “assault rifles” or “assault weapons.” Here, you would have been right to identify this as a recently coined term. Oh, it is true that the Germans originated the term for a relatively low power, selective fire shoulder arm, their sturmgewehr 44. The true AK-47 fits that description as does the M16/M4. But, there are very, very few of these arms “on the street,” and those who have them treasure them and won’t misuse them. Now, there are semi-automatic rifles in the public’s hands; virtually none are used in crimes. The crime is the left’s corruption of the language, violating the Confucian doctrine of rectification of names.

One point of significant agreement: the vast mountain of regulations and crimes written by the Congress and state legislatures have, in fact, greatly and wrongly intruded on public liberty. Three Felonies A Day, by Silverglate and Dershowitz is noteworthy in understatement.

Another point of significant agreement: You use the quote: “Why don’t they just rise up and kill the whites?” Be careful what you wish for. The natives are already restless. When their food stamps and medicaid and free this and that stop, you will see chaos in the streets. And like more than a few mugging victims, you’ll be looking for a gun.

[Editor’s Note: This was also addressed nicely at]

Respectful regards,
John C. Tate
CDR USN (Ret) (1966 – 1996)
Firefighter (ret) (1996 – 2005)
Police officer (ret) (1997 – 2014)

[2] See American Constitutional Law, 3rd ed, ISBN 1-56662-714-1, pp 894-903