Twenty years ago there was a movie that didn’t get much attention. It did have several reasonably well-known actors – the title character Liberty was played by Linda Fiorentino and her husband (who winds up figuring prominently as things unfold) was played by Oliver Pratt and then there was the (arguably) character who orchestrated and carried out the deadly events of the day depicted (a few hours actually) played by Wesley Snipes.
The line in the title is what I remember most – his explanation of why he was compelled to take such drastic action to both hold purveyors of death accountable and to force an uncomfortable national conversation on the need for gun control.
Liberty was the daughter of some unnamed iconic American Arms manufacturer, one with the great “good ole American” branding and reputation but like many arms manufacturers willing to rake in big bucks in shady deals with very bad people around the globe. While she plays a role in the business her husband is the CEO. We also learn that he and Snipes character knew each other from having worked together once upon a time in covert ops.
We also learn (eventually) why Snipes starts killing and threatening to kill far more people than Liberty who he convinces to chain herself to a hot dog stand in a public square outside the theater where she was headed to watch her lover perform prior to some after performance action. Snipes daughter was a child, murdered by a a gunman using a gun manufactured by Liberty’s family business. As is the highly modified for sniper work .223 rifle Snipes wields and kills with from his sniper perch.
One of the people killed is an ambitious young journalist who gets a tip about something going on and as planned (by the sniper) goes up and talks to Liberty. She knows the danger he’s in and tries to get him to leave but he of course smells a big, HUGE story and doesn’t go anywhere, then makes the fatal mistake of ensuring his death by (after being linked in on conference call – remember Snipes is former spec ops and knows all manner of stuff including technical matters) by being dismissive towards the sniper that literally has him in the cross-hairs. The shot, and his agonizing death is searing. And as Snipes character explains this guy being there was no accident – he was the son of a big-name gun rights promoting Senator. Someone who as Snipes character says has now been given every reason to change sides.
During the couple of hours of back and forth there are tense and even angry exchanges between Liberty and the sniper, but also some frank ones and even moments of actual communication and understanding. One of them has always stuck with me and it’s pretty much the title of this piece and why I wrote it.
As I’ve said, in telling Liberty about his daughter’s death, the sniper makes a point of noting that the guy who killed her went into a store and bought his gun. He bought bullets. He loaded his gun. And up until the moment he pulled the trigger (and started killing) he had yet to commit a crime!
Now think about the 18 year old who bought not one but two assault weapons down there in Texas. He bought rounds for them (over a thousand, I heard as many as several thousand but he didn’t have that many with him during his attack), and also a bunch of high capacity magazines. Standard military grade (full metal jacket) isn’t cheap but it’s not prohibitively expense either although that much adds up to a tidy sum – around $180-90 for a 400 round box of basic/generic NATO rounds.
Those magazines aren’t cheap either. If I heard correctly in the press conference he had fifty loaded up. I recall finding a pouch with three “mere” twenty round mags down at Quantico during a trip down from HQMC (then in Arlington, VA) to do some actual grunt training. I tried to turn them in and the Gunny actually laughed at me. He said “finders keepers” with a wink and said hang on to them. I didn’t see any reason to but tossed them in with other 782 gear I’d bought for myself (like many I preferred to have my own rather than accept whatever was handed to me by supply) and forgot about them. About twenty years ago after moving to WV and digging around in that seabag I found those magazines and since I knew I’d never need (or want) them because I’d never want an M-16/AR-15 or a variant I took them to a gun shop. I got twenty five bucks apiece for them! That was then, and I’m sure the magazines (thirty round – the “banana” style/shaped ones I’m sure) cost this kid more than twenty five bucks each so in addition to three grand for the rifles there was roughly fifteen hundred for the magazines. And however many thousands of rounds he actually bought.
The point is that he was, even at eighteen years of age able to walk into a gun store and with a few minutes of paperwork buy those assault weapons. Weapons who’s design going all the way back to the original M-16 that inspired them were designed for the express purpose of killing people. Lots of people. And quickly. The same is true of the magazines and the ammo. Perfectly legal. All he needed was an ID proving he was eighteen and the money to buy what he wanted. It only takes a couple of minutes to fill out the ATF form. Maybe another minute for the clerk to check the ID and make sure the serial number(s) of the gun is recorded correctly. I pretty sure it took longer to pack up the stuff he bought and load it into his car than it did to buy it!
However, returning to what I really want to emphasize, as the character in the movie says, he bought his gun(s) and ammunition, loaded it (and a whole bunch of extra magazines (he’d also legally bought) and then picked one of his weapons of war, and loaded fifty magazines into a backpack.
Until he shot his grandmother he had yet to commit a crime!
Shooting grandma was appalling of course, but tragically he was just getting started.
However, I keep coming back that for all the buying of guns and gear and the insane amount of money he spent (and where it came from is one of those questions where, once they get around to digging into it could get interesting!) and the effort to load up that many magazines (trust me – it’s a pain in the ass) until he pulled the trigger on grandma he had yet to commit a crime.
I keep saying that because I simply can’t get past that concept. Worse, as we’ve seen the same is true in so many other mass shootings. It might be extra easy to “gear up” in Texas but the fact is even in states with gun laws that at least require background checks and in some jurisdictions some other stuff a person without any criminal record can walk into a gun store, or a gun show or find a private seller and legally buy a firearm. Including a weapon of war. In many places even when they have made threats either online (increasingly frequent) or in person they can still buy their guns and other gear!
The right to buy/own a gun used to be taken seriously. Most who bought/possessed them bought them for hunting, home defense or target shooting which admittedly can be fun. They took gun ownership and safety seriously, and believed though it was their right that the right came with responsibilities. That has long since ceased to be the case.
Even in the Heller decision Alito held that jurisdictions could still enact restrictions/controls on gun ownership and use even if he set precedent saying most people could keep a gun at home for self-defense. Conservatives of course took that to mean that by-god the Supreme Court had given all manner of rights to gun owners and sellers. Personally I think Alito knew damn well conservatives would go wild weakening what gun control there was and they sure as hell have.
However, there is something very wrong in this country when it comes to guns. Millions of people value them more than human life and public safety. Sadly, they have a well-established and funded lobby to instill fear in the hearts of any politician who suggests even minimal, much less modest gun control. Worse, unlike my generation and I think the next one things changed and the culture of guns being a tool, a dangerous one to be respected and used for a limited couple of purposes like hunting game or if someone broke into the home into something that was “cool.” A prop for Rambo fantasies. And forget about true practice of safe gun handling and storage. Guns having become the leading cause of death for children prove that point all too tragically.
We need a new assault weapons ban. We need a new ban on magazines that hole more than ten rounds. And screw grandfathering in those already out there as was the case with the first assault weapons ban. There were an estimated million and a half assault weapons in circulation then – the number is apparently twenty million or more now! I don’t see even the most generous of buyback programs AND significant federal time in prison for those who don’t turn them in becoming law. However much it should happen it won’t. Not in this country. At least for a generation and probably not then. But real gun control with teeth, forcing people to meet some standards for ownership of guns, and for carrying them in public (NO open carry unless out in the fields hunting!) is a good start.
Gun violence and deaths will still happen. But we CAN reduce the scope of the problem. We have to stop responding to shootings and be much, much more proactive in preventing them and I truly believe that the majority of gun owners will, if not openly support at least go along with some real gun control laws.
We can no longer accept the status quo that anyone of age (depends on the state) can buy weapons so easily, as well as ammunition and extra magazines even when there is evidence they shouldn’t have such deadly power in their hands. That they can load them, and create a plan and right up to the moment the aim it at another person and pull the trigger they haven’t committed a crime.
We simply can’t continue to accept that.