They don’t make em like me no more; Matta fact they never made it like me before
Phone home, Weezy; Phone home, Weezy
Lil’ Wayne – Phone Home
Gosh, The Washington Post’s exercise on the import of the M1 Garand sounds pretty scary!
Why should I–who carry a certified NRA “Gun-Grabber” certificate–care?
Because shadow-lantern-projection hyperbole obscures real issues and feeds the beast of the gun lobby. Anyone who truly understands the M1 Garand rifle has the right to laugh at some of the fright wig stuff written and said about it.
Bad facts–or mere assertion of bad facts–do not make good policy.
The main thrust of the Washington Post piece may be fairly summed up as follows: “Wayne LaPierre, the NRA’s mouthpiece, may have profited from a little side deal with a gun importing front. (Or maybe not.) That deal, combined with LaPierre’s lobbying, opened the gates to a flood of military weapons through a dangerous new loophole for “curios and relics.” The M1 rifle is one of those curios and relics and its import puts the world at mortal peril.”
LaPierre himself seems to have emerged from this piece of reporting relatively unscathed. The practice of making a personal profit in Washington from side deals is, of course, unheard of in the Metropole of the American Empire. Well, okay, maybe unheard of if you don’t count the Members of Congress whose wealth balloons over their tenures (from the steady acquisition of inside information and fawning deal-making courtiers), the navel-gazing think tank “fellows” who charge hefty fees for “appearances,” the Presidents of the United States and their spouses who write best-selling books while they are oh-so marketable, the ex-Presidents, Senators, and Other High Potentates who cash in with six-figure speechifying fees, and the new media personalities who get their fingers in every pie in town, sometimes with a (gasp!) financial or ethical conflict.
But the oddest implication left hanging in the air by this piece is that the M1 Garand is an assault rifle or some kind of precursor assault rifle.
Josh Sugarmann of the Washington-based Violence Policy Center says the 200,000 rifles imported by Blue Sky were “basically the first of the military weapons marketed to the civilian population. If you were going to draw an ‘assault weapons timeline,’ it would start with the M-1 and eventually end up where we are today.”
By 2012, nearly 1 million of what gun advocates call “modern sporting rifles” were coming into the U.S. market from foreign and domestic sources in a single year.
Tom Hamburger and Sari Horwitz, “NRA lobbyist, arms dealer played key role in growth of civilian market for military-style guns,” The Washington Post, May 3, 2013.
Or, if not that, well, at least that the import of the M1 Garand, this horrible “military weapon,” marks the start of the “assault weapons timeline.”
Or, at the very, very least, the M1 Garand is a “bad” gun. Allowing it into the country is bad policy, something on the order of importing portable mini-nukes or missiles full of sarin gas.
Time to take a deep breath about the M1 Garand, folks.
These three propositions are demonstrably not true. There are indeed problematic guns that fall under the complicated curios and relics rule, which essentially sanitizes many (but by no means all) guns that are at least 50 years old. But the M1 is not one of those problematic guns.
Let me disclose a conflict of interest here. As a young and foolish man in uniform, I was intimate with the M1 in … well … an almost Biblical sense. Yes, I slept with an M1 Garand every night for, as I recall, about one week. That was the interval between one close rifle inspection–during which it was determined that I had cut corners and kept my rifle in “dry” condition (i.e., without oil, it seemed like a good idea at the time)–and the next. Worst than that, I’ve actually stripped an M1 down. All the way, baby. And more than once. I even just narrowly escaped “M1 thumb” a few times.
So, I guess I am a bit handicapped by actually knowing what the hell I am writing about here.
OK, people. Listen up. I am only going to write this once.
The M1 Garand is not by any stretch of fevered imagination an “assault rifle.” It is, in fact, a classic example of precisely the kind of “main battle rifle” that assault weapons were designed to replace. If you were going to draw a timeline of the demise of big, cumbersome, awkward military rifles, it would start with the M1 Garand in about 1944, when the Nazi army fielded the first true assault rifle, the STG-44.
The truth is that the M1 Garand is really no scarier, no more lethal, no worse than many popular semiautomatic hunting rifles sold today.
The M1 Garand is a semiautomatic rifle. It is fed by means of an 8-round clip. (Note: The M1 Garand is not the M1 Carbine, which is an entirely different gun, with entirely different features, and is quite properly excluded from import.)
That’s eight rounds. Not 20 rounds. Not 60 rounds. Not even the 10 rounds of the “high capacity magazine” that was banned (sort of) by the puny political fiction of the 1994 federal “Assault Weapons Ban.” In fact, the M1′s design is such that it can only accept an 8-round clip! And, yes, this is one time when the word “clip” (as opposed to “magazine”) correctly describes the ammunition feeding device.
So, what is an “assault rifle” and why isn’t the M1 one of them?
Well, Kristen Rand, of the Washington-based Violence Policy Center, quite correctly defined assault rifles in her statement to the Senate Judiciary Committee on February 27, 2013 supporting Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s proposed assault weapons legislation.
Ms. Rand described assault rifles as weapons that “have incorporated into their design specific features that enable shooters to spray (‘hose down’) a large number of bullets over a broad killing zone, without having to aim at each individual target.” Wow, that is really good writing!
The specific design features, according to Ms. Rand’s perceptive statement, are:
- High-capacity detachable ammunition magazines (often erroneously called “clips”) that hold as many as 100 rounds of ammunition. This allows the high volume of fire critical to the “storm gun” concept.
- A rear pistol grip (handle), including so-called “thumb-hole stocks” and ammunition magazines that function as pistol grips.
- A forward grip or barrel shroud located under the barrel or the forward stock that give [sic] a shooter greater control over a weapon during recoil. Forward grips and barrel-shrouds make it possible to hold the gun with the non-trigger hand, even though the barrel gets extremely hot from firing multiple rounds.
- A folding or telescopic stock that allows the shooter to make the gun more portable and concealable by reducing the overall length of the gun.
It’s hard to find a better or more succinct statement of what makes an assault rifle an assault rifle!
The M1 has zero of these features. None. Zippo.
Unlike the AK-47 and the AR-15–which are assault rifles–the shooter cannot just pop in a 10, 20, 40, 60 round magazine, or 100 round drum. Loading the clip into an M1 is by comparison a cumbersome and slow process. The clip–into which eight rounds have been previously loaded by hand–has to be pushed down into the receiver. This requires more manual dexterity than simply shoving a high-capacity magazine up into a receiver, because once the M1 insertion is fully accomplished and pressure released, the M1′s bolt flies forward. It can give the inept shooter a vicious whack on the thumb if he (or she) hasn’t gotten it smartly out of the way. Hence, the phrase “M1 thumb.”
In fact, the five-round box magazine of a modern semiautomatic hunting rifle like the Remington Model 750 can be more easily and more quickly inserted into the rifle than the clips of the M1. Bonus: no chance of M1 thumb.
No, the M1 is simply not an assault rifle by anyone’s definition. Its eight rounds are scarcely more than a semiautomatic hunting rifle’s, and it cannot be reloaded as quickly and easily as the AK-47 and AR-15 (and others) can be.
Nubbin’s question: Well, but, gosh, sir, doesn’t the M1 fire some of kind of really dangerous high-powered military ammunition? I mean (smirk) nobody would really want to shoot a deer with this thing, right?
Sarcastic Answer: What are you smoking, son?
The M1 fires basically the same round that millions of hunting rifles fire–the venerable .30-06 Springfield, which has been around for over 100 years.
The M1 was not the “first of the military weapons marketed to the civilian population.” In fact, it was one of the last to be directly marketed to civilians from surplus stocks. The fact is that millions of surplus military rifles were imported into the United States in the years following World War II. The flow was cut off by the Gun Control Act of 1968 not because the M1, or any of equivalent rifles, were particularly deadly, but because the domestic gun industry was being hurt by competition from these relatively cheap imports. It persuaded Congress to stop them. The changes in the law in the mid-1980s were simply a reconquest, a victory of gun importers over domestic producers.
Military rifles have been part of the American sporting scene since the Revolution. The M1 Garand was no different. What has changed the situation dramatically and dangerously since the 1980s is the import and manufacture of the high-capacity magazines and the semiautomatic assault weapons for which they are designed. As explained above, the M1 Garand in no such creature by any definition.
Let’s examine a little relevant history here. I would say with all due modesty that the second-best book about the American gun industry and attempts at its regulation is Robert Sherrill’s 1973 masterpiece, The Saturday Night Special. Sherrill documented and cut through the preening hypocrisy of his era (very similar to ours) with scathing documentation. Here’s what he wrote about the history of the import of military weapons into the United States:
It’s estimated that between 1959—about the time the New England manufacturers really began to get their anti-import propaganda going—and 1963, 7 million foreign weapons, mostly military surplus, were imported into the United States.
Robert Sherrill, The Saturday Night Special (New York: Charterhouse, 1973), p. 88.
Do the math and a timeline to figure out when military weapons were first marketed to civilians in large numbers.
Sherrill also cuts through the hypocrisy and cant surrounding the ban on foreign guns that was put into place by the Gun Control Act of 1968. (It is worth reading just to get perspective on how little things have changed: then and now the gun industry had great influence in Congress, and then and now many gun control nubbins really don’t know jack about guns. They just plain don’t like any of them.) For example, in 1958, then Senator John F. Kennedy offered a bill to restrict the import of military firearms:
…but he did so candidly, admitting that the bill he introduced to ban the importation of military arms was meant to keep the cash registers jingling in his home state…The imports, he said, “have helped spoil the domestic market,” and his bill was “of particular importance to five arms manufacturers in Massachusetts,” which was as close as any politician will come to telling the truth: the legislation was written by the interested parties.
Robert Sherrill, The Saturday Night Special (New York: Charterhouse, 1973), p. 91.
Kennedy’s legislation went nowhere. Among the millions of surplus military guns imported in the post-war era were about 125,000 Carcano M91 Italian army rifles. Kennedy’s assassin, Lee Harvey Oswald, bought one of these by mail order from Klein’s Sporting Goods in Chicago. (“‘Cursed Gun’–The Track of C2766,” LIFE Magazine, August 27, 1965, p. 63.) “Within the context of the marketplace, Kennedy’s assassination came to the assistance of [Sen. Thomas J.] Dodd and the New England gun manufacturers.” (Robert Sherrill, The Saturday Night Special (New York: Charterhouse, 1973), p. 165.)
The rest is history. Foreign guns–and guns manufactured in the United States for use by foreign armies, like the M1s Wayne LaPierre either did or did not have a hand in getting into the US–were to a large extent shut out of the U.S. domestic civilian market until the 1980s.
The M1 was very like an attractive woman in a very short skirt with an enormous purse slung over her shoulder, who just happened to be standing on a corner in a bad neighborhood when the cops came and made a sweep to keep the politicians happy. The M1 got caught in the roundup. Its reputation has never been the same since.