New Yorkers who opened their papers today learned that St John's University, a Catholic college in Queens, was locked down for three hours yesterday because some guy off his meds was carrying a loaded…high-powered .50 cal breach loading Wolfe rifle similar to the one used by Dick Cheney." The previous quote is a composite that I made up from various news descriptions of the weapon. Most reporters had no clue what type of weapon this guy had. Even the gunman's lawyer, in trying to assuage fears, came up with the Dick Cheney analogy, despite the fact that Cheney used a double-barreled shotgun in last year's incident. In fact, the gun used in Queens was a break open in-line muzzleloader. St John's was locked down because of a guy armed with a musket.
For starters, let me describe what a muzzleloader is for those of you who don't know. It uses no cartridges. You load a measure of loose powder followed by a round lead Revolutionary War type musket ball or Civil War type mini ball (or some modern equivalent) down the front of the barrel. These elements are rammed home with a ramrod kept in a tube underneath the barrel. These were weapons used in the 16th century and 17th century (matchlocks) and the 18th century (flintlocks) until the 19th century (percussion caplocks). It's the kind you see in Revolutionary & Civil War movies. A well trained British army company could reload three times a minute with a smooth bore musket. Rifles took longer because they needed a tighter fit. They were obsolete by the latter 19th century as manufactured cartridges and breach-loading designs came into being. Over the past forty years there has been a revival in muzzle loaders. It started with collectors of antiques and then spread to Civil War re-enactors. Gun makers started making replicas of the old models. Finally, hunters got involved because of the greater challenge involved using primitive fire arms. Various states extended hunting seasons for people using these weapons for conservation reasons. Gun makers then came up with the modern in-line percussion rifle so that non-antiquarian types can hunt the longer season. They look like modern guns but break open so you can place the percussion cap more easily, but still are loaded from the front with a ramrod. Traditional muzzle loading enthusiasts frown upon the modernists as just trying to exploit the extended hunting season loophole.
The point is that modern especially urban Americans have no idea of these distinctions. They lump all .50 cal guns into a high-powered military category, assuming that bigger calibres mean more power. This is not always so. Most high velocity assault rifles use smaller calibres. Also the older big-bored guns use black powder, an ancient form of gun powder which is far less powerful than modern gun powders. The problem is, that this type of ignorance creates more fear. A guy with this kind of weapon has only one shot before he has to spend time (in the case of a beginner, like this guy, up to two minutes) reloading; thus giving ample time to disarm him. But most people in NYC would not know that, and instead would cower behind their desks. Most don't know that a black powder gun makes a distinctive, deep basso sound when discharged. Anyone with experience would know that and know that the shooter was unarmed after shooting. The anti-gun mentality of most American cities in fact does not protect people from guns, but in fact makes them more vulnerable.
Another troubling aspect to this ignorance is my fear that there will be new laws enacted to close what might be called the "assault musket loophole." Antiques, and reproductions of antique firearms, are not regulated as modern repeating arms are. Most Americans are not even aware of black powder shooting and hunting, and mostly focus on "assault weapons." After all, an 18th-century Kentucky flintlock can hardly be described as an "assault weapon" as the term has come to be used. However "assault" is an action, a motive an intent to assault someone. Once you describe certain weapons as "assault weapons" you open up the slippery slope. The fact is anything can be an assault weapon, including a baseball bat, if there is intent to assault someone. In fact flintlocks were used to assault people 200 years ago, and can be used to assault people today. Once the anti-gun crowd realises this, there may be a call to regulate these types of weapons as well, despite the fact that no career criminal would use a Georgian-era Brown Bess musket to rob a Seven-Eleven. I could see where a lot of ignoramuses would back this type of legislation, having no knowledge that many antiques can still fire, and that there is a large market for reproductions.
And then what? What else are we going to regulate when the idiot public comes to realise that people intent upon assault can be very creative in weaponising ordinary things? What next?…machetes ??….crowbars???
We already see this mentality at airports where Crest toothpaste is a banned substance. I can't attach my silver pen knife onto my watch chain when I fly because of this lunacy. We have laws in several states banning switch blade knives which are nothing more than spring-opened jack-knives. In Great Britain there was talk in the House of Commons of requiring kitchen knives to have their points removed because they can be used as a weapon. What they are saying is that no one outside the government and the police can be trusted to behave like an adult.
Next they'll ban neckties!! You can use a four-in-hand tie to strangle someone, although I have not seen any attempt so far to have Jermyn Street haberdashers undergo a background check. That may seem tongue in cheek, but in the UK, they have taken the argument to the absurdist level; they have criminalised self-defense using anything as a weapon. If you beat a home invader with a cricket bat and kill him, you could be charged with murder. And what has happened in the UK? Has crime gone down? The crime wave there has shot through the roof, and Glasgow is now the murder capitol of the first world. And London Bobbies, who, used to be armed only with nightsticks, now carry guns. But that's different. Cops need firepower to protect us children. Or is it to protect themselves against fed up, over-regulated taxpayers tired of being treated like toddlers.