I was not quite 15 when President Reagan was shot, and for me, the defining image of that day is the one you see above; Secret Service agent Robert Wanko brandishing an Uzi. You didn’t see weapons like that in “normal” American life. Cops carried revolvers. Agent Wanko looked like something out of a movie. I remember me and the other kids at school (boys) thought it was cool. “He had an Uzi, man. A fuggin Uzi!”
In 1986 I went to Paris, my first trip outside of the US or Mexico. Paris had suffered a string of bombings and when I got there I was disquieted to see paramilitary policing forces on street corners carrying submachine guns and assault rifles. I suppose this was meant to be reassuring, but it wasn’t reassuring to me. It was slightly terrifying.
I travelled more, and came to understand that in a lot of the world it’s actually pretty normal for police to walk down the street carrying a Heckler & Koch MP5, or to be stopped at check points by solders with assault rifles locked and loaded. I came to appreciate the fact that I didn’t see these things where I lived marked the US as a special place.
Or at least it was.
After 9/11 I remember there were soldiers with M16s in Penn Station. More recently I’ve seen NYPD in Times Square carrying submachine guns. Small town police departments pose with AR15s sitting on armored personnel carriers. Sometimes the pictures are stone-faced, sometimes everyone has a big smile on their face. Either way, it’s depressing. It means something’s changed in our country, and that it’s changed for the worse.
Battlefield weapons aren’t cool, they’re awful and ugly. If you see someone walking around with one in civilian life — on a street corner, in a theater, at a school — it means something awful and ugly is happening.
I’ve turned off comments. Whatever constitutional questions are raised by this post (none that I can see) they’re certainly not going to get settle here. Better minds than ours have been put to the task and we have, well what we have is a well armed citizenry and an even better armed police force.
I will close this post with a quote from General George S. Patton:
“The greatest implement of battle ever devised.”
Was he talking about the Sherman tank? No, he was talking about the M1 Garand, an 8 shot autoloader that gave his soldiers a marked advantage over their bolt-action equipped enemy. I’m sure he would have loved the the AR15.