James McMurtry, Texas gun owner and musician, on gun laws

James McMurtry

McMurtry, in one of the best essays I’ve read about gun laws, leans towards regulating the size of clips because this might give first responders a chance to kill a shooter while he’s re-loading. He does not particularly favor banning assault rifles, in part because of the impossibility of defining what they are. His essay is thoughtful and intelligent, as it ponders if changes to gun laws would help stop the carnage, considering that we appear to be very angry people indeed.

Some of my shooting buddies will howl at me for even considering the notion of gun restrictions and I don’t blame them. The vast majority of gun owners, even those with a penchant for high capacity semi-autos, even those with full auto permits, the vast majority never do anyone any harm. And I’ve always hated the “need” argument so often brought up by some who have never fired a gun. It’s true, no one needs an Uzi; but nor does anyone need a Porsche, and no one will ever deny a person the right to own a Porsche, even though Porsches are designed to run at speeds far exceeding most US speed limits, and if driven at such speeds on public roads may endanger innocent citizenry.

I can’t blame a shooter who has always acted responsibly for being annoyed at gun restrictions, even if said restrictions could actually be proven to be good for society as a whole. Often it seems that the one bad kid on the playground spoils the game for the rest of us and our hard ball gets taken away, but that’s life, and we have to start somewhere. We have to try something, or at least talk about trying something without immediately descending into factionalized shouting matches, each person shouting the slogan from his favorite bumper sticker to which he has chained his identity.

Timothy McVeigh killed more people with a truckload of fertilizer than any single American shooter has killed with a gun. The thread that runs through Tim McVeigh, Adam Lanza and Charles Whitman is not just mental instability, but rage, pure unfathomable rage. And we are an angry people these days. I don’t know why. I suspect that our world is changing faster than we are capable of changing. Some of us feel left out; some of us feel outnumbered; so we’re fearful and angry. Our societal anger needs to be acknowledged and addressed, perhaps diagnosed and treated.

Why are we so angry? That seems to be the core issue. As Wayne Kramer says, I’ve had all the lone gun men I can stand. Some loner nuts up, driven by pathological rage directed at Them and the result is another slaughter. This doesn’t happen nearly as much in other countries. Why is that?

James McMurtry’s classic “We Can’t Make Here Anymore”

Vietnam Vet with a cardboard sign
Sitting there by the left turn line
Flag on the wheelchair flapping in the breeze
One leg missing, both hands free
No one’s paying much mind to him
The V.A. budget’s stretched so thin
And there’s more comin’ home from the Mideast war
We can’t make it here anymore


  1. James, I am a huge fan, but I have to point out that after Oklahoma City we immediately imposed limits on amounts of fertilizer that could be purchased and tracking anyone who attempted to purchase excessive amounts. That is an example for gun control, not against it.

  2. That societal rage is exactly the issue. Outlawing fertilizer (yeah, you can’t buy potassium nitrate at the feed store in town anymore) didn’t stop bombings. The gun restrictions proposed won’t stop mass shootings, much less murders as a whole. Only 4% of gun crimes are committed with rifles of any variety, and a smaller subset (sources differ) are committed with assault weapons. So we already know going in that banning assault weapons will have a miniscule impact. Will it stop mass shootings? Hardly. Anyone remember Virginia Tech? A backpack full of America’s favorite weapon (9 mm handgun) will do the job.

    Bob is spot-on – it’s the rage. Drive the freeway in LA and you’ll find it’s not limited to lone gunmen – they are just the ones who boil over.

    Why are we enraged? How about this: of all the industrialized countries, we are the one with the most promise and the least delivered. Dismal health care, plummeting education, inadequate retirement, and all this despite a combined tax burden that can exceed 60%. Our dollar s being inflated away by the folks in Washington. Our jobs are going overseas. We’re not trained to start our own businesses. And we can’t vote for change, because both parties like things the way they are.

    But it’s not just that. Our electronic society has driven us away from each other, not closer together. We spend more time online than with real people. And we’re fed a steady diet of divisive speech by the media. “They” are the problem. Left or right, take your pick. It’s the gun nuts. It’s the gun control nuts. And we, as individuals, are nurtured not in democracy, but in blame.

    There is a solution, but the federal government can’t enact it, because it is part of the poisoned system that made it this way. Change comes only at the community level, one person talking to another, building bridges, and replacing blame with participation. That’s a tough road, but it can be done – I’ve seen it in one of the most divided countries in the world. If they can do it in Sri Lanka, we can do it here. (But then, Sri Lanka has national health care, too, and we still can’t pull that one off.)

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