A Motorsports Approach to Gun Control
The current frenzy of comments on gun control is amazing. Normally rational people who are gun enthusiasts seem to lack any sort of “pause” button. Their comments immediately degenerate into rants where you can sense flecks of spittle smashing into computer screens.
One friend I respect asked how I’d feel if the government came to take away my motorcycle. That commented sparked some thought. What is the motorcycle equivalent of an assault weapon? A top fuel drag bike might fit the bill.
Ever been close to a top fuel drag bike? I had the opportunity a decade ago to sit on one as it was being prepped for another wild foray down the track. This was a Harley-esque creation that was the most terrifying motorcycle I’ve ever been on. And the kicker – it wasn’t running!
The owner raised it on hydraulic struts to make it easier to clamber aboard, and I did. I stretched my feet back, and back, and back again. The proper posture had me draped over the length of the bike with my arms far ahead and my legs fully extended to the rear pegs. My chest conformed to a ½ inch thick piece of boiler plate, there to keep red hot pieces of the exploding engine (this happened with some regularity), from eviscerating my abdomen and other (ahem) parts.
The difference between a top fuel Harley drag bike and as assault weapon? I could own either machine, but would not be allowed to operate the drag bike without a lot of paperwork and trouble. I’d have to have a race license, which would require at least a physical, as well as a lot of specified safety gear, which would be checked out before I was allowed on the track. The bike would be subjected to a rigorous technical inspection for compliance with the rules of the class, and also for mechanical integrity and working safety gear. I would then be allowed to work up to the full potential of the machine with a series of runs at increasing speeds, all watched over by an experienced racer who would have to sign off on my license.
My failure to leap over any of these substantial hurdles does not equate to the government coming to take my motorcycle.
How about cars? Two decades ago I worked the staging lanes and starting line of a national points drag race event. Have you ever stood ten feet away from a top fuel dragster? Even at idle the ground is shaking, and you can feel your intestines vibrating. The driver is literally strapped in a foot in front of a literal several thousand horsepower bomb that may go off at any moment. The run is violent at the start, in the middle, and at the end. Top racers have to be careful with their health, as both the acceleration and deceleration forces can wreak havoc on the spine and lead to detached retinas. Serious weapons grade machinery requires serious preparation and extensive regulation.
But, you argue, you can also create havoc on the public roads with a street-legal car or motorcycle. This is true, but it’s sort of an apples and oranges deal. The difference is that with a competition vehicle serious episodes can and will occur even if the operator is doing nothing wrong. I can get roaring drunk and try to beat my time on a favorite winding road on a motorcycle or in my Fiat 500, and mayhem can and probably will ensue. In a SCCA modified sports car disaster may visit at very high speed at any time through mechanical failure or the actions of others, and eventually will.
I had a good friend back in the 70’s and 80’s who had a wonderful 1964 ½ Ford Galaxy with a NASCAR-spec 427 and a 4 speed floor shift. A wonderful beast. He occasionally drag raced this rare machine and eventually ran up against a problem. Drag race cars that can consistently run under a certain time must have a full roll cage. I don’t remember if the trigger elapsed time was ten or eleven seconds, but the actual number is irrelevant and may have changed. The point is that my friend stopped improving the car at this point and enjoyed it as it was, because he did not want to modify a rare piece by the installation of a roll cage.
In racing, in almost all forms, the competitors not only accept, but expect, rules and regulations that restrict their “freedom.” When I line up next to another car at even a minor league drag race, which I have, I want the assurance that the other car has been through at least a cursory tech inspection to lessen the odds of a wheel coming off and my competitor lurching out of control into my lane.
The other big difference is that in motorsports the sanctioning bodies and the manufacturers not only accept the rules and regs, but often lead the way in promulgating them. Over the years there have been many cars and some motorcycles where sale was restricted to only those with a valid competition license. In the case of some, only to a recognized team with years of experience and success behind them.
Compare this to the NRA, which has adopted a head in the sand stance of “No” or “No comment” to ANY proposal to do something about guns. This was shown to dramatic effect when a Washington state member of the legislature (who also happens to be a police officer) sponsored a bill to close loopholes in gun registration. He was immediately hit with a post card barrage to NRA voters in his home district painting him as the enemy. He has been a member of the NRA for many years and had tried to months to get NRA input to the wording of his bill.
Some of this may be generational. I grew up in a household where both of my parents were Republicans and NRA members. They had competed in shooting contests at the state level at about the time I was born, and decades later the still had the rifles and the padded jackets with the sewn on patches from various competition events. My parents would be appalled and repulsed by the current policies and positions of the Republican Party, and would have a similar response to the NRA. How many enthusiasts are basing their support of the NRA on an organization that ceased to exist in the form they think of many years ago?
And part of it is money, as is so often the case. People in my state who are involved motorcycle accidents, and in particular fatality motorcycle accidents, are highly likely to not have an endorsement to ride a motorcycle. Why wouldn’t insurance companies refuse to write a policy for a person who does not have an endorsement, when the statistics are so glaring? I would hazard a guess that it is far more profitable to bill all motorcyclists based on the accident statistics skewed by the statistical few. Why is the NRA so opposed to ANY regulation? Because the NRA is now dominated by arms manufacturers and dealers who make larger profits when allowed to sell any weapon, to anyone, at any time.
South Africa passed gun legislation a decade ago that has dramatically reduced the deaths by hand guns, the on-going tragedy involving “Blade Runner” and his deceased girlfriend notwithstanding. In South Africa’s case, legislators took a look at the data and found that their fatalities were coming from hand guns, and that is what the legislation addresses. Some data mining into statistics in this country might evolve legislation that speaks to our own needs. Are assault weapons really the problem, or just the smoke screen (pardon the pun) that gets the headlines and obscures the actual data?
This is a very slippery slope for sure. I do want to be able to retain my freedom to take actions that are stupid or not in my best interests, just because I want to and I am free. I smoke a pipe (tobacco only!) for only one of dozens of examples. And yet my freedom has to be weighed against the rights of others. I cannot smoke my pipe indoors pretty much anywhere, and that is reasonable.
I cannot drive a top fuel funny car, SBK superbike, NASCAR “stock” car, or F1 car down the street in front of my house. In fact, I cannot just purchase any of these and go to my local track for some recreational racing. I cannot even enter any of these vehicles in the racing series for which they are designed. There are forms to be filled out and approved, physicals to pass, the signing off on my capability by experienced racers, and a lot of training. In many cases my financial fitness as an owner will have to be proved, and I will probably be required to contribute a mighty sum to the race organizers. The hurdles are many and tall.
Is it unreasonable to apply at least some small hurdles to those who wish to own and operate weapons that can kill great ease?
Gun violence is a real problem in this country, every day. Disagreement with that statement would be fatuous. Hyperbole and volume will not create a solution, but rational study and a logical approach to an equation of risk versus enthusiasm, as practiced by every major motorsports racing organization in the world, would get us there.
Copyright 2013 David Preston