For Want of a Nail

by L. Neil Smith

         The other day on a radio talk show (okay, on the radio talk show) an anonymous Army NCO calling from Fort Bragg revealed that, thanks to Clinton cutbacks and the administration's general contempt for all things military, members of the 82nd Airborne had boarded their C-130s anticipating combat in Haiti with only one used magazine apiece for their rifles and 15 rounds of ammunition.
         The weapon currently issued to our soldiers expends 15 rounds in 9/10 of a second. I don't know what regulations call for these days, but when you're headed for a fight, you want to have lots of magazines for your rifle and plenty of cartridges. Half a dozen magazines would be nice and a dozen even better. The advertised purpose in the 60s of downsizing from the .30 caliber M14 to the .22 caliber M16 was so that soldiers could carry more of the tiny -- some say ineffectual -- cartridges it shoots. Apparently they're needed: it's calculated that our forces fired a million rounds per enemy casualty in Viet Nam.
         Our military has faced shortages and inappropriate supplies since its inception. Crooked suppliers were jailed during the War Between the States, and GIs were shipped wool uniforms in Cuba during the Spanish American War. I grew up in the military, where my father once discovered that a thousand lawn mowers had been sent for some reason to our air base in Goose Bay, Labrador. When it proved impossible to issue the titanium helmets that had just been invented to soldiers in Viet Nam, or when they needed pocketable sidearms to protect them from the depredations of the Viet Cong when they were off duty in Saigon, moms and dads cheerfully chipped in and mailed them whatever they needed.
         What is new is that the United States Congress -- and most notably the Republican Party -- has deliberately and knowingly created a situation that will sooner or later result directly in the needless deaths of countless American soldiers. Republicans supplied Clinton with 46 of the 40 votes he needed (that's right, I said 46 of 40 votes) to pass a "crime" bill which bans the manufacture of M16-type magazines for the civilian market, despite the fact that there are hundreds of thousands of such rifles already in civilian hands.
         Rifles whose owners are grimly determined never to give them up.
         Now what is this a formula for?
         Well, before Republicans pusillanimously abandoned the Bill of Rights and the constituency most responsible for putting Ronald Reagan and George Bush in office, M16 magazines moved sluggishly at gun shows for about a buck and a half apiece. Now, because there will never be a legal source of them again -- until this asinine law is repealed -- the same magazines sell out at $30.00.
         For now.
         Understand that M16 magazines are nothing but thin-walled aluminum boxes of about the same weight and bulk as a pair of heavy socks. A jacket and pair of trousers could be used to conceal at least a dozen of them. (Remember why we switched from the big heavy rifle to the little handy one?) The civilian market is insatiable and any Army brat will tell you that additional millions of magazines will disappear from military inventories over the next couple of years through a process well-known and fondly referred to as "the moonlight requisition". Hell, they'll evaporate from military stores like ice cubes in ... well, Haiti.
         And that, in turn, guarantees absolutely that no matter how vigorously the military tries to resupply in the future, the black market will always offer enough for M16 magazines -- more than two thousand percent profit -- that chronic shortages of them will continue among the troops. And this time, mom and dad will be forbidden -- under penalty of law -- to make up the shortfall.
         Which means that for want of $1.50 worth of spot-welded sheet-metal, your brother, your sister, your son, or your daughter will be at risk -- totally unnecessary risk -- because of legislation intended not to stop crime (its proponents admitted as much before it got passed) but simply to disarm civilians.
         For exactly the same reason, if your brother or son (or sister or daughter) happens to be a cop, he (or she) is walking the mean streets with thousands of dollars' worth of attractive, highly-salable contraband on his (or her) duty belt in the form of a high-capacity semiautomatic pistol and spare magazines that, because of Republican cooperation with the Clinton Administration, are likelier to get him (or her) killed now than to save his (or her) life.
         When that happens, remember those 46 Republican congressmen and the half dozen Republican Senators who acted as their accomplices in this crime against the Constitution.
         You might want to thank them.
         Or something.


L. Neil Smith is the award-winning author of 19 books including The Probability Broach, The Crystal Empire, Henry Martyn, The Lando Calrissian Adventures, Pallas, and (forthcoming) Bretta Martyn and Lever Action. An NRA Life Member and founder of the Libertarian Second Amendment Caucus, he has been active in the Libertarian movement for 34 years and is its most prolific and widely-published living novelist.

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