Guest–West Point Colonel (Ret) Talks About Guns

I’ve asked retired Colonel Ken Hamburger, a college classmate, for his thoughts on the current gun debate. He’s the recipient of many awards, including the Silver Star and Distinguished Flying Cross. His bio follows his comments. Thanks, Ken.

Ken Hamburger …

I’m going to look at the (gun control) issues from a perspective of how I feel and think about them as opposed to trying to think of practical steps to change things.  Two reasons:  Nothing any of us say is going to make any difference at all with the powers that be that might be able to change any of the policies; and thinking about things in terms of their practicality closes off a lot of things that might still be insights into the problems.

  • On guns, the Second Amendment mentions the reason that ‘A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state’ [which is the only amendment to state a purpose; thanks, Wikipedia] even though courts have said the stated purpose is irrelevant to whether a person [not just a citizen] can bear an arm [not just a gun].  Court opinions can change [see Dred Scott among many others] so I think we should talk about the issue without reference to court decisions.
  • The Amendment doesn’t define an ‘arm.’ Court decisions have allowed Congress to limit the definition, so I think defining an ‘arm’ is relevant.
  • It seems to me that defining an ‘arm’ and interpreting a purpose for the Amendment are both key to what should be done with the issue today.
  • If the purpose of the Amendment is to allow the people [not just the citizens] to defend themselves against their own despotic government, then there should be no limits to what an ‘arm’ is beyond [maybe] what the government owns.  This
    Artillery Battery at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.

    Artillery Battery at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

    would open the definition to e.g. tanks, artillery, airplanes including drones, machine guns, poison gas, nuclear weapons, and anything else the armed services, CIA, FBI, in short, any ‘arm’ legally authorized to any armed unit of the government should be available to any citizen [or at least any citizens’ militia unit] or ‘the security of a free state’ could not be guaranteed.  A couple of the most effective and cheapest ‘arms’ would be poison gas and radioactive materials [either of which could be useful in guarding areas against entry by government forces, and have aggressive uses as well].  High school chemistry students can extract good poison gases and every hospital in the US today generates nuclear waste, so both would be easily available and very effective against even well regulated government forces.

These arguments lead down the rabbit hole of practicality [‘We can’t have anybody that’s hacked off at the government start gassing the local National Guard Armory or making their parking lot into a radioactive zone’] so I think that although they have relevance to the argument, we should probably limit our discussion to those ‘arms’ that a citizen might have a need for in other situations than defense against a despotic government.  Nonetheless, we have to recognize that there are lots of folks around today who still think that the Second Amendment is only to oppose what they see as an Obama-type dictatorship – I can direct you to a lot of web sites that espouse this if you doubt.

  • The practical uses for owning an ‘arm’ [i.e. other than warring against the government] are recreation, hunting, and self-defense.  For recreation [mostly target shooting and collection], there are really no practical limits.  I’ve got a friend who has a .50 caliber that he fires at meets; it’s not a weapon one could hunt with or use for self-defense and I’ve got no problem with him owning and enjoying it.  There’s no real reason there should be a limit on any other weapon for purposes of recreation; re-enactors should be able to have machine guns and rocket launchers [probably ‘de-militarized’] and I don’t see why they couldn’t have artillery pieces or tanks or any airplanes, submarines, etc. that they can afford.
  • For hunting, any long gun or pistol other than automatic or semi-automatic weapon should be available, although I don’t think there’s any need for high muzzle velocity weapons like the AR-15, which was specifically designed for military uses and which causes severe wounds that often require amputation.  No one should be hunting who requires a semi-automatic weapon; you can effectively hunt any game animal including the Cape Buffalo [often cited as the most dangerous sport game] with a bolt action weapon.  With practice, a bolt action long gun can be shot accurately at high rates of fire that can kill any charging animal.  Similarly, there should be no need for high-capacity magazines for hunting weapons.
  • For self-defense, the requirements are similar.Weapons designed to cause amputation [high muzzle velocity] are not required and should be prohibited.  The best weapon for self-defense is probably a shotgun, requiring little training and has a good first-round effectiveness [I recognize that it also causes amputations, so I’m not consistent.  Sue me.].  Next best is a big round with a moderate muzzle velocity, say a .45 cal. that has better stopping power [knockdown] than a high muzzle velocity weapon.  Semi-automatic weapons are not required; high-capacity magazines are not needed; both could probably be allowed anyway.

Kenneth Hamburger attended Oklahoma State University where he earned the Bachelor of Architecture degree in 1964.  Commissioned into the Regular Army, he completed field artillery training and airborne school.  

He joined the First Cavalry Division in Vietnam in 1967.  He saw action as an Assault Helicopter Platoon Leader on the Bong Son Plain, the An Lao and Song Re Valleys, Dak To, and in Northern I Corps at Hué and Khe Sanh during the Tet Offensive of 1968.  Returning to Vietnam in 1971, he participated in the invasion of Laos as an Aviation Battalion Operations Officer and commanded a Recon Airplane Company at Chu Lai. 

Transferred to Germany in 1973, he served as a Field Artillery Battalion Operations Officer and Executive Officer in the 8th Mechanized Infantry Division and commanded the Attack Helicopter Troop of the 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment at Fulda.  He later attended Duke University where he studied history, receiving masters and doctoral degrees.  During 1980 and 1981, he commanded the 1st Battalion, 15th Field Artillery of the 2d Infantry Division in Korea.

Arriving at West Point in 1981, he became Professor of History in 1993.  He served as Head of the Military History and International History Divisions and as Deputy Head of the Department of History.  He has written and spoken to international audiences on strategy, leadership in combat, the American Revolution, the Vietnam War, and Fine Arts. 

Colonel Hamburger retired from the U.S. Army in 1994.  Among his awards are the Silver Star, the Legion of Merit, the Distinguished Flying Cross, and thirty Air Medals.  He taught on the staff of the American Military University and has served as Visiting Professor of Strategy at the National War College of the National Defense University in Washington, D.C.

Texas A&M University Press published his book, Leadership in the Crucible:  The Korean War Battles of Twin Tunnels and Chipyong-ni in April 2003.  He is married to Jane Brammer and they have two grown children.


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About samuelehall

A follower of Jesus, husband, father of 3 adult children, writer and learner.
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18 Responses to Guest–West Point Colonel (Ret) Talks About Guns

  1. Jack Kelley says:

    Sam, thanks for copying me on this dialog. It was great hearing from you and our friend Ken Hamburger. I am now a retired Air Force Phantom Jet pilot, and Vietnam Era Service Disabled Veteran, I am strongly opposed to tampering with the right to bear arms.
    It is my belief that the only practical solution to protecting school children from nuts that would randomly kill others, is to train existing school personnel and arm them to protect themselves and their students. There should also be security cameras, alarms, and people at the front door at all times. This is really all that’s needed. the 2nd amendment was written in simple terms for a purpose. Lets not muck it up. Use the KISS principal. If you are ever in Tulsa, please look me up. Jack

    • samuelehall says:

      Jack! It’s great to hear from you. Thank you for your service. Yes, Ken did a bang-up job on writing that guest blog. He’s a smart guy with solid credentials.
      I’m with you on the 2nd Amendment. Re schools and other such institutions: my only recommendation would be to have properly trained police/security people bearing arms; the teachers have enough to worry about trying to educate the ones who want to learn while disrespect and violence seem to be the watchwords of those who come from a troubled home life.
      I plan to go back to OK next year and will do my best to make contact.

  2. Jerry says:

    I wish you well in your efforts, Sam. Those are good belated new year’s resolutions to make our society better and safer. I think that I have exhausted my information and enthusiasm for the gun control subject.

  3. Jerry says:

    Sam, this may be our area of disagreement, quoting from your recent response: “However, the plethora of laws governing gun manufacture and usage probably already address your concerns. Violators are subject to heavy fines and lengthy prison terms. Most shooters would think twice before subjecting themselves to those penalties.” Here are a couple of my points related to that quote: 1) If semiautomatic weapons are easily converted legally to what are essentially automatic weapons capable of firing 30 shots within 2-3 seconds, our laws obviously don’t cover that “automatic” weapon; therefore, I call for such semiautomatic/high capacity weapons to be illegal. 2) In the case of the recent massacres, the shooters do not wait for legal penalties, but instead execute themselves. Laws against criminal behavior, then, would not prevent the massacre; therefore, I call for the semiautomatic/high capacity weapons, which make the massacres so quick and massive, to be illegal.

    I do not assume that the recipe to preventing such shooting massacres involves only one ingredient, though. Background checks to prevent gun sales to criminals and severely mentally ill people should be required, and gun show sales should be treated in a manner similar to gun dealer sales in order to better safeguard our communities. Enforcement of our current laws is one obvious ingredient, as well.

    I appreciate your acceptance that a shotgun might be a better form of home protection than the semiautomatic weapon. On the other side of the coin, the semiautomatic weapon might be a better way to kill dozens of innocent people quickly.

    • samuelehall says:

      Thanks, Jerry, you bring up some interesting points.
      I believe, however, that you’re chasing the wrong rabbit. Let me try to re-state the problem/primary question: What needs to be done to prevent or significantly reduce mass killings of innocent people?
      The issue is not to prevent Rambo-types from having high capacity weapons of whatever capability. I agree, semi-automatic weapons should not be easily converted to fully automatic. I also believe we need tighter controls on welfare fraud, insider trading, worthless farm subsidies, child porn, and human trafficking. As far as I can see, there is no relationship to any of those to the primary issue of curtailing mass killings in America.
      Until it can be shown that weapon capability is a primary cause of these mass killings, we should leave the Second Amendment intact and instead direct our resources to identifying potentially dangerous people with a proclivity to commit mass killings and treating/incarcerating them before they can commit their mayhem.

      • Jerry says:

        One last thought on the gun control issue, Sam: Your last sentence in addressing the massacres reads that we “….instead direct our resources to identifying potentially dangerous people with a proclivity to commit mass killings and treating/incarcerating them before they can commit their mayhem.” Wouldn’t it be against the law to incarcerate a person prior to committing a crime?” Maybe a sting operation would be possible prior to a crime having been committed, but otherwise not.

      • samuelehall says:

        Thanks, Jerry. An excellent point. But that’s what has to be done; that’s why I said the ACLU would be upset. That’s also why we pay some of these people such big bucks.
        However, we can’t let known menaces run loose in our society. Talk about a slippery slope!

  4. Jerry says:

    If the following link is an indication, there may be more AR-15 rifles that have been or may become converted into a “fully automatic” rifle legally. Is there a point in the sophistication of weaponry where “nanny” government should place limitations for personal usage, as far as you’re concerned?

    • kenhwarwick says:

      For me, the prohibition of automatic weapons is not an indication of a ‘nanny state’ [the definition of which is pretty much dependent on one’s politics]. It is the indication of a modern state with reasonable definitions of what ‘arms’ for hunting and self defense are. So far as the AR-15, I’ve already gone on record opposing high-muzzle velocity weapons as unnecessary for hunting or self defense and harmful enough to be banned for civilian use. So far as serious consideration of the weapon for reasonable uses, check the comments on the website: most concern how much fun and what a ‘blast’ it is to shoot. Of course, in serious testimony, one might expect the arguments that mommies need an automatic weapon with a 30+ round magazine to defend their children.

      • samuelehall says:

        Thanks, Ken, for weighing in. I don’t believe I said that the prohibition of automatic weapons is indicative of a “nanny state” mentality. Jerry believes that “Gun advocates apparently want the right to own for personal recreation or protection any type of weapon that can be held in a person’s hand or carried in his/her arms,” and then he went on to list flame-throwers and other frightful weapons. Note also his use of the word, apparently.
        My “nanny state” comment was directed to current efforts to implement even more laws. I replied to Jerry yesterday that, e.g., machine guns are rigorously restricted. My point: we have sufficient laws to cover his concerns.
        However, I apologize for my insertion of the “nanny state” term in this discussion. It is a partisan term and should have not been used.

    • samuelehall says:

      Jerry, you’ve got a point. I couldn’t carry your links far enough to review how far this could go/the ease of modifying, etc. I agree we don’t need high muzzle velocity weapons for defense against home invasions. However, the plethora of laws governing gun manufacture and usage probably already address your concerns. Violators are subject to heavy fines and lengthy prison terms. Most shooters would think twice before subjecting themselves to those penalties.
      I believe we agree that groups like the NRA and NARAL (to get into another highly-charged social issue) are loathe to allow any slippery-slope change in laws pertaining to the Second Amendment and abortion rights respectively. Thus, statutory change will be resisted by proponents of both rights.
      As others have pointed out, a shotgun might be the best option in home invasion situations, anyway.

  5. Jerry says:

    Somewhere between the original concept of the Second Amendment (the flintlock musket) to the current concept of the Second Amendment we may have taken that short step from the sublime to the ridiculous. Gun advocates apparently want the right to own for personal recreation or protection any type of weapon that can be held in a person’s hand or carried in his/her arms. That, to me, is ridiculous. If not, please let me know what the limits are. Do we have a slippery slope to flame throwers, machine guns, grenade and rocket launchers, 500 capacity clips?

    • samuelehall says:

      Thanks for your comments, Jerry. Maybe some gun advocates want the types of weapons you describe but they are certainly in the 0.00001% minority. Moreover, current gun laws would limit their ability to acquire such weapons; e.g., machine guns may not be acquired for the past 27 years w/o a rigorous background check (inc. FBI) and violations of this federal law are subject to $250K fine and 10 years in the pen.
      I suggest you not get caught up in the nanny state limitation of everyone’s freedom just ’cause a few nuts MAY try something. Mayor Bloomberg’s edicts are the most egregious example of government control of private lives.

  6. kenhwarwick says:

    Thanks for your comment, Sam. Meaning no disrespect to Congressman Schrader, with whom I am not acquainted, I see his response as a politician’s safe response to constituents that postpones any action indefinitely. I can envision no program acceptable to the majority of Americans that would effectively identify those individuals who might misuse firearms because of their mental state and then prevent them from access to firearms. Consider for a moment first, the hurdles any such legislation would have to overcome, then try to imagine the opposition and court cases such a measure would engender. I think the Congressman can be confident that his support of such a program is meaningless in terms of any effective action against individuals with mental problems handling guns, while sounding reasonable enough to evade the problem. The fact that the NRA supports such a policy is pretty solid evidence against its likelihood of effective implementation.
    I can’t share your optimism concerning the effectiveness of citizens writing their representatives. Congress responds to money in the form of dollars and lobbying far more readily than to constituent suggestions. There is probably no lobby more feared by legislators than the NRA, an organization that has virtually unlimited funds to influence votes. ‘I’m the NRA and I vote’ is a potent message to any elected official who will ever face a re-election campaign. Has anybody ever seen a bumper sticker proclaiming ‘I’m against assault weapons and I vote’ — I have not, nor do I expect to.

  7. Jerry says:

    For clarification, did you support a semiautomatic/high capacity gun ban or not in your last paragraph about gun control? It reads that you feel they should be allowed for personal use, as I understand it. There could be some confusion in any such discussion, since assault weapons are not the only type of semiautomatic weapon with high capacity clips. I don’t know how the president’s proposal reads. Our county fairground is hosting a gun show this weekend, I think. They seem to host them frequently.

    • kenhwarwick says:

      Jerry, I violated my own stated aim of not limiting my thoughts to their practicality — there are so many semiautomatic weapons and high capacity magazines out there today that I punted and said I wouldn’t try to ban them. I don’t think they are required for hunting or self-defense, but I don’t think they are going away even if outlawed.

      • samuelehall says:

        Yeah, Ken, obviously $$ garners more attention from politicians than letters. I believe it was Will Rogers who said, “An honest politician is one who, when he’s bought–he stays bought!”
        Since I don’t have the $$ or access to my politicians, I occasionally write. In fact, I suggested to Schrader that he check out your comments.
        Agree, would be difficult to establish procedures that would effectively identify those individuals who might misuse firearms because of their mental state and then prevent them from access to firearms. A dedicated effort could achieve it. Depends on the strength of will of those involved. The present assault gun ban attempt simply won’t do what it’s touted to do and most people know it; it’s just a simple approach based on emotional appeal. The problem is the warped shooter, not his gun. In fact, you’ve noted other more deadly means of mass murder–poison gases, in particular. You recall the sarin gas attack on the Tokyo subway system in ’95.
        We don’t know how future events may shape the discussion. It may take another horrific attack on defenseless people for Congress and the President to exercise the political will to limit personal freedoms. Imagine the outcry if an assault weapons ban were enacted–further dividing the country–and an individual/group carried out a devastating attack afterward.
        The feel-good assault weapons ban is not the answer.

  8. samuelehall says:

    Ken, excellent overview! Thanks for your guest blog.
    This evening (Wednesday), I just returned from a townhall meeting with our congressman, Rep. Kurt Schrader (D), and the assault weapon issue came up. The questioner demanded to know what his position is, and Schrader–ever mindful of his constituency–refused to be cowed; he affirmed he would not go after assault weapons but would instead support legislation to better identify people with mental health issues who might pose a potential future threat.
    To make that effective, the legislation would have to overcome the extreme privacy safeguards for the welfare of society in general. Yes, slippery slope, I know.
    Ken, I disagree on your first point–that nothing we’ll say might change outcomes. True, it’s unlikely but if enough people say the same thing, these politicians know each letter/email represents X number of voters who didn’t take time to write. We cannot submit to the idea that only the big contributors get a hearing.

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