The first thing to understand about Gilberton police Chief Mark Kessler's famous machine gun is that it's an honest-to-goodness assault rifle, making it unusual in the context of the gun control debate.
Going by the photograph on the front page of The Morning Call on Wednesday, it's an M4A1 military assault rifle that can spurt 950 rounds of deadly ammunition a minute (that's just under 16 bullets a second) and it has a drum magazine that probably can hold around 100 rounds.
Second, such weapons have been illegal for almost all Americans for decades. When politicians, gun control advocates or news media people tell you about attempts to ban assault rifles, or that an assault rifle was used in the Newtown, Conn., school massacre, or that any yahoo can legally buy one, they are lying. (An AR-15, the type of rifle used at Newtown, looks like an M4A1 except for the lack of a carrying handle, but fires just one round for each pull of the trigger, basically the same as nearly all other legal firearms in America.)
Third, you must understand Gilberton is in a part of Schuylkill County that at times has made the Wild West look serene by comparison, so let's not be shocked if a police chief or anyone else in that area seems a little rough around the edges.
I lived in Schuylkill County before I moved to the Lehigh Valley, and I love the people there. This, however, is the area where the Molly Maguires once went on their rampages and were hanged in the 1870s; this is the hard coal region, where it took hard men and hard women to get through hard times. The region's rambunctious atmosphere, as far as I can tell, has not significantly changed. It seems that every wedding reception ends with a brawl.
Fourth, and most important, it may seem to some that Kessler's display of shoot-em-up nuttiness will set back efforts to preserve the Second Amendment, but I think it may do the opposite — if people take the time to honestly analyze what he represents.
Wednesday's story said a "profanity-riddled" video of Kessler blasting away with his assault rifle and other guns has gone "viral" on the Internet, with 20,000 views across the nation by the time the story was written. I watched that video and others showing Kessler in action and, if anything, I think the story sugar-coated his demeanor.
One video has Kessler in his police uniform, and at the start it appears to be a standard firearms instructional video. But it soon gets weird with Kessler blasting away with a handgun at his target — a picture of a clown he says is actually U.S. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., a vociferous gun control advocate.
"We have Crazy Nancy here … coming at me with her hammer," he says, and then fires two shots at the clown/Pelosi torso. "And we're going to put two more in her face … right in the mouth." Bang, bang.
In another scene, Kessler flips the bird at the camera and tells those offended by his language to "go [bleep] yourself. … [Bleep] all you libtards out there," and then he blasts away at the clown/Pelosi target some more.
At various times, he fires his assault rifle in its fully automatic machine-gun mode.
I have spent time in Gilberton and it is typical of some of Schuylkill County's insular and rowdy coal towns.
The first reaction to Kessler's rootin'-tootin' videos may be to feel an urgent need for more gun control to keep machine guns away from bellicose screwballs like him. (As far as I know, however, the only innocent person he ever harmed was himself, when he shot himself in the hand in a saloon fracas while off-duty two years ago.)
That raises a thorny point. In the main, the only Americans allowed to have M4A1 assault rifles or any other fully automatic gun are police officers and other government people. Kessler is the entire police force of Gilberton, which means he probably is the only person in town who can legally wave around an M4A1.
Then consider that strict gun control is the way every tyranny in the world has exerted iron-fist control over people. The debate over whether agents of the power structure should be the only ones armed goes back to the democratic Aristotle and the oligarchic Plato.
Finally, we must recognize the reason the Second Amendment was put in the Bill of Rights in the first place. It was not to provide arms for a government-controlled National Guard and no one else. Virtually all the Founding Fathers, as I noted on Sunday, said it was for private individual citizens not under government control, and that is how they all defined the word "militia."
Thomas Jefferson said a power structure, whether headed by King George III or anyone else, needs to be in fear of regular citizens. That is one of the things that makes America unique and keep it free, thus far.
"The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants. It is natural manure," he said.
Watch the Kessler videos, think of what happens when government agents like him, or criminals, are the only ones who can be armed, as in Mexico, and then maybe Jefferson's words will seem less extreme.
Paul Carpenter's commentary appears Sundays, Wednesdays and Fridays.