“In Italy, for thirty years under the Borgias, they had warfare, terror, murder and bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci and the Renaissance. In Switzerland, they had brotherly love, they had five hundred years of democracy and peace — and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock.”
-Harry Lime in The Third Man
In the noir classic The Third Man, based on the Graham Greene novel of post World War II corruption in Vienna, Orson Welles plays the mysterious Lime whose contempt for orderly society prompted the above statement to his friend Holly Martins (Joseph Cotten) about the lack of Swiss ingenuity and how chaos can actually lead to cultural advancement. But U.S. District Judge Roger Benitez apparently doesn’t share Lime’s negative assessment of the Swiss as he declared in his opinion overturning California’s three decade ban on assault weapons: “[l]ike the Swiss Army Knife, the popular AR-15 rifle is a perfect combination of home defense weapon and homeland defense equipment.”
Now I have nothing but respect for the knife, which is now produced mostly under the Victorinox brand and remains standard issue for an army that hasn’t fought a war since 1847. In its most elaborate model, developed by Victorinox rival Wenger and known as “the Giant,” it has 87 tools and 141 different functions and has been called by the Guinness Book of World Records “the world’s most multifunctional penknife.” Its most popular current model has more than a dozen tools including the standard large and small blade, tweezers, bottle opener, and scissors and is handy for carving wood and gutting fish, cleaning fingernails, opening letters and cutting string.
While I wouldn’t go on a camping trip without one, it is a bit head scratching how much the Swiss Army Knife has in common with the gun lobby’s favorite assault weapon. As a home defense device, it has very limited efficacy. Perhaps I could use the bottle opener to open a shaken bottle of beer and spray an intruder’s eyes or the magnifying glass to blind him with the sun while disarming him of his own AR-15 and my wife uses the scissors to cut some string to bind his wrists until local law enforcement arrives.
But the reality is that Judge Benitez’ opinion is merely an extreme example of how “cuckoo” the gun lobby’s logic has become. More guns, more safety. And the more lethal the better. Well, the 400 million weapons in the hands of “law-abiding citizens” haven’t done much to deter mass killings or, more commonly, suicides or domestic violence. But the insanity isn’t limited to a more conservative judiciary, which now has a comfortable majority of gun lovers in the Supreme Court. In Texas, you still need a driver’s license to drive a car or a fishing license to catch a fish, but you don’t need a permit to own a handgun. And the right is not just derived from the Second Amendment, but to a “God-given right to self-defense and the defense of their families,” according to Charles Schwertner, the Republican senator who sponsored the bill.
Maybe if the Swiss Army Knife is as effective as Judge Benitez says, the gun control folks should concentrate on limiting its availability. But, then again, it wasn’t designed to kill dozens of people in a matter of minutes. If it were, it probably would have been invented by the Borgias.