Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Or you could have just taken away the bullets

I have all sorts of problems with this Atlantic piece [How Mars Will Be Policed by Geoff Manaugh] but before I get into those big complaints, there is a smaller point that bothers me.
When I asked Kim Stanley Robinson—whose award-winning Mars Trilogy imagines the human settlement of the Red Planet in extraordinary detail—about the future of police activity on Mars, he responded with a story. In the 1980s, he told me, a team from the National Science Foundation was sent to a research base in Antarctica with a single handgun for the entire crew. The gun was intended as a tool of last resort, for only the most dire of emergencies, but the scientists felt its potential for abuse was too serious to remain unchecked. According to Robinson, they dismantled the gun into three constituent parts and stored each piece with a different caretaker. That way, if someone got drunk and flew into a rage, or simply cracked under the loneliness and pressure, there would be no realistic scenario in which anyone could collect the separate pieces, reassemble the gun, load it, and begin holding people hostage (or worse).

First off, I wonder if this really happen. It's told in an apocryphal, urban-legend style that makes me somewhat skeptical. More to the point, I'm trying to think of what dire emergency which was likely to occur in an Antarctic research base would require a gun of any kind. It's hard to imagine what external threats they might have been worried about and the "let's have a gun around in case someone goes crazy" theory has one of those flaws that you'd like to think smart people would catch in the planning stage.

If it didn't happen, there is an obvious problem with it being presented as fact, but if it did happen, there is almost as great a problem with the lack of identifying information or collaborating detail. Has anyone out there heard this story before?

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