In just three mass shootings – Aurora, Sandy Hook and San Bernardino – the final toll is 147 killed and wounded. Think about that number: 147. That’s three busloads of human beings, two completely-full Amtrak passenger cars. The New York Times, in an unprecedented front-page editorial, is calling it a “moral outrage and national disgrace.” The purpose of this column is to explain why I agree with them and why, if anything, the editorial board’s call for a ban on civilian ownership of assault weapons deserves to be supported in the strongest possible terms.
The gun industry has been promoting the sale of assault rifles for the last twenty years by advancing a big, fat lie; namely, that assault rifles are just another type of ‘sporting’ weapon which is no more dangerous than the old Remington or Winchester that Grandpa and then Dad used to lug out to the woods. Until the 1960s, just about all sporting rifles loaded ammunition by the manual use of a bolt or lever, both of which considerably slowed the speed at which the gun could be reloaded and shot each time. When semi-automatic sporting rifles began to be introduced in large numbers, the speed at which the gun could be reloaded increased, but the standard semi-auto hunting rifle, like the Remington 700 series, still only held 4 or 5 rounds.
What makes the AR-style rifle so different, so lethal, and so non-sporting is not the fact that it looks like a military gun (which it is); not the fact that it might be fitted with a laser which makes it extremely accurate, particularly in indoor, low light; not the fact that the stock can be folded so that the gun can be easily carried or even concealed; not even the fact that the front barrel lug can also be fitted with a bayonet, just in case a little extra oomph is needed to finish the job.
No, what makes the assault rifle an assault rifle and not a sporting rifle is one thing and one thing only, namely, that it fires ammunition specifically designed to kill or maim military combatants (who happen to be humans, not sporting animals) and it can easily deliver 50 or 60 high-powered rounds in 30 seconds or less. This is not to say that mass shootings involving scores of victims can only be accomplished with an AR; in fact, Seung-Hui Cho killed and wounded 56 people at Virginia Tech in 2007 using a Glock 19. But Cho’s attacks were spread over more than three hours; Adam Lanza killed 26 with an AR in an assault that didn’t last ten minutes. Better coordination and communication might have saved many lives at Virginia Tech; in San Bernardino the carnage was over in five minutes or less.
What the Times calls a moral outrage and national disgrace is more than that; the ability of private citizens to get their hands on these highly-lethal weapons fitted out with high-capacity magazines is a risk to the nation’s health. When two cases of Ebola occurred in the same hospital where a patient stricken with the virus had previously died, it wouldn’t have taken more than one or two more confirmed cases and the city of Dallas would have ceased to exist. But the risk was recognized by the CDC and the threat was quickly brought to an end.
I am suggesting that the same situation now exists in the United States as regards the ownership and use of AR-15s. How many more senseless slaughters are we going to endure while politicians dither around and pretend that they are truly concerned about 2nd Amendment rights? The Constitution wisely gives government the right to institute comprehensive public health measures when the health of an entire community is put at risk. If 147 dead and injured human beings in just three assaults with AR rifles doesn’t constitute a risk, then let’s save the taxpayers some money and close down the CDC.