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It's People Who Kill People... With Guns
By Bill Andrews
It seems that most of us can sensibly debate issues without coming to physical or rhetorical blows unless, that is, the subject is gun control. Then it is as if we all suddenly chug down a liter of undiluted lunacy before opening our mouths. Of course, guns don't kill people. People kill people ... but they do it with guns. A firearm is the most efficient way to kill. Military grade weapons, both automatic and semi-automatic, are the most effective of firearms in snuffing out lives quickly and indiscriminately.
I should preface this piece by admitting that I am a gun enthusiast, a gun owner-collector, a gun-show patron, and a competitive shooter. In basic training, I was the best shot in my company with the M-14 on the rifle range and before leaving for Vietnam I qualified as an "expert" in firing the M-16. Because I have so long been around firearms, I respect their power to entertain us, to connect us to the natural world, and to put food on our tables. I also understand their power to threaten public safety and the lives of children.
Any deer hunter who requires a thirty-round magazine to bag a buck is not only a danger to himself but a threat to anyone within a mile of his stand. Any parent who thinks he needs an assault rifle with a high capacity magazine to stop a home intruder needs to take his weapon into the woods and fire a round into an 8x8" square block of pinewood to appreciate how powerless drywall and 2x4's are in curtailing the lethality of his weapon. The collateral damage could be a loved one in a remote room in the home.
The AR-15 .223 Bushmaster used by Adam Lanza to murder twenty children in Newtown is essentially the same weapon that I used in Vietnam. Although we could fire the .223 M-16 on full-automatic or in short bursts, we seldom did because such would compromise accuracy and expended ammo rapidly. We used twenty-round magazines in a war zone and Adam Lanza used thirty-round magazines in an elementary school.
I personally found it too difficult to watch the news from Newtown, especially when portraits of the children began to air. After forty-four years, I still can't expunge from memory the image of the enemy dead along our perimeter and the impact of .223 rounds on flesh, bone and muscle. I wished not to think of the wounds that forensic experts would have found on the bodies of six-year-olds.
Gun sales have been through the roof this holiday season because of the fear that the mass killings in Newtown will prompt stronger gun-control laws. I'm not worried because I don't have an assault weapon and I don't feel that I need one. I might feel differently were I a militiaman plotting to overthrow the government, a neo-Confederate embracing a new secession, a neo-Nazi awaiting a race war, a xenophobe frightened by people with accents, an antisocial paranoid off his medication, or a survivalist anticipating some apocalyptic convulsion of civil society.
As a grandparent with children often in our home, I keep my rifles and handguns disassembled, dispersed, locked up, and separated from ammo. I'm much more concerned about the safety of innocents within the home than the machinations of monsters outside. Military-grade assault weapons and magazines on our streets and in our homes pose the greatest threat. I have to disagree with the AK-47 enthusiast who says that the freedom to own and the fun of firing his assault weapon on his farm are worth the lives lost each year to guns.
I would like Congress to fulfill its constitutionally mandated responsibility to protect the public welfare. To resurrect and strengthen the expired ban on assault weapons is no more a threat to the Second Amendment than restricting access of children to pornography is a threat to the First Amendment, or institutionalizing the criminally insane is a threat to the Fifth Amendment. Common sense tells us that we endanger ourselves to have weapons of war on our streets. If we can restrict access to Singer missiles, 105mm howitzers, and RPGs, then it frankly doesn't seem that radical to restrict access to assault weapons.
Wayne LaPierre of the NRA blames violent games and movies for the tragedy in Newtown. Progressives blame the lobbying power of the NRA. The ATF blames the Second Amendment. Religious leaders blame moral laxity. Mental health experts blame inadequate funding for treatment of mental illness, a condition that is not always static. A law-abiding citizen with access to an AK-47 or an AR-15 could snap over a divorce, the loss of a job, or some other unanticipated life-altering event.
Any realistic solution to the problem of gun violence in our country will require the commitment of many interest groups working together. It will require an intelligence, a resourcefulness, and a resolve that have been conspicuously lacking in our leaders. It would also help if the lunatic fringe on both ends of the issue could take some anger management courses. Guns are not going to go away because the Second Amendment is sacrosanct. We can, however, consider getting assault rifles and extended magazines off the streets by tougher laws, better enforcement, a national data base, buy-back programs, and numerous other stratagems. The problem is that we're all shouting so loud that we can't hear the common-sense proposals that are realistically achievable.
This column first appeared in the Columbia Daily Herald and the Nashville Tennessean in January 2013 and is reprinted with permission of the author.
Bill Andrews is a retired college history professor and a Vietnam Vet (165th Combat Aviation Group of the 1st Aviation Brigade — Long Binh 1969).