On Valentines’s Day a 19-year-old man murdered 17 students and staff at a high school in Parkland, Florida with an AR-15 (ArmaLite) style rifle, which he apparently obtained legally. As of this writing, the size of the bullet magazine(s) involved has not been released, but clips containing from 5 to 60 rounds of ammunition (and even a 100-round drum), can be obtained for the type of rifle used, with a 30-round clip being the most common. Florida is not one of the eight states that limits magazine size, so regardless what capacity boxes the shooter used, they were apparently legal as well. AR-15 style rifles are classified as semi-automatic because while an ammunition magazine can reload the gun automatically, each firing of the gun requires an actual pull and release of the trigger.
Within hours of confirmation of the tragedy, politicians went to their corners. A handful of liberal law makers called for stricter gun laws and nearly every conservative law-maker sent thoughts and prayers with reminders that “this is not the time to discuss gun control”, once again engaging in what appears to be our new favorite national pastime: Shoot, Bury, Repeat.
The initial responses were followed by the usual avalanche of commentary from all sides. One example that caught my attention appeared on ABC’s The View on friday. The panel included Meghan McCain, daughter of Senator John McCain. I don’t share many political opinions with either McCain, but I appreciate that they are usually measured and thoughtful in their remarks. Meghan’s school shooting remarks made to her fellow hosts were also measured and thoughtful, or at least well-intended. She began by reaffirming that she is a proud member of the NRA. She then correctly pointed out that Democrats bear some responsibility for the current gun laws as they did nothing to re-enact the 1994 Assault Weapons Ban that expired in 2004, even though they controlled the White House and both chambers of Congress in 2009 and 2010. And if you’re wondering if those two years represented a slow killing season, thus making re-enactment of the statute a low priority, 155 Americans–excluding gunmen–were killed in mass shootings from Jan 2009 through Oct 2010 (though not all of the incidents involved semi-automatic weapons).
But Meghan went on to say “For me, I’m like, ‘OK we can talk about assault weapons’ — that being said, I know people who own them that obviously aren’t mass murderers, they’re hunters…”
I want to be careful here. My immediate inclination is to believe that men (or women), who stalk animals in the wild and use semi-automatic weapons to kill them are not hunters, but butchers. My personal hunting experience has been limited to that of quail and deer. While I’m sure that killing either of those creatures could be achieved using a rapid-fire gun, I seem to remember that you use a shotgun for birds and that you don’t humanely take down a deer by spraying its body with bullets. If any readers can correct me or add to my understanding, please do. Regardless, I do not believe that preserving the preferential tool of recreational game hunters is more important than limiting the tools of those who hunt other men.
Meghan went on to say that many gun rights advocates are resistant to any prohibitions relating to fire arms for the same reason that Pro-Choice advocates resist any restriction to abortion—the infamous slippery slope. While not all Pro-Choice supporters resist ANY restriction to abortion nor all gun rights supporters resist ANY gun restriction, a valid comparison of those two issues would necessitate agreement on the definition of human life. Regardless of how one views a fetus, all Americans will agree that the 17 beings who lost their lives last Wednesday (or the 58 in Las Vegas, or the 49 in Orlando or the 27 in Newtown, or the 26 in Sutherland Springs, et cetera, et cetera, on and on) were human beings. The core argument in the abortion issue, though, has revolved around a disagreement as to when human life begins, so it’s not exactly an apples-to-apples political analogy. However, Meghan’s juxtaposition of those two fights got me thinking. I’m sure that contrary to stereotypical belief not all anti-abortion advocates are pro-gun rights crusaders (and for those that are, I encourage them to rethink their position). But what if all of the folk claiming to be ProLife who work so hard to protect innocent unborn life worked equally as hard to protect innocent already born life?
David Brooks opined in the New York Times yesterday that to make real progress, gun control advocates need to start respecting gun rights advocates because they believe “snobbish elites look down on their morals and want to destroy their culture.” His piece goes on to introduce a team that’s trying to bridge the great American divide, which I applaud. I have aspirations of becoming a peacemaker someday myself, but I would be more inclined to embrace sensitivity training once there are no longer children bleeding-out on the gymnasium floor. I acknowledge that we must not use too broad a brush to paint those with differing opinions. I get that we should strive to find commonality in order for our society to function at its best, but I have mistakenly assumed that the freedom to go to class (or to church, or to the movies or to a concert or even to just walk down the street), without the fear of being shot was something all American’s shared. And I don’t see how “from my cold, dead hands” implies any wiggle room in the discussion for solutions.
I am admittedly one of those Earthly inhabitants who wishes there were no guns at all. In my world hunters would have to rely on the single-shot spears or arrows of their ancestors. Global conflicts would be resolved by hand-to-hand combat between the leaders of the quarreling countries (which, by the way, might certainly have caused some 2016 voters to rethink their decision). I am a dreamer, but I’m not an idiot. I know the world is full of bad actors and that we as a species want to protect ourselves and our property, which can be physically threatened. Also, you will find no greater fan of the Constitution than I, with its warts and all (and I won’t use space here to argue that the second amendment can be read a couple of different ways). I know there are citizens who can only sleep at night knowing there’s a pistol within reach to thwart any midnight intruder. I know there are folk who not only enjoy, but may actually subsist on, the killing of wild animals and that they require a rifle to do so. I am not advocating that every firearm be collected and destroyed, just that the weapons with most multi-victim lethality be restricted to our military and police forces.
To be more specific, I want the expired ban on assault weapons not only revived, but also re-worked (the original statute had more holes than a shooting range target). I want a single, comprehensive gun safety law. It should not only specifically ban the sale or ownership of any semi-automatic rifle, but also any device or accessory that could make it so. It should limit the size of ammunition magazines for unprohibited guns to 10 rounds. A dear reader and great blogger quoted a friend in one of her recent post (which I encourage you to read, I’ve Been Around Awhile…) that included some of his ideas for restrictions, including “…prohibit clips of more than 10 rounds for home defense. If you can’t take down a home intruder with 10 shots, best you throw the gun at ’em and try to bite ’em to death.”
The law should require a buyer to pass a comprehensive, universal background check prior to ANY sale of ANY gun, the designation of clearly defined mental illness issues or inclusion on the federal No Fly List causing an immediate (but appealable) fail. The law should include guidelines for agencies (yes, i.e. the FBI), to enforce and investigate reports of violations and/or suspicious behavior related to threats of gun violence. The new legislation should also mimic Australia’s tremendously successful edict which included a government buyback program for all of the items being prohibited. Would that be expensive? Yes, but the price of failing to act for all of these years has naturally produced some inflationary tariffs (that might be partially offset by an assessment made on the NRA and gun manufacturers). Also, I don’t think it will seem like so much money if you break it down by cost-per-corpse.
But what about that group of western ranchers who believe that we are still living under the principle of Manifest Destiny or those “religious” paramilitary militias who believe that David Koresh was wronged? They will argue that their “midnight intruder” will be the well-armed law. Those folk have legitimate concerns for their safety, but their best protection would be to obey the laws that the rest of us have agreed upon until they can figure out a way to change them. Otherwise, they will need to become proficient with the wrist rocket.
Am I going to get what I want? It seems doubtful. But I do feel that something is about to happen. I feel that maybe the tragedy in Florida pushed us to a tipping point. I feel that the children who experienced and survived the horrific event have been prematurely thrust into adulthood, but having been so with the energy of youth, conviction based on real world experience, a lack of political allegiances and perhaps most importantly, unlimited access to social media. But let’s not abandon them. We can’t leave it to them alone. Make sure you echo and amplify their calls in a loud and coherent way. Maybe this time we can at least interrupt the Shoot, Bury and Repeat loop.