In the autumn of 1969, just as soon as my basic training company had learned to disassemble, clean, re-assemble and fire the U.S. Army’s M-14 battle rifle, the Army decided to accelerate its replacement with the new M-16 assault rifle. As a result, we quickly learned to disassemble, clean, re-assemble and fire the M-16.
The M-16 had many advantages over the heavy M-14, most of them relating to its effectiveness in killing or wounding people in combat situations. The Geneva Convention outlaws unjacketed bullets, which blow apart on impact, causing grisly injuries. With the M-16, and other assault rifles like the iconic Soviet AK-47, weapon manufacturers and their customers got around the restriction by decreasing the bullet size but increasing the velocity to the point where bullets began to tumble when they hit a soft target, causing as much or more damage as their slower but larger predecessors. The lighter weight and smaller size made it possible to pack more rounds into the magazine. With a single pull of the trigger it was possible to mow down a whole field full of Viet Cong suspects.
Or a school room full of children.
One of the trade-offs was a reduction in the assault rifle’s effective range to 400 meters (two thirds of a block). That’s not a problem if you’re a mass murderer. In civilian settings, school yards, malls, festivals, night clubs and churches are well within 400 meters.
The Las Vegas shooter, who killed 58 people and injured 851, had a wide array of assault rifles (fourteen AR-15 rifles, twelve of which had bump stocks and 100-round magazines, eight AR-10 rifles, as well as a bolt action rifle and a pistol). It appears that he conducted his own field trials, shooting several magazines from each different weapon in his killing spree. I wonder, did he submitt field trial notes to the NRA before he shot himself?
According to the NRA, “from 1986 to 2007, at least 1,626,525 AR-15-style semi-automatic rifles” were manufactured in the US. I would guess that number has gone up since then.
Gun advocates claim that the staggering levels of gun ownership in the United States make it a safer society. The facts don’t bear them out. Around the world the rates of gun violence are directly correlated to the rates of gun ownership.
According to Wikipedia: “Compared to 22 other high-income nations, the U.S. gun-related murder rate is 25 times higher. Although it has half the population of the other 22 nations combined, the U.S. had 82 percent of all gun deaths, 90 percent of all women killed with guns, 91 percent of children under 14 and 92 percent of young people between ages 15 and 24 killed with guns.”
The main argument for widespread gun ownership is wording in the Second Amendment to the Constitution that cites the need for a well-regulated militia as a defense against tyranny.
The last election confirmed the need for a capability to overthrow oppressive governments resorting to the bullet box when the ballot box of democracy is hijacked by oppressors. But that’s not going to happen with the pea shooters used in suicides and domestic gun violence or the assault rifles used in mass killings. The last time we overthrew an oppressive government we did it with sniper rifles from behind trees.
The surreality of some people’s concept of a well-regulated militia is betrayed by our military’s refusal to forward information to civilian authorities on the mentally unstable, highly trained in the ways of killing, hard cases that they have been discharging into the civilian population. It’s anybody’s guess how many of the recent massacres could have been prevented if our military had abided by the law.
A well-regulated militia would own one or two weapons per member, not the eight guns the Washington Post estimated every gun owner in the United States owned in 2015. Also, a well-regulated militia is probably difficult to regulate without turning into the private armies that characterize much of the Third World.
Mass killings are only different from everyday gun deaths in the relatively small numbers involved. They are not an existential threat to our society, though an interesting article in the New Yorker made the point that many gun owners put an alarming amount of existential meaning into their guns.
Mass killing are only the tip of the iceberg. Suicide and domestic violence using guns kill many more Americans. In 2016 guns killed 36,658 Americans. Additionally, about twice that number were injured by guns.
The problem of gun violence is essentially a political problem. Up till now the contributions from the gun lobby to our elected representatives have drowned out the voices of voters and victims of gun violence. Politicians in the pay of the gun lobby attempt to appear even-handed by saying things like “we need to study the data before making a hasty decision,” and “all options are on the table” knowing that as far as their paymasters are concerned, there will never be enough data and that no options are really on the table.
It’s been done before. In 1994 Congress passed and President Clinton signed a prohibition against the sale of assault rifles. The law was unsuccessfully challenged in court, but expired in 2004 due to sunset provisions.
We need to decide: What is reasonable gun control? Other countries around the world manage to be safe from gun violence yet allow gun ownership with reasonable limits.
We don’t want to strike down the Second Amendment. Such a Quixotic quest will lead us nowhere. We just want to be true to the founding fathers’ intention of allowing citizens the ability to overthrow oppressors.
John deJong is CATALYST’s associate publisher.
The problem of gun violence is essentially a political problem. Up till now, the contributions from the gun lobby to our elected representatives have drowned out the voices of voters and victims of gun violence.