I realize many well-meaning, intelligent people don't understand why someone would want an assault rifle. The reasons why gun aficionados like these life safety tools are numerous, but they are not complex.
First, some facts. Shootings like the recent one in Colorado predictably bring on:
- A call for gun control, and
- An increase in gun sales, stemming from a) a fear that another mass shooting might occur, and b) that politicians, ever so willing to curtail some one's rights in order to get re-elected, will implement more gun control laws.
So what possible legitimate purposes would an assault rifle have?
A number of knowledgeable gun writers have addressed this over the years, including Hsoi with his usual engineer-like precision and the good Rabbi Dovid Bendory with his succinct top five reasons why such rifles and high capacity magazines make for good public policy and citizenship. I will attempt to add a few thoughts to the exhaustive work already done on this subject.
- Assault rifles provide options that help save lives. With such a platform, a shooter can add flashlights, laser devices, optics, and hand grips to help make more precise and accurate shots. When you increase shot precision and accuracy, you decrease the likelihood of errant shots and collateral damage.
- Assault rifles come in calibers which make the "one shot stop" realistic. Despite what you see on television or movies, handguns are not as lethal as you might think. They are certainly dangerous and unforgiving of any negligent use. But the survival rate of a gunshot wound from a handgun caliber round, in an area where trauma care at a hospital can be provided relatively quickly, is quite remarkable. Tom Givens at Rangemaster in Memphis provided statistics once that (and please forgive me, I am doing this from memory and thus my numbers may be off by a bit, but not much) in 2010, there were roughly 160 gun deaths in Shelby County, Tennessee, while there were over 7,000 patients treated for gun shot wounds that same year in the county. If we assume most of those 7,000 people were shot with a handgun (which I think is a safe assumption), we can deduce that stopping someone with a handgun with just one shot isn't realistic. If I can stop the threat with one shot instead of several, everyone around me is better off for it.
- And so if rifle ammunition used in assault rifles, such as the .223 caliber round used in an AR-15, is so lethal, then doesn't that make the point that such ammunition should be banned? Um, no. After all, hunting ammunition - which many, many, many gun control advocates swear up and down they would NEVER try to restrict - often comes in calibers that much larger and far more powerful than .223. If you were to ban .223 ammo, the nut job bent on shooting a place up with an assault rifle will step up to the AK-47 and its 7.62 mm round. Want to take those away, too? The next stop is likely the AR-10, which fires a .308 caliber round - a very popular hunting rifle caliber, by the way. It just goes up from there.
- "But Paul - people are dying from these assault rifles. We must do something about them!" Um, again, no. Even the New York Times reported upon the expiration of the Clinton assault weapon ban that "a study for the National Institute of Justice said that it could not 'clearly credit the ban with any of the nation's recent drop in gun violence.'" Even a writer at the Huffington Post - not exactly a front for Glenn Beck - concedes "Single-victim gun killings have dropped more than 40 percent since 1980, according to 2010 FBI crime data. But the total number of people dying in attacks that claimed four or more victims has climbed from an average of 161 a year in the 1980s to 163 between 2006 and 2008, according to FBI statistics." Put another way, as our population as grown from the 1980s, the number of mass murders has decreased as a percentage of the population. It's hard to call this an epidemic by any objective measure.
- Finally, we should remember the purpose of the Second Amendment. The Second Amendment isn't about hunting. It's about protecting ourselves from a tyrannical government and from foreign invaders. Many will scoff at this notion, claiming that the armed citizen is no match for today's modern militaries. Yet our conflicts in Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan prove that despite the best efforts of the wonderful men and women who serve our country, a few guys with assault rifles can make the task of conquering another country most difficult, if not impossible.
First, it should come as no surprise that such tragic events tend to occur in - wait for it - gun free zones. Schools (no guns allowed), colleges (no guns allowed), movie theaters (the one in Aurora had a no guns policy) all constitute soft targets. Note we never hear of someone going nuts in a gun store. Probably because everyone who works there is armed. Many will no doubt disagree with this approach, despite the fact there is a growing body of research to support the notion that more guns equals less crime.
Second, we should begin prosecuting people who violate gun laws. You read that correctly. The failure to prosecute these people isn't a new phenomenon.
Finally, when we see people we know who appear to be in some sort of mental duress, we need to be demonstrating love and compassion for them. How many warning signs did the alleged shooter demonstrate before hurting so many people? Did anyone ask him how he was doing in the days leading up to the shooting? Did anyone care to do so? We can do so much for so many simply by asking them how they are doing.
One other note - regardless of whether you're a gun advocate like me or if you think they should all be confiscated - do us all a favor. Take a few moments to educate yourself on the other side's arguments. Gun control advocates might learn there's objective data and sound logic backing up our position. Gun rights advocates might learn how to better articulate the benefits of high capacity magazines, adjustable stocks and pistol grips on rifles. Take someone who hasn't ever shot an AR or AK to the range the next time you go. Help take the mystery out of the unknown.