Last week, in the immediate aftermath of the deadliest mass shooting in modern history, Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.) went on television and defended civilian ownership of the AR-15, a military-style assault rifle that the Las Vegas shooter used to kill 59 people and injure more than 500. Cole—one of many Republican Congressmen who, not coincidentally, has received thousands of dollars from the National Rifle Association—argued that the weapon is not dangerous “when used appropriately.”
During U.S. Army basic training, I was taught the appropriate use of the M-16, the military’s fully automatic version of the semi-automatic AR-15. I distinctly recall the description that the other trainees and I received of what the bullets our weapons fired were capable of doing to the human body.
“This is a high-velocity round that is often referred to as a ‘tumbler,'” said the sergeant instructing us. “The reason we call it that is, when it enters the target, it ricochets off bones and tumbles around inside the body, fragmenting and tearing up soft tissue and internal organs.”
By the end of my M-16 training, I was able to plant one of those bullets in a human-shaped target 300 meters away.
It is with all of that in mind that I would like to clarify for Mr. Cole and his NRA-friendly Republican colleagues the following: The dictionary defines the word “dangerous” as “able or likely to cause harm or injury.” When “used appropriately,” the AR-15 is both able and likely to inflict catastrophic, often fatal injury upon human beings, and is specifically designed to do so even in situations where those human beings are located a significant distance away from the shooter. It is, by definition, nothing but “dangerous.”
In further parsing Mr. Cole’s remarks, let us turn to his use of the word “appropriately,” which the dictionary defines as “in a manner that is suitable or proper under the circumstances.”
A standard-equipped AR-15 allows the shooter to fire 30 rounds before pausing to reload—a feature that made it extremely easy for the Sandy Hook murderer to mow down 20 children and six adults in an elementary school.
As if that volume of uninterrupted fire isn’t more than enough for any peacetime situation, one can significantly increase that number by equipping the weapon with a high-capacity magazine such as the 100-round drum that fed the AR-15 with which the Aurora, Colorado murderer executed a dozen people and injured 70 more.
That same standard-equipped AR-15 is capable of firing one round per trigger pull. However, as most of America has learned in the wake of the Las Vegas massacre, the addition of a “bump stock” enables a shooter to fire every available round in the weapon’s feeding mechanism with just one active trigger pull.
The Las Vegas murderer was armed with multiple AR-15s, a dozen of which were equipped with bump stocks that made it possible for him to empty into a crowd some 32 stories below 100 bullets at a time with essentially a single squeeze of the trigger.
It is unfathomable to me that we live in a country where a civilian was able to legally amass an arsenal that enabled him to execute 59 people and injure more than 500 others from the comfort of his hotel room a third of a mile away. There is nothing “suitable or proper” in that equation. The only circumstances under which it is “suitable or proper” for someone to have a cache of weapons capable of causing that much carnage are:
1.) Military combat.
2.) Military combat.
3.) See numbers 1 & 2 above.
Of course, what Mr. Cole most likely was trying to say is that the AR-15 is not “spontaneously lethal when handled safely”—a distinction that in no way justifies civilian access to the kind of firepower I’ve just described, but one that does highlight perhaps the most frightening aspect of gun ownership in America.
Before ever setting foot on a firing range and using live ammunition, I spent hours learning how to safely handle and care for my M-16. Gun safety was hammered into my brain by Army drill sergeants, and when finally I did fire live ammo down range, I was closely supervised by those same drill sergeants and additional firing-range instructors. I received similarly rigorous military and law-enforcement training with the Beretta M9 and Colt M1911 handguns, the latter of which I carried as my duty weapon while serving as a Military Police K-9 Handler.
By contrast, American civilians are allowed to stockpile an unlimited number of firearms with which they may never have received a minute of professional training or instruction. In fact, it is possible for residents in 26 states to carry a concealed weapon that they’ve never actually handled other than to load it and strap it to their body.
No, seriously: There’s a $19 Groupon available right now for an “Online Multi-State Concealed-Carry Course,” which the vendor describes as a “hassle-free, 45- to 60-minute virtual course” that “lets people meet the requirements” for a concealed-carry weapons permit “without ever leaving their computer.” It goes on to say that “each state allows permit applicants to be trained in firearms safety without once firing a handgun.”
Yes, that’s right: The Average Joe/Average Jane “Good Guy with a Gun” whom NRA frontman Wayne LaPierre says is the only thing that can stop a “Bad Guy with a Gun” quite likely has never even fired theirs before, let alone received extensive training on how to, say, scan the bad guy’s backdrop in order to avoid wounding or killing you, me or some other innocent bystander.
There is a gun problem in this country. As a former soldier and military policeman, I am appalled that the kind of weaponry I’ve described above is available to the general public, and I am terrified that they are able to obtain and wield it without any formal training and very little oversight.
We need common-sense gun laws to correct this insane, out-of-control situation—and the only reason Congress has not yet enacted such laws is that Tom Cole and his Republican colleagues are in the pocket of Wayne LaPierre and the NRA. Their failure to respond “appropriately” and act in the public’s best interest is, by definition, “dangerous.”