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Citizens Don’t Need AR-15s

“There’s an inner thing in every man, do you know this thing my friend?”

In the words of Bobby Sands, who died from a hunger strike protesting British rule over Ireland in 1981, It is “‘the undauntable thought,’ my friend, that thought that says ‘I’m right!'” which is the thing that motivates our schoolchildren protesting for changes to gun control legislation throughout this nation. It is the thing that says “never again” and rages from Sandy Hook to Virginia Tech, from San Bernardino to Orlando, from Las Vegas to Parkland.

I am teaching a class on political imprisonment this semester where we discuss prisoners of conscience, political prisoners and exiles. We consider civil disobedience as advocated by Thoreau and the hunger strike as memorialized by Yeats. Soon we will discuss the student protests happening now. My own students ask me questions like: Are we not all prisoners of conscience in this environment of political strife? Are we not all morally inclined to resist the tides of bad government which wash over us? How do we?

I don’t know how to answer them.

While listening to the radio this past week, I heard a father wondering how to answer his son who had asked him, “Daddy, what is a better plan, to run or to hide?” during a school shooting. He never expected a question like that from his young son. I am also at a loss to respond to such a question from my daughter, a sophomore in high school. What does one say? They’re children, not soldiers. Nor are their teachers.

When my daughter asked for permission to participate in a nationwide school walkout, I gave it. Because of Bobby Sands. Because of Thoreau and Yeats. Because of that inner thing. This will be her first experience with civil disobedience, and I applaud her and her fellow students taking part. They are struggling to make their young voices heard in the best way they can and looking to us for answers but finding few.

We find only that good men with guns die just as badly as good men without guns when it comes to high-velocity rounds. There will be no Cool Hand Luke or Wyatt Earp teachers protecting our children in schools around America. Concealed handguns are simply no match against incoming high-velocity rifle fire. As reported by Wired in 2016, “The bullet from a handgun is … slow compared to that from an AR-15. It can be stopped by the thick bone of the upper leg … The bullet from an AR-15 does an entirely different kind of violence to the human body. It’s relatively small, but it leaves the muzzle at three times the speed of a handgun bullet.”

It fires rounds at three times the speed of a handgun because the AR-15 rifle was designed to kill people. And like other machines, it has evolved to do its job quickly and effectively. A 1981 article in The Atlantic cited a study by the Defense Department’s Advanced Research Projects Agency regarding the AR-15 for the U.S. military: “Taking into account the greater lethality of the AR-15 rifle and improvements in accuracy and rate of fire in this weapon since 1959, in overall squad kill potential the AR-15 rifle is up to 5 times as effective as the M-14 rifle.” It is a rifle intended for warfare, not for “sporting”.

This is not a question of banning all guns, as those designed for home protection and hunting for food are valuable tools. My fellow veterans who own high-velocity rifles like the AR-15, you do not need them. If you want to protect your home, buy a shotgun. If you want to be ready for the hypothetical overthrow of tyranny, you already are. You will obtain sufficient weaponry as did every other revolutionary since the beginning of time. Those civilians who purchase them because you want to play Army, just stop. If you wanted to play soldier, you should have enlisted.

I am no bleeding heart or shrinking violet or commie or “snowflake.” I served on a military police team in Baghdad before returning home to work as a civilian police officer. I am intimately acquainted with both weapons of war and weapons used to maintain the peace. I have no issue with qualified law enforcement officers carrying high-velocity weapons as a last defense against the same high-velocity weapons. I have no issue with our National Guard armories stocking such weapons for use by our modern Minutemen in times of war.

A friend of mine is a researcher and a journalist in Mexico City who studies drug cartels and homegrown militias. On occasion when he sends me photos of weapons, we discover that many of them are AR-15s. Both he and I can attest that the men carrying these rifles are not using them for “civilian sporting” purposes. The armed actors in Mexico do not carry bolt-action Winchester rifles and Benelli shotguns for hunting deer and ducks. They carry AR-15s – weapons of choice capable of greater wound destruction – for hunting men.

It is long past time in this country that we listen to that “inner thing.” There is no place for high-velocity weaponry in the hands of the citizenry. No number of lengthy oratories by National Rifle Association leadership and pandering politicians will ever justify the deaths this nation has already endured. “Every Marine a Rifleman” is an adage for Marines, not for civilians. We are no longer under the oppressive rule of a foreign king, and it is folly to think that by keeping civilians from such weapons that we risk our republic. We risk nothing more than offending the bloated gun lobby in Washington. But by doing nothing, we continue to risk our children’s lives.

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