Earlier this fall, I noticed a facebook post from one of the students that my daughter had in her first year of teaching kindergarten. The young lady is a senior in high school now and was posting to ask if my daughter could find the time to come to her graduation next spring. I remember that my daughter said that nothing could keep her away. Then she added, “Wow, one of my first students has invited me to her graduation. That makes me feel old.” I remember thinking that it shouldn’t make her feel old; it should make her feel loved and respected.
I found myself revisiting that post over and over in my mind as I followed the news about the school shootings in Newtown Connecticut yesterday. It really hit home when I saw the photo of Victoria Soto, the hero teacher who gave her life to hide and protect her students. She looks very much like one of my daughter’s friends who is also an elementary school teacher. It was a long time before I was able to break away from that photo. That could have been my daughter’s school and it might have been her standing between a deranged gunman and a closet full of frightened children. That’s a time when living even a state away from your child seems like much too far.
Before I go any further, I want to set the stage for what I’m going to say. I grew up in western Pennsylvania and anyone who has ever lived there will attest that guns and hunting are buried deeply in the traditions of that portion of our country. I latched on to those traditions early and by the time that I was ten I knew how to safely shoot a rifle and shotgun. I started hunting when I was twelve. When I was fourteen and able to hunt by myself, I spent every spare minute I had in the autumn months hunting in the woods. I respect the sport of hunting and I respect the other legitimate sporting and competitive uses of firearms. With some reservation, I even respect the right of citizens to own a firearm, be it a rifle, shotgun or handgun, for personal protection. What I don’t support, what I can’t understand, is the need that most factions of the pro-gun lobby have to support the private ownership of assault weapons.
Yes, I know the arguments. First, the NRA folks will say that any weapon can be used to assault someone. That’s semantics. Any legal description that uses the term “assault weapon” is specifically referring to automatic or semi-automatic rifles, pistols and shotguns that have detachable magazines and one or two additional identifying common characteristics. The morons that try this argument typically have trouble spelling the word assault. The main weapon used by the shooter in Newtown was a Bushmaster 223, an AR15 variant. While this civilian design is semi-automatic, I can tell you as a machinist and engineer that converting it to fully automatic operation, while illegal, is painfully easy. However, I will add that there is no evidence at this time that the Newtown weapon was modified.
The second argument is that a comprehensive ban on such weapons is the first step towards banning legitimate sporting firearms and guns needed for personal protection. This is where the pro-gun lobbyists trot out the Second Amendment to our Constitution. Let’s look at that.
The Second Amendment reads, “A well-regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.” That’s a short sentence filled with just enough ambiguity to tie our nation up in knots. A blog post isn’t the place to dissect or discern the true meaning of those twenty-seven words, so I’m just going to go with the interpretation that the pro-gun folks like to use, that being…you can’t prevent a citizen from owning a gun.
Alright, but society should be able to limit the type of gun he can own. There has been two-hundred and twenty-five years of technological improvements since the Constitution’s ratification. The drafters of the Constitution couldn’t possibly have imagined what effect those improvements would have on weaponry. While no one can say for sure, you have to wonder if they would have used the same prose had they known that there were weapons in their future that could fire thirty rounds from one clip in less than a minute. Would they reconsider if they knew that such a weapon would someday be used to kill twenty children in a Connecticut school?
I can remember asking my step dad once, “Why can’t my rifle hold more than five rounds?” His reply was, “If you need more than five bullets to bring down a deer, then the deer deserves to get away.” He was right. Any type of shooting should be a precision sport. Someone who gets a rush from emptying a thirty round clip in forty-five seconds isn’t looking for a precision sport; they just like to see things destroyed. That’s precisely the type of person who shouldn’t have access to an assault weapon. So, explain the need to me.
There are legitimate concerns about gun control from all sides and the proper direction isn’t going to be easy to find. But I know this, nothing is going to happen until our lawmakers grow a pair and decide to address the problem. They can begin by telling the NRA that the safety and well being of our citizens is more important than the right to own a weapon that has no reasonable function in sport or competition. Then they can sit down at the table and hammer out an effective solution. They have an obligation to do that. They owe it to the parents, brothers, sisters, grandparents and spouses of everyone ever killed in a mass shooting. They owe it to the victims in those shootings. They owe it to the babies in Newtown. They were babies.