Monday, December 7, 2015

Mass Murderers Keep Using Assault Rifles. Where Are Americans Using Assault Rifles for Protection? (Answer: Nowhere.)

as·sault ri·fle
  1. a rapid-fire, magazine-fed automatic rifle designed for infantry use.
We hear all this wild and woolly talk from the gun promoters -- aka the Republican Party, the N.R.A., gun nuts -- that banning assault rifles would do no good except to keep them out of the hands of the "good guys." I may not want them in anybody's hands because they clearly don't make us safe, and I do want to point out that by its very definition, assault rifles are designed for front-line use in war, not for protecting our neighborhoods.

One thing we do know is that, from Aurora, Colorado, to Sandy Hook, Connecticut, to Roseburg, Oregon, to San Bernardino, California, assault rifles with large magazines are the weapons of choice of mass killers.

So, embracing the beliefs of the gun promoters, where are the examples of mass killings stopped from happening by assault-rifle-toting freedom lovers?

First, let's look at the lethality of assault rifles. It's well established.

Next, let's look at how well assault rifles do in self-defense. It didn't work in San Bernardino.

If you Google for examples of assault rifles saving lives, gun enthusiast sites and right-wing blogs do provide examples. Mostly, though, these instances are rare and underwhelming.

The question to be asked, then, is: How would assault rifles have helped to stop mass shootings like the ones we've seen over and over again in recent years? Are you imagining the principal at Sandy Hook coming out of her office with her AR-15 blazing? Or an usher at Aurora going to the break room to grab his Bushmaster to rush James Holmes and blow him all the way to Hell? Or the receptionist at the Planned Parenthood in Colorado Springs reaching into her desk and pulling out an Uzi?

No, nobody thinks that's ever going to happen. But what we do know -- by our horrifying experience -- is that someone armed for more than bear will show up at another soft target and take out scores of people well before the first cop arrives on the scene. And no hero is going to emerge with his or her AK-47 to win the day.

So, why are these types of weapons available for purchase in the United States, or anywhere in the world, for that matter? It's not because they can keep us safe. They can't and they don't.

Finally, do the be-honest-with-yourself test: How many mass killings with assault rifles can you think of, and how many mass killings can you think of that were prevented or even stopped by assault rifles? By my honest accounting, assault rifles have never, ever proven to be valuable at saving lives. Costing lives, yes.

Final thought: Can you imagine a path forward in America where assault rifles can become valuable at saving lives? Will there be a breakthrough in our society where teachers, doctors, movie-goers, school janitors, attendees at Christmas parties all of a sudden figure out how to maximize the value of assault rifles in countering the wave of mass shootings that have swept our country in ever-growing numbers?

If any of you out there can come up with a scenario, let me know. I doubt I'll hear a peep.

That we allow the sale and possession of these weapons is a societal catastrophe and a frightening moral failure, for which all Americans should be deeply ashamed.

Note. Having said all of the above, I'd be remiss if I didn't mention Switzerland. Assault-rifle ownership is encouraged by the government because all Swiss adult men are issued military assault rifles at the age of 20 and given extensive training in order to do their obligatory stint in the army. After service, Swiss men are given the option of keeping their rifles if they so desire.

The result of all this arming is a bit mixed. Switzerland has a relatively high gun-related death rate, lower than the U.S. but substantially above the rest of the civilized world. And yet it has an impressive low gun-crime rate. What's most telling, though, is the absence of mass shootings. Can you tell me about even one? (I can tell you about two, one in 1912, the other in 2001.)

Update. The Supreme Court today declined to review a law banning assault weapons in an Illinois town. Baby steps...

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