Time to ban all assault weapons


A recent New York Times article by Gina Kolata offered a detailed and highly disturbing account of what emergency care professionals experienced in the aftermath of the El Paso massacre. Such reporting is especially important in this era of “compassion fatigue” where the frequency and magnitude of such incidents have rendered many of us numb and unable to sustain empathy.

Those doctors and nurses, whose professional training is in part designed to inure them to the sight of serious injury, confessed to having suffered their own psychological damage from witnessing first-hand the gaping holes through the victims’ backs and stomachs, the shattered bones and shredded intestines. Of course their professionalism and sense of duty carried them through those horrid days, and we honor them as heroes. Still, their lives have been profoundly changed by what they saw, heard, smelled and felt as they labored over gurneys in their red-spattered coats, masks, and latex gloves.

As for the survivors, due to the severity of the physical and mental damage inflicted upon them, there will be days when they wish they had not survived. Despite the efforts of friends and family, all the love in the world cannot shield them from rogue memories. The bullets have been removed from their bodies, but the intruder who fired them will haunt their dreams as long as they live.

Once again the task comes to our political leaders: what can be done to stem the tide of gun violence? There is perhaps more optimism now — it is clear that the American public overwhelmingly favors expanded background checks. It is not likely the NRA-funded Republicans will escape without some concessions. Despite claims that background checks would not have prevented these recent mass killings; despite the opinions that video games and pop culture are the root causes of violence; and despite their claims that the killings are evidence of pure “Evil” at work (and therefore beyond our responsibility), I believe there will be more “red flag” state incentives and expanded background checks.

But that is not nearly enough. What is more critically important is a ban on all assault weapons. I have listened hard to understand the logic of those who support the right to own such killing machines. What I hear is the same silly song over and over again, the one that these people know the words to, but not the meaning of: The Second Amendment guarantees the right to bear arms — as if the definition of what constitutes “arms” is absolute.

Apparently it does not guarantee the right to own or use ballistic missiles, nuclear bombs, or even machine guns, as it is not lawful in America (or anywhere else) to possess these arms. What it does guarantee is the right to hunt, to defend oneself, and to form militias.

First, only a moron would hunt with an automatic weapon.

Second, regarding self-defense, certainly a pistol is a great resource if someone is threatening you with a knife, or trying to break into your house, or accosting you on the street and demanding your money. People who work in dangerous environments can certainly benefit from carrying a pistol. And in emergency situations, skilled handgun users like the police in Dayton, can mitigate tragedy.

But I’m just trying hard to imagine a scenario in which one would use an assault weapon in self-defense. There are video games, I suppose, in which the world is in a state anarchy and you are besieged by a gang of zombie killers charging across a field or parking lot. Then you will be glad to have your AK47 handy!

But in the real world, if a bad guy pulls a gun or knife on you unexpectedly (which is the whole point), how are you going to react with your assault weapon? How quickly can you access it? Are you already carrying it in the open? How are you going to stop your attacker from taking it from you?

Such weapons serve one purpose, and that is to obliterate as many living bodies as possible in the shortest amount of time. They are no good for hunting or self-defense.

This leaves us with one reasonable justification for the right to privately own such killing machines: the right to form militias. That right, when taken into action, signifies a public unrest and a distrust in government. It assumes imminent conflict and anticipates some kind of civil war in effort to recover the rights of the people to control the government.

I have so many questions regarding this modern-day militia mentality. In America today, what does a militia look like? Who are its patriots? What is their ideology? Who is the “enemy?” What is the imminent threat that has galvanized them? And finally, if there are no clear answers to these questions regarding their mission, I would ask, what is it exactly that they feel in their hearts and minds when they hold one of these things in their hands, aiming it at some imagined threat somewhere out there, finger on trigger?

Pete Howard is a Dunkirk resident, writer, musician and teacher. FOCAL Point strives to make insightful social commentary through the integration of Facts, Observations, Compassion, Awareness and Logic.

Pete Howard is a Dunkirk resident, writer, musician and teacher. FOCAL Point strives to make insightful social commentary through the integration of Facts, Observations, Compassion, Awareness and Logic.


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