Time to Be Reasonable About Assault Rifles
by Robert Winter
AR-15 AR-15
SYNOPSIS:  Key enablers of mass shootings, they shouldn't be available to just anyone.

Mass shootings have got to stop, and we’re way overdue on having a sensible discussion about the weapons typically utilized to carry them out.

Most of us seem to agree that no individual should be able to buy an atomic bomb, a state-of-the-art fighter jet, or an M1 Abrams tank.  Why should military-style assault rifles be any different?  An AR-15 may be less lethal than a Stealth bomber, but as we’ve seen with nauseating regularity in recent years, it’s still deadly on too broad a scale to be made casually available to just anybody who wants one.

Even more important, assault weapons are key enablers for exactly the types of twisted psyches that carry out mass shootings.  The underlying script for these attacks is essentially unvarying: somebody’s angry about feeling like nobody, and decides that his problem ought to be the world’s problem.  A mass shooting not only brings the attacker media notoriety (celebrity of any kind, even negative, being the sine qua non of “mattering” in today’s world), it also enables him to feel power in a much more direct and tangible way:  the godlike power of life and death over other people.  Lots of them. 

When combined with body armor and high-capacity magazines, an assault rifle’s sustained rapid firepower renders its bearer virtually invincible—at least for a time.  And that brief time is really all the shooter is looking for.  His goal is to finally become somebody who’s taken seriously, and in the end (in his mind, anyway), go out in a blaze of glory.

That sense of invincibility simply isn’t attainable with something like a traditional revolver.  Wielding a six shooter, Young Mr. Angry could get off only a half dozen shots, much more slowly and with much less stopping power, with a fair share of them outright missing, while he’s constantly susceptible to being physically overwhelmed on all sides by a determined crowd—and then, he has to stop and fumble his way through hand-inserting six new bullets, one at a time, into snug-fitting cylinders, with fingers rendered all but unusable by high adrenaline’s effects on fine-muscle movements.

Somebody in this position is highly likely to end up feeling even more ineffectual and insignificant, when his planned crescendo of towering rage fizzles into not much of anything.  The experience would be equivalent to a pyromaniac having his fantasy of externalizing his rage into all-consuming, unstoppable walls of flame ultimately come to nothing, when he attempts to ignite damp weeds with short pocket matches that keep blowing out in the wind.

It’s absolutely no coincidence that mass shootings were all but unknown before military-grade hardware became conveniently available to every pathologically self-centered cretin in the country with a valid credit card.  And when a piece of equipment becomes a key ingredient for ongoing unspeakable atrocities, it’s time to weigh the harm it’s enabling against whatever benefits it may bring to some normal people.

For example, I’ve read that some people need AR-15s to deal with wild hogs tearing up their farms and other property:  when you come across these highly destructive critters, traditional bolt-action rifles don’t fire fast enough to enable you to hit more than maybe one or two.  But why couldn’t some kind of exception could be made for people who have this legitimate need—provided they can prove they have it, and they don’t have any mental health issues?  (Even if they fail on the latter grounds, they could always hire a sane person to do the job for them.)

Some people also say that having good people armed can be a way to deter or more quickly end the pathological actions of bad people with guns.  I can see a certain amount of sense in this point.  But it makes a lot more sense when we’re talking about good people pulling out ordinary pistols to confront bad people with ordinary pistols.  The power equation is radically changed if the bad guy has an assault rifle.  And what normal person would want to lug around an AR-15 on every trip to the mall, in order to match what a lunatic might have?  The only reasonable way that citizen firearm-based deterrence works is if we take the military weapons out of the equation for everybody but the military.  (Okay, also the police—to a limited extent.)

Then there are people who feel they need their own private arsenals of military-grade arms as a way of keeping an authoritarian or totalitarian government from ultimately taking over our country.  Personally, I’d prefer that these people exercise their vigilance in defense of liberty in a different way:  just stay informed, via actual facts from reliable sources, about what’s going on in the country, and then vote.  Regularly.

For those who still insist that their services are needed in the role of armed revolutionaries, I’d say this:

If that’s what you feel you need to do, go ahead.  But do it like real revolutionaries, who live lives of very real and constant mortal danger, and acquire their arms at great personal risk.  Don’t bawl like babies if a democratically-elected government that’s only taking prudent steps to protect your life says you can’t just zip over to Walmart and plunk a few instruments of war into your cart, along with the Pampers and beer.