The most recent mass-shooting tragedy at a church in Texas has once again picked the scab off the U.S. gun-control wound. Some are touting the fact that a brave local man used his own assault-rifle type firearm to prevent the gunman from slaughtering even more innocent worshippers, while others are decrying the fact that the killer was allowed to possess such a weapon given his mental condition and previous convictions for violent offences. I certainly see the various sides of this debate – but one perspective looms much larger for me.
The AR-15 class of firearm is a high-powered rifle that is designed for one thing – killing people. Yes, some legitimate owners shoot paper targets or hunt with them, or simply like owning them out of some perceived personal security need, but let’s be serious: they are a military type weapon that shoot lots of bullets at a high velocity as quickly as one can pull the trigger. They can also be easily modified to shoot fully-automatic. That much firepower and the ability to shoot 90 rounds in 60 seconds might be quite appropriate in combat situations but is not required for target shooting or killing deer.
The firearms debate in the US is always an incendiary one. Die-hard “right to bear arms” supporters don’t want to hear that the Second Amendment was written before the Civil War and when Americans lived mostly in desolate surroundings without telephones, street lights, the ability to call 911, the police or the military. They had to arm themselves with single-shot muzzle-loaders for protection against attacks from foreign armies for the most part, but also from wild animals and bands of roaming fugitives. At that point in time, semi-automatic rifles with huge magazine capacities weren’t even imagined.
When I get into spirited debates with those that strongly believe “guns don’t kill people, people kill people,” I love the vacant glare I receive when I say “and people would kill a lot less people if they didn’t have guns.” That particularly applies to rifles like those used in the Sutherland Springs church tragedy; in the Orlando night club massacre; and of course in Las Vegas just weeks ago.
Similarly, other gun advocates will point out the tragic reality that many innocent people around the globe – including recently in the US, have been slaughtered by ISIS inspired individuals driving cars and trucks. The question that often follows is, “So what are you going to do, ban cars?” Like arguments are made relative to the use of knives to commit murder.
Cars and trucks were designed for other valid and non-aggressive purposes but have undoubtedly been used recently as a weapon of choice to deliberately kill people. Many people in fact. But never 25 in a church. Or 58 at a concert venue. Nor can you walk into a building with one, hell-bent on killing members of the public.
Knives have and will kill as well. One, two – maybe three or four at a time. That is awful, tragic and so very wrong. But running into a public venue like a church and killing dozens of people with a knife is a very unlikely scenario. It will seldom be met with great success before the attacker is punched unconscious or hit over the head with a chair. But it’s much tougher for the general public to mount a defense from an individual with a high-powered semi-automatic rifle and dozens of rounds of ammunition.
President Trump and many others try to counter the gun control movement with the argument that a heroic man in Texas likely saved lives when he shot at the killer with his own assault rifle. That is true. But how often in all the mass shootings we have seen in the U.S. since 21 people were fatally shot in a California McDonald’s restaurant in 1984; through the horrors in Columbine in 1999; the Aurora theatre shooting; Orlando’s Pulse nightclub slaughter, and more – in a country where there are almost as many guns as people, have we seen such examples of armed citizens neutralizing the threat with any firearm, let alone an assault-rifle?
Following the horrific murder of 20 children and six adults at the Sandy Hook Elementary School, some argued that teachers should be armed. Give me a break. What will they argue now – arming church pastors? Why is the answer for some to put more guns out there? I’m certainly not trying to make light of these senseless and heartbreaking murders, but there should be less guns in public places, not more. Does the public really want everyone in a church, theatre or concert drawing a weapon and firing hundreds of rounds at what they perceive as a threat?
I’m not against guns. I rather like them actually. I’ve owned many and carried one for 36 years of policing. But I owned shotguns and hunting rifles that could only carry three rounds. I owned firearms that were designed to kill wild game, not dozens of people, and I had no desire to take them with me to church.
Many have stated that if the U.S. did not take affirmative action to keep assault rifles out of the hands of unstable criminals and radicalized fanatics following the Sandy Hook shooting, it never will. I hope they were wrong. Partisan politics need to be pushed aside in the interest of American lives. Even with proper processes, checks and balances how can anyone but law enforcement and the military justify the need for an AR-15 type weapon?
Even if I bought into the theory that every sane and law-abiding American should have the right to carry handguns (and I don’t), a handgun and an assault-rifle are two different animals. Enough is enough. Ban them.
Chris Lewis served as Commissioner of the Ontario Provincial Police from 2010 until he retired in 2014. He can be seen regularly on CTV and CP24 giving his opinion as a public safety analyst.