BIDLACK: There’s no one-size-fits-all solution for gun violence

Author: Hal Bidlack - March 16, 2018 - Updated: March 19, 2018

Hal Bidlack
Hal Bidlack

Since the most recent school shooting (what a horrible phrase), there have been quite a few folks arguing about what level – if any – of gun regulation is needed to help mitigate our nation’s gun violence problem. Those in favor of stricter gun laws argue for a new assault rifle ban and other measures, while those on the opposite side often argue it is a mental health issue, and we need to look at violent video games (as the President did last week), parenting, and bullying.

Simply put, both sides are wrong, and both sides are at least somewhat correct, because they are actually arguing about the wrong things. An assault rifle ban, as most people conceive the notion, isn’t the right answer. It also is most certainly not the answer to focus only on mental health and video games.

There are mentally ill people in every nation on Earth, and violent video games (which make up only about 11 percent of video game sales) are sold across the globe. That great liberal voice, the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia wrote a majority opinion that noted no link had been established between violent video games and mass shootings. In fact, roughly 80 percent of mass shooters had no video game history.

But only in the US do we see these mass shootings on such a regular basis. And, my friends, it does in fact have something to do with guns, even as it also is a mental health and societal issue. I believe we do, in fact, need new and comprehensive gun laws, but those laws should be rooted in actual fact and not in an emotional response to tragedy, from either side.

The problem with what most people think of as an assault rifle ban is that it is based on looks rather than more important criteria. The previous ban of the 1990s ended up doing some good, but also causing some significant confusion. Gun manufacturers found that one gun was banned for appearing to be an assault rifle, while another with the same capabilities was legal. That is not a good law, no matter how well intended. The law went after military style weapons, when it should have gone after military grade weapons.

Meaningful gun regulation means addressing three key points about a weapon: what does it shoot, how fast does it shoot, and how many rounds can it fire quickly? When the Founders addressed the gun issues of the day, in part with the Second Amendment, the difference between a farmer’s weapon and a soldier’s was essentially zero – they both had muskets. Today, there is a vast difference between the two. And the three questions I just posited can help us determine which weapons may merit the most restrictions.

The AR-15, the most prominent weapon in the current debate, like many in its class, fires a .223 round or a 5.56 NATO round. These are relatively small rounds in size, but they are fired at a very high velocity. They also cause horrific wounds, as Parkland-area doctors have written about.

By speed of firing, I mean how many rounds can a shooter throw downrange in a short time. This is where the semi-automatic and fully-automatic terms enter the debate. A fully automatic weapon, banned for civilians, keeps shooting when the trigger is pulled and held back. A semi requires one trigger pull per shot, but basically uses the energy of the previous bullet firing to “cock” the gun for the next round. When I entered the Air Force in 1980, the M-16 had a full-auto setting. By the time I trained up as a military cop in 2004, that setting had been removed in favor of a three-round burst; firing on full automatic tends to spray bullets ineffectively. Thus, the argument to ban bump-stocks, but that is for another column.

Finally, the number of bullets you can fire at a time, meaning the size of the magazine. As an Air Force cop, I carried an M-16 with 120 rounds in 30-round magazines – military grade. As horrific as the Congresswoman Gabby Giffords shooting was – six dead, 13 wounded – it would have been worse had the shooter not been jumped when he stopped to change magazines. You don’t need 100 round magazines to get a deer.

Look, I’ve shot M-16s, AK-47s, AR-15s, M-9s and others, and I enjoy shooting. But I accept that there are limits. I don’t get a bazooka. And I also accept that citizens shouldn’t have military-grade weapons if we want to live in civil society. And so, I argue that the debate about weapons shouldn’t be a feel-good “assault rifle ban” but rather a more meaningful piece of legislation that addresses my three key questions. There are limits, and there should be more, but they should be based on fact and not emotion. Guns that fire too far, too fast, and too many rounds, should be banned. Now we just have to agree on what those words mean.

Hal Bidlack

Hal Bidlack

Hal Bidlack is a retired professor of political science and a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel who taught more than 17 years at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs.

One comment

  • Marc A.

    March 17, 2018 at 11:37 pm

    Should there be a fourth metric based on muzzle velocity, independent of bullet size? Or were you arguing for both on your “what they shoot” section? It was a little unclear, and it seems as a non-shootist that those could be independent variables. Thanks!

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