I carried an assault rifle into war; the Parkland shooter carried one into a school
Author: Chase Kohne - March 2, 2018 - Updated: March 1, 2018
When I heard audio of the Las Vegas shooter opening fire on a crowd of concertgoers, I heard the sounds of combat. The uninterrupted bursts of gunfire reminded me of a fully-automatic, belt-fed military weapon. But the shooter’s weapon of choice turned out to be lawfully-purchased AR-15 rifles —weapons easily available to civilians, including the teen who recently used one to murder 17 kids and their teachers at a high school in Parkland, Florida.
As a U.S. Army veteran who continues to serve as a major in the Army Reserve, as a gun owner, and as the son of a sheriff’s deputy, I know what firearms can do and what it takes to handle them responsibly. I support the Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms. I also believe it’s far too easy for untrained and potentially unstable individuals to buy weapons of war.
The Armalite Rifle (AR) platform dates back to the 1950s, further developed by Colt to meet U.S. military specifications. Importantly, it was the first platform to use the 5.56 millimeter round. This smaller but higher-velocity round quickly proved to be an ideal combination of stopping power and low weight, allowing each soldier to carry much more ammunition. The AR was developed specifically to allow soldiers to carry more ammo and to make their weapons more deadly against human targets.
First issued early in the Vietnam War, soldiers immediately praised this weapon’s effectiveness. It is lightweight, simple to use, can be easily outfitted with high-capacity magazines and other components that make it even more deadly, and the high-velocity rounds these rifles fire cause devastating wounds. The AR’s low recoil allows even untrained shooters to take multiple aimed shots at their targets, and military research shows that the AR offers better marksmanship without additional training.
The AR platform is so effective that it’s been in use for decades with relatively little modification. These weapons can easily destroy enemies, or as we’ve seen far too often, innocent Americans. Despite all that, it’s actually easier to buy an AR-15 than a handgun. It’s legal for teens to buy these weapons.
The vast majority of gun owners agree that we need to do more to stop mass shootings because preventing these crimes helps guarantee the right to bear arms.
The vast majority of gun owners agree that we need to do more to stop mass shootings because preventing these crimes helps guarantee the right to bear arms. At no time is this right under more scrutiny than when a murderer uses a lawfully-purchased weapon to turn a school or a mall or a baseball game into a war zone. Everyone, gun owner or not, has a stake in preventing gun violence because everyone who goes to the movies, attends a concert, or sends their children to school faces this risk.
But we can’t make meaningful progress on prevention until Congress allows the Centers for Disease Control to conduct up-to-date research on what prompts mass shootings and what strategies work best to prevent them. In 1996, Congressman Jay Dickey led the successful effort to stop the CDC from researching gun violence prevention, but after wave after wave of mass shootings, even Dickey changed his mind, remarking “we need to turn this over to science and take it away from politics.”
The problem with just arming teachers is that no one knows how they’ll react to being shot at until it happens. The armed and trained police officers in Parkland did not confront the shooter, and even trained soldiers can freeze up in firefights. Bystanders typically don’t know there’s a shooter until after the first shots ring out. These surprise attacks begin within seconds.
Waiting until the last possible moment to stop a massacre isn’t the way to go. Given the sky-high stakes—our lives—and the fact that even being armed does not guarantee the good guy will win, we can’t miss any reasonable chance we get to stop a mass shooter. We have an opportunity to stop a tragedy whenever someone displays violent behavior, when they demonstrate an unhealthy obsession with weapons or revenge, and when they attempt to buy weapons explicitly designed for an efficient and deadly attack.