“I cannot support the primary weapon I used to defend our country being used to kill children I swore to defend.”
— Army veteran and Florida GOP Rep. Brian Mast calling for a ban on AR-15s
My first gun was a single-shot .22 caliber rifle. I was grateful and really excited, but I asked my dad: “What if I miss on my first shot?” His answer was straight and true: “A good hunter gets his buck on the first shot.”
I practiced and I practiced, but I never developed a good aim, and lots of squirrels got away. When I got my army surplus .30-06 Springfield rifle with a 5-round magazine, I was a little more successful, especially with deer and elk.
According to a certain American creed, the young Nick Gier was now a man. (I loved that rifle more than my girlfriend.) Long after I gave up my guns (my former Danish wife was insistent), Remington Arms told me that my “man card” could be reissued if I bought a Bushmaster assault rifle, preferably with a 30-round magazine.
Psychologists Ronald Levant and Christopher Kilmartin have “found that the perceived failure to accomplish a societal standard of masculinity is perhaps the most significant factor in men’s and boys’ decisions to wield deadly force using a firearm. This has been borne out with mass shooters and murder-suicides.”
Parents of children killed at the Sandy Hook Elementary filed suit against Remington Arms, and in February a $73 million settlement was announced. Using a novel argument, the parents’ attorneys used Connecticut’s Unfair Trade Practices Act to contend that their ads could, arguably, appeal to young troubled men.
Recently Sen. John Thune was asked why anyone would need to own an assault rifle. He answered: “In my state they use them to shoot prairie dogs and other types of varmints.” I insist, however, that a man card be issued only to the guys who go varmint hunting with a single shot .22 rifle.
I don’t want to think about what a one-pound prairie dog looks like after being hit, at 3,200 feet per second, by a .223 hollow point bullet. (Is there anything left?) We do know, however, what happened to the kids at Uvalde’s Robb Elementary. Pediatrician Roy Guerrero described the bodies of the victims as “pulverized and decapitated,” their flesh “ripped apart,” and unrecognizable by their parents.
I have praised Australia for its success in greatly reducing gun deaths. A 2011 Harvard study concluded that their 1996 legislation was “incredibly successful in terms of lives saved.” A RAND study found that there were reductions in “firearm suicides, mass shootings, and female homicide victimization.”
More than 40 percent of our “pro-life” Republicans believe that no law could ever reduce the number of gun deaths, even among school children. (Our own Scotty Anderson appears to believe that.) Do they think we are a different species than the Aussies?
A group of injury epidemiologists and trauma surgeons at New York University did an in-depth study of the period (1994-2004) when the assault weapons ban was in place. There is clear evidence that the ban worked: “Between 2004 and 2017 the average number of yearly deaths attributed to mass shootings was 25, compared with 5.3 during the 10-year tenure of the ban.”
Former Marine Benjamin Beers has turned in his AR-15 and 9mm pistol, and he has asked authorities to destroy them. He said: “I would love to see semi-automatic rifles such as the AR-15 banned, if not banned, some major laws changed. It’s the single most effective method used to commit such heinous acts of violence.”
Australia’s buy-back program resulted in one million firearms returned. They were promptly destroyed. Blacksmith Mark Solomon, the Sage of Moscow Mountain and owner of the Dragon Truck, has done the Aussies one better. He has turned an AK-47 into sculpture, and, in 2004, he and his friends went to Cambodia to teach the people there how to turn the scrap metal of war into art.
I’m reminded of an oft-quoted passage from the Book of Isaiah: “They shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore (2:4).
Gier is professor emeritus at the University of Idaho. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org for sources and discussion.