Let me start with two qualifiers – First, I used to sell firearms and I own a couple of semi-automatic pistols. I am not a member of the National Rifle Association or any other pro-gun group. Second, this is not an easy article to write and I know I will get blow back from both sides of the discussion. But my goal is to start the conversation, not to convince you I am right or wrong. With that being said…
I was pleased to read that the NRA is willing to support federal legislation that would block the sale of “bump stocks.” I am glad to see that a fair number of Republican members of Congress also support such legislation.
If you are unfamiliar with a “bump stock,” it is an add-on device for an AR-15, AR-16 and similar semi-automatic rifles, to make them shoot as if they were converted to full-automatic.
The ATF classified the “bump stock” as a part of the rifle, not the rifle itself, therefore, they are not regulated. It replaces the standard shoulder stock of the ARs with a spring loaded system that allows the rifle to react faster, about 100 rounds in seven seconds, than manually pulling the trigger for each individual shot. Thus the rifle will fire as if it were fully automatic. They can be purchased for about $100.
In fact, to convert an AR-15 to fully automatic, though illegal, is easy to do. In a recent online search, I found a number of videos instructing users how to make the conversion – and that was on the first two pages alone.
The problem with these weapons is that they were originally designed for the military and to kill as many enemies as possible. Even in a semi-automatic mode, these rifles will shoot as fast as one can pull the trigger.
I sold a fair number of Ar-15s in my day. Many of the purchasers were current or former military who shot the rifle while in service. We did not carry the AR-16, though we could have ordered the rifle for the customer.
Unfortunately, a number of buyers were civilians who did not serve in the military and had to be shown how to disassemble the rifle for cleaning.
Why buy the AR-15? Those who say the rifle can be used for hunting or self-defense are stretching the usefulness of the weapon. It is the old cliché, “The difference between men and boys is the cost of their toys.”
According to The Washington Post, most mass shooters used handguns and were obtained legally. On the average, mass shooters had three guns to the scene. Stephen Paddock had two-dozen weapons in his room at the Mandalay Bay Resort and over 1600 rounds of ammunition.
The average mass shooter in the U.S. is a 35-year-old, white and male. “The average age of the killers was 35, though the youngest among them was a mere 11 years old.”
Outlawing semi-automatic rifles may resolve a small part of the problem but because of the Second Amendment, we cannot outlaw firearms. Depending on the Court’s makeup, we may be able to restrict the ownership of firearms as we have with fully-automatic weapons, but cannot do what Australia did.
After the April 1996, mass shootings at the Broad Arrow Cafe in Port Arthur, Tasmania, Australia, the national government went about restricting the sale of firearms, required registry and licensure of the owners. They have not had a mass shooting since.
Simon Chapman, an Australian academic who was co-convener of the Australian Coalition for Gun Control from 1992 to 1997, wrote last year  about the group’s successful advocacy for a gun registry:
“One day during a TV interview in 1995, we said as we always did ‘We register cars. We register boats.’ But this time we added ‘We even register dogs. So what’s the problem in registering guns?’”
There is a fear among a small but vocal group of gun owners that once there is a registry there will be a mass confiscation of firearms from private owners and, in the words of the NRA, only the bad guys will have guns.
The real problem is that the firearms dealer cannot tell who is a good guy versus a bad guy versus one who is mentally imbalanced. If a buyer comes in smelling of marijuana, or reeking of alcohol, or talking about shooting people (yes, that does happen), or is suspected of buying the gun for a third party, then sale professional can deny the sale. However, over the years I sold pistols, shotguns and rifles, we had denied about a dozen sales for those reasons.
The banning of “bump stocks” is a good start. We do need better universal background checks, the opening of certain medical record to determine extreme mental health problems and possibly the registry of firearms on a state or federal level. Unless a registered collector, we could also limit the number of firearms one can own.
The argument concerning the Second Amendment is actually about the placement of a comma, the lack of standardized punctuation in 1798 and the intent of the “Right to Bear Arms.” I believe that Right really belongs to those in federal or state official military (militia), those who use firearms as part of their job (including farmers and ranchers), for home protection and those in public safety professions.
David Rosman is an award-winning editor, writer and professional speaker. You can read more of David’s commentaries at ColumbiaMissourian.com and InkandVoice.com.