Fort Mill Times

Opinion: Stop splitting hairs over AR-15-style semi-automatic rifles

Assault-style rifles similiar to the ones in this photo were among the weapons stolen by the Columbia carjackers from the Shriners’ gun show in August 2018.
Assault-style rifles similiar to the ones in this photo were among the weapons stolen by the Columbia carjackers from the Shriners’ gun show in August 2018. (Raleigh, N.C.) News & Observer file photo

No matter how you feel about guns, in the aftermath of another U.S. school shooting – the latest of multiple incidents since Jan. 1 alone – it’s the topic du jour. So let’s talk about guns.

One gun in particular is at the center of discussions, debates, arguments and news reports. It’s the AR-15, a military style semi-automatic rifle used in the latest mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., about 20 miles northwest of Fort Lauderdale. Seventeen people were killed, mostly students, and so far, the blowback is noticeably different.

Why that particular gun?

Before Parkland, the AR-15, or what has been referred to as an “AR-15 style” rifle, has been used to kill or wound children at Sandy Hook Elementary in Connecticut, adults at Pulse nightclub in Orlando, and concert-goers of all ages at an outdoor venue in Las Vegas.

Some people defend the AR-15 and vehemently oppose more gun regulation. It’s misunderstood, they say. It’s not as scary as it looks, just an unassuming sporting rifle dressed up as a military weapon.

The gun’s supporters belittle its detractors when they don’t use proper terminology, for instance referring to an ammunition “clip” instead of “magazine.”

Supporters of the AR-15 (and its lookalikes) are quick to correct opponents who say the gun can fire about 20 rounds a second. The AR-15 supporters are right to correct those errors. Facts matter. Unlike its military cousin, the AR-15 is not a fully automatic “machine gun” that fires successive bullets with a single squeeze of the trigger. Estimates vary, but most experts say the AR-15 fires two or three shots per second, depending on how many times the shooter can squeeze the trigger in a second.

This is splitting hairs.

AR-15 defenders are ignoring the fact that this specific weapon, or a rifle made in its mold, was the gun of choice for killers in mass shootings. That’s not a coincidence. And the weapons have been efficent enough to accomplish mass killings.

Lt. Col. (retired) Ralph Peters, a frequent Fox News contributor, said on the network that AR-15s should be banned for civilian use. In a recent lengthy op-ed piece, Peters, whose second amendment bona fides are beyond question, wrote, “These are military weapons. Their purpose is to kill human beings. They’re not used for hunting (unless you want to destroy the animal’s meat). They’re lousy for target shooting. But they’re excellent tools for mass murder.”

One historic trait about America is that, in times of disagreement, we’ve come together to make change for the common good. When we realized cars and driving could be much safer, we got rid of hood ornaments, required safety belts and child car seats, lowered the speed limit and got tough on impaired driving.

The result? Auto-related deaths plummeted.

There was once a time when smoking wasn’t considered dangerous. Once the link to cancer was proven, we restricted access to tobacco products and where people can smoke.

After someone went around inserting poison in over the counter pain relievers, tamper-proof caps and packaging were created.

It’s time to face the reality that we have a mass shooting epidemic and, for whatever reason, the AR-15 has become its symbol. Banning it probably won’t end mass shootings. But clearly, there’s a link and it would be a sensible place to start.

Calls and campaigns for stricter firearm regulation generally follow mass killings. They typically are met with scripted, and often histrionic displays of sympathy, sometimes a Congressional hearing, and then quietly go away.

We hope that’s not the case this time.

Maybe it’s the tenacity of the students from Parkland and their media (especially social media) savvy and adeptness at handling the spotlight into which they’ve suddenly been thrust. Perhaps a segment of the public senses a rare opportunity to affect change after decades of frustrated tied to inaction following school massacres.

Whatever the case, this conversation should not end, and the AR-15 should be part of the discussion.