As an old Michigan deer hunter, I can understand the loyalty of many gun enthusiasts to their sporting firearms.
I can state plainly that I used a semi-automatic rifle to take my first deer.
By that I mean it was a 12-gauge Remington shotgun – with slugs. To those unfamiliar with firearms, that meant a heavy single-slug round instead of the usual shotgun shell filled with smaller shot.
It not only had plenty of knockdown power because of this, it also added a safety feature; a round that heavy would not travel very far; probably not much more than 50-60 yards before arcing into the ground.
In the heavily wooded area we hunted, with many other hunters around, it gave some comfort knowing your weapon’s effective range.
Semi-automatic meant it would fire a round almost as fast as you could pull the trigger; the empty shell would eject and another slide into place very quickly.
The hunters with 30-caliber ‘deer rifles’ semi-automatic or not, had to be cognizant that their bullets could travel great distances; and the toll of accidental fatalities and injuries each year gave testimony that many were not thinking of that fact.
Rifle Club in high school taught many students the basics of proper technique, using .22-caliber rifles and, often funded by the National Rifle Association, (NRA) the classes always stressed the importance of gun safety to students.
Many hunters today have the advantage of technically superior firearms for their sport, and hunter safety classes are almost universally available.
Hunting is a fine sport (yes, I understand that some people will argue killing animals in such a fashion is not ‘sport’ and needlessly cruel; I hear you) and though not as necessary as it once was to provide food, is still often a traditional right of passage for young people.
The contrast we see in the headlines today; humans using often high-tech firearms to kill multiple people is sickening, heart-wrenching and an indication of a society where firearms too often have become a symbol of a twisted sense of power and delusional machismo to some.
The recent headlines are too often repeated; multiple innocent people killed at a school, a party, a nightclub, a family gathering, in vehicles or even churches.
The latest toll in the U.S. from such slaughter is shocking: about 10,000 people killed, nearly 20,000 wounded in 415 mass shootings thus far, and counting, putting us on track to average two or more a day for the year. That doesn’t count more than 13,925 gun suicides to date, according to the Gun Violence Archive, which has tracked the slaughter since 2013.
Dwell on those numbers a bit. And it is a sick phenomenon especially endemic to the U.S.
Causes and solutions seem often elusive. Mental health issues are certainly at the center of this dark problem plaguing our country, but too often the elephant in the room is ignored; the ease of availability of assault-style weapons like the ubiquitous AR-15 style rifle, that are capable of firing dozens of rounds in less than a minute.
The argument has been made for years that such military-grade weapons belong in the hands of the military and law enforcement, not private citizens.
I know it raises the ire of many gun rights enthusiasts to hear that argument. They angrily say the Second Amendment guarantees a right to such weapons, conveniently ignoring the verbiage about ‘…a well-regulated militia’ in that founding document. The argument rings hollow in the face of so many senselessly murdered. An assault-style weapon bears no resemblance to the venerable rifles used in the founders’ time, by the way.
The NRA is targeted and criticized for having become a tool of gun manufacturers. They make the argument that being able to buy such lethal weaponry is somehow patriotic, (and great for the manufacturers’ profit margins) or that the only way to stop a ‘bad guy with a gun’ is a ‘good guy with a gun.’
The arch-conservative wing of the Republican Party these days seems against any form of gun regulation, even common sense rules such as universal background checks before purchases or limits on multi-round magazines. It makes no sense to oppose such basic regulations.
The slaughter on our streets is a far cry from the venerable tradition of hunting; it has seemingly turned into an insane contest over who can be more intimidating, more macho, and feared for their ability to cause instant death.
I’ll stress again that mental health issues in a stressful society must be examined and detection and treatment of those in crisis prioritized to help end this modern-day bloodbath in our country.
But the simple fact is that if a ban on military assault-style weapons and magazines were in place it would mitigate the ability of those bent on murder to kill so many people so quickly.
We cannot ignore the crisis any longer. It is a legislative campaign we must undertake – and soon.