“From my dead hands, Mr. Gore.” — Charlton Heston while lifting a rifle
The Second Amendment of the United States Constitution reads: “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” I support the Second Amendment. I have been to the shooting range and was a gun owner. My father fought in the Pacific in World War II and left me a Japanese Arisaka bolt-action rifle with a chrome bore. I tried hunting, but I am better stalking game with a camera than a rifle. I eventually gave up the Arisaka shortly after Robert Kennedy was assassinated two months after James Earl Ray murdered Martin Luther King Jr.
The Second Amendment was drafted because the Founding Fathers feared the military seizing control. Today, if a military general or an unstable president launched an attack on the government and the Army agreed, well-armed citizens and state militias would have little chance against drones armed with missiles or helicopters carrying .50-caliber automatic machine guns. If the Second Amendment is technically outdated, the amendment still matters; for hunting, recreation and protection, guns are an American way of life. Tragically, 2019 has been brutal concerning shooters with semiautomatic rifles firing on crowds.
Three mass shootings during the Clinton-Gore administration prompted the creation of the Public Safety and Recreational Firearms Use Protection Act, better known as the Federal Assault Weapons Ban (AWB). This prohibited sales to civilians of several semiautomatic firearms defined as assault weapons with high-capacity magazines. The Act included a number of exemptions and exclusions from its prohibitions.
The U.S. Congress passed the 10-year Assault Weapons Ban on Sept. 13, 1994, following a close 52-48 vote in the Senate. It was signed into law by President Bill Clinton. Although the ban had little effect on domestic violence and gun deaths, the frequency of mass shootings with assault rifles dropped dramatically, despite the fact that — according to Meghan Keneally of ABC News — the ban really didn’t reduce the number of assault rifles.
“The bill banned more than a dozen specific firearms and certain features on guns, but because there are so many modifications that can be made on weapons and the fact that it did not outright ban all semiautomatic weapons, many such guns continued to be legally used. It also banned the ‘transfer or possession’ of large-capacity ammunition devices that carried more than 10 bullets, and noted that while there were exceptions, those not excluded would be treated as firearms.
“The biggest of the various loopholes in the bill was that it only applied to the specified types of weapons and large-capacity magazines that were created after the bill became law, meaning that there was nothing illegal about owning or selling such a weapon or magazine that had been created before the law was signed” (Keneally, ABC, 09/13/2019).
The Clinton administration acted after three mass shootings, a low number by today’s statistics. Congress did not reauthorize the ban, so the sale and manufacture of previously banned military styled weapons was legal once again on Sept. 13, 2004.
The 2012 massacre of 20 children and their teachers at Sandy Hook Elementary School failed to bring a renewal of an expanded assault weapons ban. In Parkland, Florida, after the Stoneman Douglas High School shooting took 17 lives, students staged a nationally televised rally and it seemed possible some legal action would be taken, but that soon passed.
Now we have recent murderous assaults in El Paso and Odessa, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio. The NRA Vice President, Wayne LaPierre, insists, “Only good guys with guns can stop bad guys with guns.” Texas and Ohio are open carry states; many of the victims were armed.
The National Rifle Association continues to block any attempt at gun control, even the universal background check. According to Michael Martin of Metro News, “Although the National Rifle Association is often referred to as a monolithic force, less than 10 percent of gun owners belong to the NRA, and the organization does not necessarily reflect their views” (Martin, Metro News). The gun debate, as David Brooks, a conservative commentator on NPR pointed out, has become a culture war.
“But it should be pointed out background checks are just insanely popular. It’s like more than 95 percent of Democrats, more than 84 percent of Republicans. … And the reason it hasn’t passed is because the NRA and its friends have taken a zero-tolerance policy. ... They have turned the gun issue into not about guns but about culture … that if you’re trying to take away my guns, it’s ‘cause you hate my rural culture. And somehow, we have to detoxify that debate” (Brooks, NPR, August 8, 2019).
In 2016, the Stoner family joined in the gun debate. They told NBC News that their father, Eugene Stoner, an avid sportsman, never had an AR-15 in the house and “died long before any mass shootings occurred. But, we do think he would have been horrified and sickened as anyone, if not more by these events” (Stoner family, NBC, June 16, 2016). Stoner’s AR-15 was adapted by the military into the M-16. Ironically, the gunman who shot up the Pulse nightclub in Orlando used Stoner’s .223 rounds, fired from an AR-15 spin off made by Sig Sauer.
Can we have universal background checks, close loop holes, consider red flag laws and at least debate a new assault weapons ban? Mass shootings strike at the American psyche, and often children are the victims. Laws won’t stop them completely but doing nothing is a cowardly option.
Michael Corrigan of Pocatello is a San Francisco native and a retired Idaho State University English and speech communication instructor. He studied screenwriting at the American Film Institute and has authored seven books, many about the Irish American experience.