Don't live in fear, change gun culture instead

Monday January 7, 2013

The year was 1972. I was 19 and found myself to be a conscript of the U.S. Army. American lives were still being lost in the rice paddies of Vietnam. I was introduced to the M-16. The drill sergeant said that this weapon, never called a gun, was designed to efficiently kill lots of people in little time. The M-16 could fire nearly 600 rounds per minute. He explained the entry wound in a human body from an M-16 is small, but the exit wound leaves a gaping hole. He said it was designed to do that.

As an American, I’ve always been exposed to the gun culture. How could one not? Back in the 1950s and 1960s, on Saturday afternoons, the neighborhood kids of Zylonite in Adams would pile into a parent’s car and head for the Adams theater. There we saw cowboy and Indian movies, WW II movies and John Wayne. Later, the kids would play war with plastic guns in the woods. I saw Lee Oswald get shot and killed on live national TV on a Sunday morning. Everybody and I do mean everybody hunted animals with shotguns and rifles. Not to own a hunting gun was not normal. As for me, I never got the hang of killing animals.

In the Army, I was trained as a field medic and my job was to plug holes made in American soldiers, not make them in other people, the enemy.

Which brings me back to the military weapon, not the gun, the M-16. It has been around since 1958 when it was first developed by a gun manufacturer called Armalite. They called it the AR-15. That company was sold to Colt, which mass-produced the gun for the military and called it the M-16. The military M-16 and the civilian AR-15 are the same the gun minus the automatic capability.

Today, because of little federal restriction, many American gun manufacturers mass-produce the AR-15, such as Colt, Smith and Wesson, Sig Sauer and Bushmaster.

In October of 2002, the Washington D.C. beltway was terrorized for nearly two weeks by a sniper who claimed nine lives and injured three others in random shootings. The gun used was a Bushmaster AR-15. In 2004, the families of the victims successfully sued Bushmaster which settled out of court to the tune of $2.5 million. In 2005, Congress passed the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act that prohibited civil action against gun manufacturers whose product might be used to cause harm -- that is, mass shootings.

Did you know that you can buy an AR-15 at Wal-Mart? Wal-Mart is the biggest seller of guns in the United States. Wal-Mart sold ammunition to two kids in Littleton, Colorado, students of Columbine High School in 1999. But they don’t sell the Bushmaster.

In case you forgot -- Aurora, Colorado, July 20, 2012, 70 wounded, 12 dead, Bushmaster AR-15, the M-16. Portland, Oregon, December 11, 2012, three dead, Bushmaster AR-15, the M-16. And Sandy Hook -- there are no words.

In 1975, I was discharged from the U.S. Army. Upon arrival home, I sold the two guns I had used to kill animals. I own no guns today. I choose not to live in fear. I disagree with the NRA position that the only response to a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.

Culture change can happen. It has happened with attitudes toward drunken driving. Unacceptable. It has happened with attitudes toward cigarette smoking. Unacceptable.

And Sandy Hook.





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