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Know the West

No one needs an AR-15

Mental illness exists everywhere in the world, of course, but mass shootings do not.


Jaime O’Neill is a contributor to Writers on the Range, the opinion service of High Country News. He is a writer in California.

We’ve all had abundant time to think about gun laws, gun violence, dead children on schoolroom floors, and the Second Amendment. Who can even keep track of the number of times we’ve been asked to send our prayers out to the victims and survivors of the ongoing carnage?

No American mass shooting would be complete without reminders from the National Rifle Association that the problem in this country isn’t guns; it’s mental illness. Mental illness exists everywhere in the world, of course, but mass shootings do not. In this country, however, they have become so commonplace that our response to more death is almost ritualistic.

After every mass killing, we keep hearing this blather that amounts to “Nothing can be done” from Paul Ryan, Marco Rubio and other elected representatives. We hear it almost before the echoes of the gunfire have faded. We heard it after Columbine, Sandy Hook, Las Vegas, and now after the Parkland day of death in Florida. The difference this time is that classmates of the dead teenagers at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School are saying loudly and clearly that gun violence must be stopped.

Students in the Washington D.C. area demand gun reform in the wake of the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida.

Doesn’t it seem clear that anyone who feels the need for an AR-15 is already displaying abundant evidence of disordered thinking? If you are paranoid enough to think you need so much firepower for home protection, that’s more paranoia than sanity can contain.

If you say you need an AR-15 to go deer hunting, that’s preposterous. And if you think that you and your patriotic buddies, armed with a small arsenal of semi-automatic rifles converted to full-auto with bump stocks, can resist an American government supported by the U.S. Army, Navy and Air Force, then that’s clear evidence of lunacy.

I grew up playing with toy guns, shooting other kids “dead” with caps or sound effects, dramatically acting out my own death countless times whenever they “got me” first. I graduated to a single shot .22 rifle when I was 12, and then to a .410 shotgun when I was 13. As a grownup, I bought my first pistol when I was in my mid-20s. As the years advanced, I acquired a .12 gauge pump action shotgun, a .50 caliber breech-loading Sharps carbine, a .45 caliber Hawken, and several handguns, mostly single-action Rugers or Colts. As a boy, I hunted with my dad, though I never hunted as an adult because I didn’t need or want the meat.

Several guns I once owned have been stolen. That’s a thing that happens with guns.

One high-priority item on the Republican “to do” list has been to expand open-carry laws state by state, normalizing dangerous tendencies throughout the nation. I recently saw a testimonial to that madness in the parking lot at our local Lowes. “Live to Carry, Carry to Live” was emblazoned on the back window of an oversized truck. “Live to carry?” Really? That sounds like a fragile reason for getting up in the morning. As for carrying to live, everyone should know by now that the chances of dying go up dramatically when you’re packing heat, or when you’ve got a gun in your house for “self-protection.”

My congressional representative here in Northern California is Doug LaMalfa, a rice farmer and major recipient of government subsidies. All cowboy hat, boots and no cattle, he’s a devotee of the NRA, a Trump loyalist on every issue, and he resists any and all sensible restrictions on guns. He does not agree with me that a nation that includes heavily armed men who “live to carry” offers little prospect of safety for anyone.

The history of the West includes images of guns, mostly those muzzle-loading rifles carried by trappers or explorers like Jim Bridger, Kit Carson or Jim Beckwourth. A powder horn and a Hawken rifle are part of the romance of that storied past. But those simple guns fired one round at a time before requiring reloading. And the reloading process took even a proficient shooter several seconds to complete before he was able to shoot again. There is no record of any of those mountain men engaging in a school shooting.

Anyone who sincerely believes he needs a semi-automatic weapon has already revealed enough muddled thinking to be denied possession of one. Killing many people quickly is the true purpose of these guns, and that has nothing to do with the Second Amendment’s “well-regulated militia.”

It is long past time for Congress to once again ban the sale of these weapons that are so frequently the guns of choice for murderers of children.