How to Stop Mass Shootings

Photo of AR-15/M-4 and AK-47 assault rifles with caption How to Stop Mass Shootings? Ban Assault Rifles
How to stop mass shootings? Ban assault rifles!
Here's how to stop mass shootings: take away the tools of the mass shooters.

And before you object that we can't stop all mass shootings or that most gun deaths don't occur from mass shootings, it would help to personalize the tragedy of mass shootings by imagining such an event happening at your child's school. Instead of thinking about it in terms of impersonal statistics, think about it in terms of real lives destroyed and real families and communities torn apart.

Maybe it's impossible to stop all automobile-related deaths, and maybe carjackings are the cause of only a small percentage of automobile-related deaths; but those are not good reasons for ignoring carjackings when they do occur. And it's definitely not a good reason for ignoring a sudden uptick in the number of carjackings.

Similarly, it is possible to stop some mass shootings, and to reduce the impact of those that do occur. We shouldn't ignore the tragic loss of life caused by mass shootings, just because more people die from regular, run-of-the-mill gun crimes that don't make the front pages or national news.

If we can stop some mass shootings, and if we can minimize the number of casualties when mass shootings do occur, then we have saved lives and spared family members the awful ordeal of losing a loved one.

There's no question that the frequency and severity of mass shootings have been going steadily up the past few years, and certain patterns are emerging about these mass shooters and their weapons of choice.  

What are the tools of mass shooters?

What are the tools of mass shooters? So called "assault rifles." Semi-automatic, military-style, high-powered rifles, that are designed to kill large numbers of human beings quickly and efficiently.

Plenty of new stories and op-ed pieces have been written lately about how the AR-15 (the civilian equivalent of the military's M-4 or M16) has become the weapon of choice of mass shooters. [See, e.g., The New York Times, "With AR-15s, Mass Shooters Attach with the Rifle Firepower Typically Used by Infantry Troops:"; Business Insider, "How the AR-15 Became the Weapon of Choice for America's Mass Shooters -- and Why It's So Deadly:"]

As an Army veteran, I can see why the civilian version of the M-4 is the domestic terrorist's go-to weapon: the M-4 is easy to use, has little recoil, fires at a high velocity, fires quickly, fires accurately (especially when outfitted with a good scope), is lightweight and easy to carry, etc. For these reasons, it makes sense that mass-shooters prefer the AR-15, so it should also make sense -- if we are really serious when we ask how to stop mass shootings -- that we would eliminate the opportunity for mass-shooters to get their hands on an AR-15.

Why does anyone need an assault rifle?

But the real question is this: why does anyone need an assault rifle? For protection against criminals? Get real. Unless you are walking around town carrying your AR-15 at the low ready, your weapon won't be very effective against the type of predatory criminal assaults that typify violent crime in America. Most people who own assault rifles keep them at home, where they are more likely to be stolen while the homeowner is away than they are to be used to defend the home against intruders. (Check out this article about gun statistics by the LA times if you doubt this:

The fact is, assault rifles are not defensive weapons; they are offensive weapons. That's why in the military, infantry are issued M-4s and M-16s assault rifles, not M-9 pistols; the military police (MPs) in garrison are issued pistols. Just look at the first half of the term "assault rifle." Making an "assault" means going on the offensive. If you want a weapon for self defense, use a pistol or even a revolver. If you need to fire rapidly at people who are 150 to 300 yards away, then it is very unlikely that you are acting in self defense. 

Your best weapon against criminals is your own mind: i.e., maintaining what the military calls "situational awareness." Situational awareness can help you avoid or escape the danger altogether. After all, the most effective way of surviving criminal violence is by not being there when it happens.

But if you leave your situational awareness at home (easy to do in our multi-tasking, ADHD, gadget-driven society), you can have your AR-15 in your car or even slung across your shoulder, and you can still become a victim of violent crime. The best rifle in the world won't do you much good against a criminal predator who catches you daydreaming in the wrong place at the wrong time.

So why do you need an AR-15? To hunt? Ok, so some people actually do use the AR-15 to hunt for various reasons. (See, Time, "Here Are 7 Animals Hunters Kill Using an Ar-15": But I am pretty sure there are alternatives out there which may not feel as cool and fun to use, but which would also not be as quick and easy for a sociopath to use to go on a mass-shooting spree. Nobody's talking about banning all hunting rifles -- or even most hunting rifles. Just civilian variants of military rifles that some people use for hunting.

So why else do you need an AR-15? To ward off government tyranny? To keep America from becoming a military junta or third-world-style banana republic? Two points in reply to this concern.

First, as in the "First Amendment," your political awareness, involvement, and engagement is much more meaningful than your weapons cache at home. Much more meaningful. Use your freedoms of speech, press, and assembly to keep the powers that be in check. In America, that will work much better than stockpiling assault rifles and body armor. Believe it or not, there are Middle Eastern countries where the civilians are much more heavily armed than the civilians in the United States are. Does that mean they are more free from tyranny? Not at all. The saying "an armed society is a polite society" must have been uttered by someone who had never been to Iraq, Syria, or Lebanon in the last few decades. Sometimes, an armed society is an out-of-control society, with very little freedom.

Second, which is more likely to happen in the next year: a military takeover or a mass shooting? You can sit in your bunker with your AR-15, waiting for the thought police or the Illuminati or Freemasons to try to take over the world, and the odds are really very low (1) that such a takeover will happen and (2) that you will be able to stop it from happening if it does. America, let's do a simple cost-benefits analysis here. What is the cost of allowing free and easy access to military-style weapons, and what are the benefits? A speculative safeguard against some far-off possibility of a military takeover, on one hand, versus the repeated tragedy of mass-killings of schoolchildren across America. Which is more likely to occur? Is the cost really worth the benefit?

So why do you need an AR-15? Because it's fun to shoot at the range or in competitive shooting events? That's true, it is. But again, is it worth the cost to society as a whole?

But even if we don't ban assault rifles, can't we levy such heavy restrictions and high taxes on them that, like the fully automatic submachine guns of the Al Capone era, they become super-expensive collector's items that ordinary criminals and crazy sociopaths can't easily get hold of?

How to stop mass shootings?

So here's how to stop mass shootings -- or, at the very least, reduce the frequency of mass shootings and minimize their impact when they do occur: eliminate the easy access that criminals, crazy people, and sociopaths have to military-grade assault rifles.

I know the NRA wants to focus all the attention on mental health. Don't get me wrong, mental health is a big issue that does need to be addressed. But sometimes, as apparently was the case with the shooter in Las Vegas, the warning signs just aren't clearly there until the guy goes on a mass shooting spree. Focusing only on mental health ignores the other big issue: how easy it is for just about anyone to get an assault rifle designed for military combat. All it takes is a few hundred dollars, a few YouTube videos, and a couple of hours at a range, and an everyday schmuck can turn himself into a wannabe Rambo and go out in a blaze of infamy, tearing apart lives and communities in the process. No amount of mental health screening is going to catch all those schmucks; we've got to make it harder for them to get their hands on assault rifles.

Even if someone does commit a mass shooting with a pistol or a regular hunting rifle, it is statistically less likely to be as massive a mass shooting. A bullet fired from a handgun tends to cause less damage than a bullet fired from an AR-15, especially if there is any kind of distance between the shooter and the victim. And if the shooter is not able to fire as many bullets, that gives more people time to escape, or simply survive until police arrive. And when the police do arrive, they're less likely to feel so badly outgunned that they have to wait for backup before assaulting the shooter's position.

So let's stop acting like it's impossible to stop mass shootings. Even if we can't stop all shootings, if we reduce the number that do occur and diminish their impact, then we have at least stopped some mass shootings. And we can do that without depriving people of their right to have a firearm for self defense, or to go hunting, or to engage in target practice at the range or competitive shooting.

I know that there are many out there who will disagree, so share your thoughts and objections by commenting on this blog, or on our Facebook page at Put forward your ideas about how to stop mass shootings, or at least limit their frequency and impact. Also, check out this overview of gun control arguments, pro vs con, including a discussion of assault rifles:

How to Stop Mass Shootings? Videos for and against banning assault weapons:

No comments:

Post a Comment

Gun Control Debate: Pro vs Con

Recent mass shootings have moved the gun control debate back to center stage. As arguments and protests heat up, there are a lot of misgui...