The first time I fired an AR-15 I believe I was about 16 years old. It seemed undeniably cool, all in black and virtually jagged compared to the wooden stocked hunting rifles I was used to. We fired a couple of magazines worth of ammo through it, judged its accuracy at different ranges and then put it away. I don’t recall firing one again until years later and not long after that I acquired one myself.
At the time I’d intended to start pig hunting (wild pigs, mind you) down in Georgia or Texas where the invasive swine run wild and destroy indigenous habitat. Pigs can be notoriously difficult to kill and having a semi-automatic rifle seemed like the best tool for the job. But then I never ended up going pig hunting and the rifle now sits in a safe in my apartment.
I don’t fear the AR-15. I don’t fear the Mini-14 either. I don’t fear the AK-47. I am not intimidated by them. I know how to work them. I don’t think of them as exclusively tools for human death. I think of them as machines. I am aware that AR-15s account for less than 1% of all gun murders in the United States. I am aware that pistols with standard capacity magazines make up 86% of the guns (PDF) used in the U.S. to commit crime and kill human beings.
And yet, 49 people are dead in Orlando and they were shot to death with an AR-15 with a thirty round magazine.
There’s an argument that goes on continually between gun control advocates and people who believe there should be very little or no gun control. That argument is that the bulk of gun murders are committed with illegal weapons and that the people using them never submit themselves for a background check. The argument is that no gun laws would prevent the vast majority of murders committed among criminals in the commission of crimes. Most of the guns used to take lives in places like Chicago and Seattle are obtained illegally, either stolen or purchased from what are known as “straw purchasers”. This is fact.
And yet, 49 people lay dead in Orlando in the biggest mass shooting in American history and the shooter purchased his tools legally.
There is an argument that says that a person intent on killing people in massive numbers will find a way to do it no matter what, as if the murderous are geniuses unable to be deterred by either difficulty or time.
There is an argument that says that the U.S. Constitution grants American citizens unlimited access to as many weapons as we like so long as we do not break the law and mostly this interpretation is fine until it isn’t. The number of law abiding gun owners does vastly outnumber those persons who possess firearms simply as a means of intimidation, mayhem, and murder. Almost all gun owners in the United States are law abiding people, even those, like me, who own AR-15s. The vast majority of us will never hurt anyone and wouldn’t want to.
And yet, the Orlando gunman fired over 200 rounds at Pulse and over four dozen mothers lost their sons and daughters. Four dozen, in one day, in only a few hours.
There are people who believe in confiscation. There are people who believe in making gun owners pay for insurance for firearms. There are people who believe in required psych evaluations prior to purchasing a firearm. These ideas are bad and they are unworkable. They will not happen. They are also all illegal under the U.S. Constitution and changing the Second Amendment would be so divisive that to even try and implement any of them could cause bloodshed.
And yet I’ve had enough. This is enough for all time. When criminals kill each other their families mourn. Their communities may mourn if they were young but everyone knows why they died. For the most part, they died because they took up the gun against other people who had taken up the gun. There is no mystery even if some say there is. But Orlando is different. Shootings at schools are different. These events are acts of execution, not battles. They are no different from the guillotine, one lined up after another and sent to the next world.
And they are that way for one reason. Capacity.
I can go out right now and buy a 100 round magazine for my AR-15. It costs only $119. I could buy two. For barely over $300 I could buy three and carry 300 rounds on me attached to a tactical vest. I would barely ever have to reload. I could hold off police. I could shoot anyone who charged me and tried to stop me. There would be no respite and break where I would have to take a few seconds to stop and change magazines. If they were close enough together then I could kill hundreds in minutes.
See, this is the dirty secret that gun owners know. We know that, for the most part, non-gun owners don’t understand guns. We know that you don’t know how to deter these shootings. We know that non-gun owners will call for psych evals (the government can’t force people to go to the doctor to exercise a constitutional right), insurance (you can’t pass a law that alienates the poor from their constitutional rights), confiscation (who wants to be the first in line to confiscate 350 million weapons even if Congress did repeal the 2nd Amendment). We know that it is the things that cannot happen that will be the things gun control advocates will call for.
But there’s one thing that would put a dent in the number of mass shootings today and that’s restricting magazine sizes for the AR-15 and other semiautomatic rifles to 10 rounds. No more. Ten.
That requirement would have meant that the Orlando shooter would have had to carry 20 magazines on him and reload twenty times during his rampage to fire the 200+ rounds he fired. Instead he had several thirty round magazines and was able to afford himself both the time and space to carry out his murders. He was able to push people away from him with long bursts of gunfire and barely give his victims a chance to take that split second, when he was reloading, to leap on him and tear him apart.
For those who haven’t fired an AR-15, you can’t underestimate the importance of this. Extended magazines are the reason the San Bernardino killers were so brash and confident in the attack they carried out. They knew that no one could get near them, that there would barely be a moment when they would be vulnerable to an unarmed person grabbing them and stopping them.
Give me three 100 round drum magazines and I could hold my whole block hostage for a day. Give me thirty 10 round magazines and someone will be able to stop me.
I own an AR-15 and I am not ashamed of that. I am a Christian and I’m not ashamed of that. I have worked for the U.S. government overseas in Iraq and I’m not ashamed of that. I hunt and edited an entire book on the gun control debate and I’m not ashamed of that. But what I am ashamed of is the unwillingness on the part of so many gun owners to make this tiny concession that they know would have a dramatic impact on the outcomes of mass killings. What I am ashamed of is the press’s unwillingness to report that this is the change we need to make. What I am ashamed of is that gun rights advocates know that this change would cost lawful owners little and would deter the insane or fanatical.
There’s a saying that goes “when seconds count the police are only minutes away.” It’s meant to enforce the truism that we are all ultimately responsible for our own defense when the chips are down. But what it really reinforces is the importance of time. Time matters immensely when you’re defending yourself. You need time to do so. You need opportunity. Ban magazines over ten rounds. Give potential victims time and opportunity and in giving them that time we will deter murderers from attempting these mass shootings. They will fear that they won’t be able to kill enough to make their point before they are crushed by their chosen victims. They are cowards. Give them reason to fear.
This may seem too small. Many seem to think that only a multi-billion dollar government initiative can put a dent in this problem or, barring that, at least a brief victory in our ongoing culture wars. To them I would say it’s not the size of the solution that matters. It is whether it works. This would work.
Ban magazines over ten rounds. Do it soon or we will be digging more plots for young men and women before the leaves have begun to turn.