Q: Historically Speaking, Why Do We Need Assault Rifles?

A: We don’t.

By The Editor

I’m going to make a bold statement for an American.

Unless you are in an active-duty military unit, a member of a protective security detail, or a police officer responding to a shooting or hostage situation, there is absolutely no reason you should have a semi-automatic assault rifle with a 30- to 100-shot magazine.

Not for hunting. Not for target shooting. No reason at all. I’m sick of listening to anybody who says otherwise.

And before you shake your copy of the Second Amendment at me, talking about Minutemen and Red Coats, I’m going to counter with my own historical argument. It has two parts, comprised of present and past facts.

Recent fact: The cowardly gunman who took the lives of 49 people and wounded many others at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando on June 12, 2016, did so with a Sig Sauer MCX .223-caliber semi-automatic rifle.

Historical fact: World War II infantry troops had less powerful rifles.

Conclusion: Any civilian who “needs” an assault rifle in present-day America is either a criminal or full of lead and copper crap. Unless you are a soldier or a cop, you don’t need an assault rifle, not semi-automatic and certainly not fully automatic (meaning you simply hold down the trigger and let the full metal jackets fly.)

I say this not because I’m any sort of weapons expert; I am not. Nor can I say this because I have degrees in modern history, including one specifically in Second World War studies.

I’m qualified to say this because, like millions of others, I’ve watched a few old war movies. And based on that alone, I have enough sense to understand that it doesn’t take a high-capacity magazine, rapid-fire, next-generation assault weapon to kill numerous people.

Take the examples of WWII infantry rifles, all semi-automatic:

M1 Carbine (American) – 7.62 mm, 15/30 bullets per magazine, 30 rounds per minute rate of fire

M1 Garand (American) – 7.62 mm, 8 bullets per magazine, 30 rounds per minute rate of fire

Springfield M1903A3-A4 (American) – 7.62 mm, 5 bullets per magazine, 15 rounds per minute rate of fire

Lee Enfield Mark 1 (British) – 7.7 mm, 5 bullets per clip in two-clip magazine, 15 rounds per minute rate of fire

Three of these four weapons hold fewer bullets and could not fire as many rounds per minute as the highly advanced MXC used in Orlando on June 12, 2016. And yet they were used to great effect on June 6, 1944, when Allied invaders fought to a bloody victory over well-entrenched German occupiers on a series of beaches in Normandy, France.

Frankly, guns scare me. I have little interest in firing one, even though I have done so in the past solely for the experience, and zero interest in owning one, even though the holy Second Amendment gives me that “right.” (When tallying up my desired “rights” I veer more toward sustenance, shelter and nontoxic water and air, as well as medicine and education that do not have a detrimental effect on my options regarding the aforementioned food and lodging. But that’s just me.)

I have no ill feelings toward gun owners. I’m from Maine, where hunting is normal; you get used to seeing people in camouflage and the occasional rifle in a truck window rack. Furthermore, my best friend is a happy gun owner; I still consider him my favorite pal despite his belief that the best way to show off a newly purchased Glock 9mm is to pop around a corner and point it at me. What are friends for if not a few laughs with a handgun? It’s not like it was loaded, you big silly.

(For the record, I have also had loaded handguns pointed at me on two separate occasions and I now have a strict policy of not attempting to diffuse disputes at parties in North Carolina.)

I have never fought in a war, served in the military, or been involved in a gunfight.

However, speaking as someone who has studied the history of a number of wars, including the most devastating of all of them, I feel confident in saying that outside of those horrific battlefields, or under specific professional circumstances, there is no reason to have an assault weapon.

I don’t care how many paper torsos you care to ventilate or the number of wall-mounted deer heads you think is necessary to give your den that authentic Hemingway lodge look. Use of an AR-15 or anything similar is totally superfluous, and in terms of the deer downright wasteful (think of all the yummy venison that will be left splattered on the bushes.)

Admit it, nobody “needs” an assault rifle to protect his/her family unless he/she is in a wagon train surrounded by an Apache war party. The hundreds you will drop on a shiny, loud “deterrent” would be better spent on motion detectors and flood lights, the real home invasion stoppers, as well as a reliable cell phone with 911 set on speed dial.

And if you feel it is necessary to strap an assault rifle to your chest to ensure your personal safety from the other Walmart shoppers, you have paranoia issues that probably should be regulated by prescription.

Lastly, if you have a penchant for cooking bacon on a gun barrel, a la Ted Cruz trying to prove his Texas bonafides, you are officially as cool as Ted Cruz, by which I mean not even a tiny bit.

Simply put, if you live in the United States and are not one of the professional men and women who stop evil doers for a living, an assault weapon should not find a home in your hands (or swinging from your shoulder in a coffee shop, or anywhere near a school.)

Bad people with guns kill innocent people. They are deranged and evil, there’s no contesting that, and we will never be able to completely eradicate the menace of armed madmen with heads full of death. But putting more and more powerful guns in the hands of good people is not going to improve anything, because fighting fire with fire only causes more fire.

Yet there is something we can do, a thing we can come to agree on and then work together to solve, both through legislation and good old fashioned public outrage. People with more efficient guns that hold more bullets have the ability to kill more people. The mechanics of that will not change, but what can change is that gun manufacturers stop producing increasingly powerful weapons for civilian use and gun retailers and the federal government can make it far less easy to obtain these weapons.

Will another mass shooting stop the seemingly insatiable thirst for weapons that many Americans possess? Both history and modern data say otherwise. But rather than simply accept that – and let the twisted morality of the NRA and its ilk push this fact beyond gun acceptance to gun worship – we need to recognize a simple equation; the only calculation that can make any progress toward slowing America’s gun shooting deaths. Fewer assault rifles = fewer dead people.

On D-Day in Normandy, it is estimated that more than 425,000 Allied and German troops were killed. There were many horrific ways to die on that day, but it’s a fair assumption that thousands of those deaths were caused by the thousands of rifles of the infantry troops. Those are pretty grisly figures.

Yet at the Pulse in Orlando, one shooter – a single man – killed 49 and wounded 53 people.

Part of that deadly equation was the result of unarmed people in an enclosed area being unable to fight back against a man with a gun. But just as important to remember is that the civilian murderer wielded a weapon beyond the capabilities and capacities even of those carried by the soldiers who took part in the largest and deadliest amphibious invasion in history.

There is no way of knowing beyond a mathematical approximation how many fewer deaths might have been caused by a different gun; whether the body count depended on the killer firing a modern MXC instead of an old M1 is totally academic.

Yet it is possible to determine a future outcome based on a simple, non-academic truth: The government and the gun makers and sellers, and especially the self-serving death dealers of the NRA, are enabling and encouraging the arming of civilians with weapons that give the general populace striking power comparable to the military and the police.

That is a chapter, historically speaking, we can close if we take the obvious, necessary action.

(June 2016)

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