They could have been anybody’s kids

NEWS-LEDGER — DEC 26, 2012 —

‘MY BACK PAGES’: Daryl Fisher’s column

So, just what is the “Bushmaster .223 AR-15” assault rifle that was used to slaughter 20 grade school children and six of their female teachers and administrators a week ago last Friday in Newtown, Connecticut?


To begin with, it’s actually a demilitarized version of the deadly M-16 rifle I carried around in the jungles of Vietnam more than 40 years ago. It’s lightweight, doesn’t have much of a recoil, and presidential candidate Michele Bachmann has even said it is her favorite gun, “because you can be so accurate with it.” Its makers officially call it a “modern sporting rifle” and one of its best-selling points is that it is set up to handle high-capacity magazines (ten or more rounds) which give the shooter the ability to fire off dozens of bullets without having to take a bunch of time out to reload.

According to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, it is also one of the most popular rifles in the country, with more than 2 million of them having been sold in the last decade alone. They usually cost anywhere from $900 to $2000, although I hear there are some really nice sales going on right now that will make you the proud owner of one for as little as $799.

In addition to being very popular with target practice enthusiasts (like Adam Lanza’s mother, who was the first of her son’s 27 victims), they have become wildly popular with mass murderers. It was the weapon of choice for the two killers who came to be known as the Beltway Snipers back in the early 2000s, terrorizing much of the Washington, D.C., area and leaving 15 people dead before they were caught. And an AR-15 (with a 100-round barrel magazine) was also one of the weapons used to shoot up an Aurora, Colorado theater not that long ago, leaving 12 dead and 58 wounded. Oh, and it was the weapon another crazed killer used in the very recent Clackamas, Oregon, shopping mall shooting that left three dead (including the gunman) and many people in that community too scared to finish their Christmas shopping.

So, as any sane person should finally get around to asking, why in the hell is such a weapon allowed to be in the hands of any American other than a soldier or police officer? Well, apparently it has something to do with the American gun culture, which now has our nation afloat in somewhere between 270 and 350 million guns. No one really knows the exact number, but whatever it is, it’s almost half of all the guns in the world.

According to the National Rifle Association (NRA), it also has something to do with the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution, which as I understand it, the Founding Fathers set up to make sure that we could each have our own musket (the kind that takes about a minute to reload) and there would be a well-regulated militia in case the British ever got back on their ships and tried to reclaim their American colonies again.

It’s one thing for a hunter to have a properly registered rifle and shotgun, and for citizens who feel they need a handgun to protect their family and possessions to own one. But to keep accepting close to 10,000 gun deaths every year in this country as simply part of the price we all have to pay for our Second Amendment rights is nothing less than madness.

The NRA, which can apparently make or break some of our most cowardly politicians, also says that we don’t really have a gun problem in this country, just a crazy people problem, and that if we really want to effectively deal with gun violence in America, all we really need to do is get off our butts and buy more guns (that really is what their organization is mostly about you know: selling more guns so they can continue to get more than half of their yearly multi-million dollar lobbying budget from gun manufacturers).

When talking to the NRA and their knee-jerk supporters, they will give lip service to everything from violent video games and movies to our inadequate mental healthcare system (all of which, by the way, should indeed be part of any serious discussion about gun violence in this country). But in their first news conference since that bloody Friday morning in Newtown, their only answer to making sure it doesn’t happen again is to put heavily armed police officers into all our schools, effectively moving future “OK Corrals” from the dusty streets of the old Wild West into our nation’s classrooms.

In reality, meaningful gun control laws can be enacted and can even work, as Australia proved less than two decades ago when they put the safety of their citizens ahead of the profits of weapons manufacturers after a gunman opened fire on tourists in a seaside resort in Port Arthur, Tasmania. By the time he had finished, that gunman had killed 35 people and wounded dozens more. It was easily the worst mass murder in Australia’s history, and only twelve days later, Australia’s conservative government announced a bipartisan deal with state and local governments to enact sweeping gun-control measures, including a massive buyback of more than 600,000 semi-automatic shotguns and rifles. Polls showed that 90 percent of the public supported those measures, and they have gone a long ways towards making Australia a much safer place to call home.

  On the day I was wounded in Vietnam, 21 of the 28 members of my Aero Rifle Platoon were also hit, and two of them were killed. The scene was unimaginable, with blood and guts everywhere and with trained soldiers in shock from what they had just witnessed and somehow lived through. It was the most deadly and terrifying ambush I experienced during my year in Vietnam and yet it was nothing compared to what those poor little kids and their teachers and administrators had to face at Sandy Hook Elementary School. Twenty kindergarten and first grade students shot dead, with each of their little bodies having been hit at least three times (some as many as 11). Six brave female teachers and administrators also shot dead while trying to keep their precious students out of harm’s way.

And as someone who has seen up-close-and-personal the way a rifle like the Bushmaster AR-15 does its terrible thing, I can tell you that those poor little kids weren’t simply killed – they were blown away!

So, will meaningful gun control laws turn all the bad guys into good guys? Of course not. But all important journeys begin with the first step, and it’s way beyond time that our country and its politicians manned-up and started getting these god-awful weapons and their high-capacity magazines off our nation’s streets and out of our homes and neighborhoods.

Charlotte, Daniel, Olivia, Josephine, Ana, Dylan, Madeleine, Catherine, Chase, Jesse, James, Grace, Emilie, Jack, Noah, Caroline, Jessica, Avielle, Benjamin, and Allison could have been any of our kids and grandkids. They should all be home opening their Christmas presents this week, instead of being buried in some lonely cemetery by the completely shattered families who adored them. And each of their lovely, innocent souls deserved so much better from the nation that now mourns them.

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Copyright News-Ledger 2012

2 Responses to They could have been anybody’s kids

  1. sarahkg says:

    Thank you for your perspective and insight, Daryl. As a classroom teacher, the community of Newtown has been heavy on my mind. I was filled with anxiety as my students sat in an assembly before winter break, because all I could think about was how I would keep them safe is something happened. As a society, we need to be looking closely at how we deal with mental health. I respect individuals right to own a gun, but agree that high-capacity magazines should be illegal.

  2. LS says:

    Mr. Fisher, I would like to thank you for tackling such a complicated topic. My family is educated and very diverse when it comes to politics and the use of guns. I was brought up in a home with an avid hunter and learned at a very young age to respect weapons. Your article addressed the issue perfectly. I don’t say that only because I agree with your opinion, but because you are clearly speaking from a place of first-hand knowledge as well as reasonableness and compassion. I am sharing your article with anyone who will listen and I hope others do the same. It would be naive to think there is a simple fix, but as you stated, we need to start somewhere.

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