Friends of Padre Steve’s World,
I am at loss for words when I hear members of Congress, the media, and others react to yet another massacre by men using military grade killing machines with the words “praying for the victims” or expressing their thoughts and sympathy for them while refusing to take any action I grow weary. Mind you, I do pray but I am reminded of how many times that the prophets of the Old Testament condemned people who prayed but did nothing about injustice, or the injustices that they themselves condoned, abetted, and took part in. Likewise, I am reminded of the words of James in his epistle that “faith without works is dead.”
Speaking of dead there are another seventeen people, including 14 children dead in Parkland, Florida, just the latest casualties in a speaking epidemic of gun violence where the perpetrators used various models of the AR-15 semi-automatic assault rifle, including weapons modified to fire on full automatic, and the vast majority of these crimes have been committed by Americans with no connection to Muslim terrorists. Targets have included schools, churches and other places of worship, movie theaters, concert venues, and businesses.
The number of attacks, their frequency, and their deadliness are all increasing, and all that happens in response from the politicians whose pockets are lined by the National Rifle Association, is to offer thoughts and prayers while loosening existing restrictions on gun ownership and weapon types, ammunition, and magazines. Likewise, the same politicians who turn the issue from guns to the mental health of the shooters are the same men and women who seek to reduce access to mental health care. The same politicians, pundits, and preachers that blame the crisis on the breakdown of American families are the ones who support economic policies that force both parents to have to work. The ones who,lay the blame on the educational system are those that reduce funding and eliminate the programs like music, art, literature, as well as vocational classes, and after school programs that broadened the minds and hopes of students.
All we get is thoughts and prayers coupled with an idolatrous worship of the Second Amendment which has been so twisted by its current supporters in ways that the men who wrote it would be appalled. Conservative columnist Brett Stephens recommended repealing the Second Amendment because of how the advances in weapons, and the difference between the situation of our country in 1787 versus today make it obsolete in its current form and interpretation.
Now I am not against guns nor gun ownership. I actually plan on getting my wife and I bolt-action carbines at some point for target shooting. That being said having served in the military for over 36 years and have qualified or familiarized on almost all of the personal or crew served weapons up to the .50 caliber machine gun the LAW, or Light Anti-Tank Weapon; of course that includes the M-16 and M-4 variants of the AR-15. I’m actually pretty good with them. Likewise, as a trauma department chaplain in two U.S. trauma centers, including Parkland Memorial Hospital in Dallas, and having seen the wounded in Iraq, I know the killing power of these weapons; I have seen the dead and mutilated bodies of adults and children. These weapons turn bones into dust and internal organs into jelly. The wounds created by the .223 caliber bullets of the AR 15 and its clones are ghastly. I have seen them up close and personal.
I fully agree with novelist Stephen King who remarked:
“Semi-automatics have only two purposes. One is so owners can take them to the shooting range once in awhile, yell yeehaw, and get all horny at the rapid fire and the burning vapor spurting from the end of the barrel. Their other use – their only other use – is to kill people”
I fully agree, I love shooting them on a rifle range and I love the smell of freshly expended 5.57 or .223 rounds. I like disassembling them, cleaning out the carbon, and putting them back together. When I was going through pre-deployment training on the way to Iraq I had no weapon because I was a chaplain, but I spent my time teaching other Navy and Air Force officers how to use and maintain their weapons. My assistant, who was dual armed on my suggestion with a pistol and an M-16 and I had an agreement when we were in country: if we got into a close combat situation he would pass me the pistol and get credit for anything I hit. Thankfully it never came to that but there were a number of situations in country where we both thought it might happen. Admittedly in our situation it would have been in self-defense but I don’t know if I could live with killing another human being, and yes we were shot at from a distance, on the ground and in the air, and when I was a teenager I was held up at gunpoint.
A lot of people are focusing on the AR-15 or the Russian AK47 or AK-74 assault rifles, but there are a lot of other weapons with similar capabilities that don’t look nearly as threatening which should be banned from civilian use or restricted to 5-10 round magazines rather than the 30-50 round magazines that are frequently used in mass killings, after all anyone using such weapons for anything than killing mass numbers of people shouldn’t need a bigger magazine. That includes personal defense, hunting, and target shooting.
Please do not forget that President Ronald Reagan supported the ban on assault weapons in 1992, after which the NRA led a decade long campaign against the “Jack booted government thugs who were coming to get our weapons.” That campaign succeeded in making sure that Congress decided to not renew the ban. Since then the NRA has done whatever it could to oppose or repeal common sense gun laws that would make it harder to own a weapon; make them less capable of mass killing by restricting magazine sizes and outlawing “bump stocks”; or keeping convicted criminals, the mentally ill, and even people linked to terrorist groups from acquiring such weapons.
Since 2016 such weapons have killed 169 people and wounded more than 500 others in mass shootings alone. That does not count the many times they are used in individual killings or ambushes targeting police officers.
The problem is not just the number of rounds that can be fired quickly from such weapons but the intended effects of their ammunition on human beings. This type of weapon was designed as a military weapon intended to inflict massive damage on enemy soldiers. People armed with them outgun the average patrol officer in any given situation making them perfect weapons for cop killers.
But even so despite the carnage, despite everything, the NRA, gun advocates, gun manufacturers, their lobbyists, and their bought and paid for political representatives fight any strengthening of gun laws.
For me this is a pro-life issue mostly driven by my faith and the practical experience of seeing exactly what happens to people when shot with this type of weapon. I saw an article today posted by a friend on Facebook about a Sheriff in Washington State who claimed that guns haven’t changed but society has in its glorification of violence. In a way he is correct, society has glorified violence, and that includes people who are vicariously living their lives as military heroes in very violent video games. But the fact is that the guns available to civilians have changed, they are far more lethal and available than they were in the overly mythologized days of the 1950s. When the AR-15 became available to civilians in the 1960s it was a game changer, it’s a inexpensive, lightweight, killing machine which enterprising individuals can convert to a fully automatic weapon using commercially available off the shelf kits.
In my opinion prayers are fine, provided that those who pray are willing to do the hard things required to stop the killing; and the first of those is either outlawing or severely restricting the ownership of weapons that have such capabilities.
Honestly I really don’t think that things will change until people of my generation and older who are the most ardent supporters of the NRA are gone from the scene and the young people who have been so often victimized by these weapons attain significant political power and put a stop the bullshit.
I know that I have friends and other readers that will disagree with me, but I can find no place in civilian society for these weapons other than on a shooting range.