Why are we willing to sacrifice our children and their right to life and unwilling to qualify our right to an AR-15?
By Chris Honoré
It’s what I think of as a cynical dodge: A Republican lawmaker is asked to comment on the mass shooting in Uvalde, a tragedy beyond comprehension, and the reflexive response is “mental illness.”Of course, as the respondent is well aware, this is a half-truth. We know that in a country of well over 300 million people there will be, inevitably, those among us who are damaged, whose reality is distorted by delusional grievances, and whose days are haunted by a paranoid rage.
But what makes the stand-alone mental illness reply so disingenuous is that it ignores the role that guns play in the ongoing national tragedy of gun violence, one framed by untold carnage. And so we must begin not only with mental illness, but attempt to understand the meaning of our national fetish with guns.
How do we explain that there are more guns in America than there are people? How do we understand that in the first 21 weeks of 2022 there have been 213 mass shootings (four or more killed or wounded)? How do we grasp that an average of 321 Americans are shot every day? Or that some 50,000 gun sales are recorded daily? What is driving us to turn America into an armed camp, one vehemently justified by a Second Amendment written for a far different time and purpose?
It all seems so irrational. Which brings me to the easy availability of the AR-15 semiautomatic rifle, a weapon of war, designed to inflict maximum damage on the field of battle. Now pause for a moment and consider the descriptive comments made by doctors who have treated the violence done to the human body by this gun:
“Bullets from the AR-15 leave the muzzle at a velocity of more than 3,000 feet per second, while bullets from a handgun move at less than half or a third of that speed. You will see multiple organs shattered; the exit wound can be a foot wide.” – Dr. Martin Schrieber, Oregon Health & Science University
“The tissue damage is almost unimaginable. Bones are exploded, soft tissue is absolutely destroyed. The injuries to the chest and abdomen — it’s like a bomb went off.” — Dr. Jeremy Cannon, The Trauma Center at Penn Presbyterian Medical Center.
“The high-energy bullet (from an AR-15) creates a blast wave around the bullet … striking bone can also cause bone fragments that radiate outward, cutting tissue in each fragment’s path. Then the bullet starts tumbling, causing more and more destruction. Organs are damaged, blood vessels rip and many victims bleed to death before they reach the hospital. Those who survive long enough to reach the operating room have injuries so extensive they cannot be repaired.” — Dr. Jeffrey Kirby, The University of Alabama at Birmingham
“The level of destruction, disfigurement, and disregard for life that a high-powered assault rifle inflicts on the human body cannot be understated. Many of the Uvalde victims’ bodies were so tattered and dismembered from the ballistic injuries, DNA matching was required for identification .…” – Dr. Lavell M. Allen, a Nashville Radiologist.
The terror the children of Uvalde confronted in their last moments is incomprehensible. Photographs of the damage done to their small, fragile bodies by this rifle should be shown to every congressional representative. But then, that’s a discussion for another time. The question to be asked is why, in a civil society, such a lethal weapon is seductively marketed and sold to anyone, no matter if they are 18 or 21?
Of course, common sense tells us that to purchase a gun of any kind there should be a comprehensive background check. Red Flag laws should be passed, allowing the removal of a weapon from persons who might harm others or themselves. Ditto safe gun storage. And resources should be available to treat a spectrum of mental disorders.
But again, let me ask why the AR-15 and its ilk are not banned from the public, as is an array of military hardware?
I recall thinking that when 20 children and six teachers were massacred at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conneticut, in 2012, America would reach a turning point regarding the sale of weapons of war. But as the grief and horror receded nationally, as it always does, Congress, predictably, moved on as well. I then decided that, for reasons that are beyond understanding, we are willing to sacrifice our children and their right to life while unwilling to qualify our right to own a gun such as the AR-15. Will Uvalde be any different? Or will we once again hear the sound of silence?
One last comment: Actor Matthew McConaughy, who grew up in Uvalde, spoke at a White House press conference, making a personal appeal regarding gun violence. He pointed to his wife, Camilla, who was holding a pair of green high-top Converse sneakers with a heart drawn in marker over the right toes, similar to those often worn by 10-year-old Maite Yuleana Rodriguez, one of the 19 students killed in the May mass shooting at Robb Elementary School.
“These are the same green Converse on her feet that turned out to be the only clear evidence that could identify her after the shooting,” he said. He went on to describe the devastation the Uvalde gunman’s assault rifle wrought in the classroom.
Maite’s mother, sharing her rending grief, said, “This horrific and senseless nightmare that I just can’t seem to wake up from has absolutely crushed and debilitated my life and heart.”
Email Ashland resident Chris Honoré at email@example.com.