Guns and I go back a long way.
My father was a champion skeet shooter. A picture of him aiming his favorite pump skyward has pride of place in our living room. He owned fine rifles and shotguns, and he valued them.
My first experience with pulling a trigger came late, by family standards. I was already 7 or 8 when my dad and “Uncle” George took me out back of Old Lily’s house and handed me a sawed-off shotgun (illegal then and now) kept handy for woodchucks and rattlesnakes. The recoil didn’t knock me off my feet, but my shoulder ached for weeks.
I’m blessed to have few material regrets, but I still feel a sting when I recall how, after my father’s bankruptcy, we had to sell his guns to put food on the table. Those arms were important to him and, thus, to me.
I served in the US Army, including unforgettable years in an infantry battalion. I fired my share of automatic weapons, from M16A1s to machine guns and even Kalashnikovs. (Let’s not talk about dud-grenade disposal . . .).
And I’m a gun owner. As I write these lines, there’s an 1858 Tower musket behind me and a Colt on my desk.
But I believe, on moral, practical and constitutional grounds, that no private citizen should own an automatic weapon or a semiautomatic weapon that can easily be modified for automatic effects.
These are military weapons. Their purpose is to kill human beings. They’re not used for hunting (unless you want to destroy the animal’s meat). They’re lousy for target shooting. But they’re excellent tools for mass murder.
The latest school shooter could not have done what he did with a sports rifle or shotgun. The Las Vegas shooter could not have done what he did with hunting arms. No end of school massacres and other slaughters have tallied horrific body counts because of military-grade weapons in the hands of mass murderers.
The old saw runs that “Guns don’t kill people, people do.” But people with rapid-fire weapons kill a lot more folks a whole lot faster.
These are cop-killer weapons, too.
The standard argument deployed in reply to demands that military-grade weapons be banned or mildly restricted from public sale cites the Second Amendment to our Constitution. Well, here’s what the Second Amendment actually says:
“A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.”
That “well regulated militia” part always gets left out. It’s called the “National Guard” and “the Reserves.” Did any of the recent shooters belong to a “well regulated militia”? As a matter of fact, I have not been able to identify a senior NRA executive who’s served in our military or in law-enforcement — that’s patriotism for ya.
As an Army officer, I pledged my life to the Constitution of the United States. I live by that pledge even now. But when the Second Amendment was drafted, the Redcoats really were coming. Our standing army numbered in the hundreds.
Does any serious-minded, morally centered reader believe that George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson or any of our other geniuses of freedom intended that a disturbed young man or a disgruntled employee or just a vicious drunk should be guaranteed the right to a personal arsenal of weapons designed for mass murder?
How can members of our Congress or state legislators put their re-election campaigns above the lives of children? How can they do that? We’ve lost far more American kids to mass shootings than we have to terrorism of any kind. How can members of Congress live with themselves?
How many kids or law-abiding adults have to be gunned down before we apply common sense and simple decency?
The demagogues who grow wealthy by convincing responsible gun owners that some shadowy government agency can’t wait to seize their deer rifles will have a great deal to answer for on Judgment Day.
As for putting weapons in schools, that’s a punk idea. More innocents would die.
When the shooting starts, even the best-trained, most-disciplined soldiers and cops — US Army Rangers or NYPD SWAT members — don’t put every round on target. The notion that a guard or teacher who goes to the range once a quarter would keep kids safe is profoundly divorced from reality. “Friendly fire” would simply add to the danger.
Again, I support gun ownership. Always have, always will. But if anyone feels irresistibly compelled to fire automatic weapons or their surrogates, I have a deal for them: Join the US Army or the Marines as a combat infantryman. You’ll even get paid to pull triggers.
Ralph Peters is a retired Army officer and former enlisted man.