Deaths of the Innocent No Longer Move America
The deaths of small children do not move us beyond tears and platitudes to policy action. What will? We are lost if we don’t demand a significant change in gun access policy after reading how a two-year-old wandered lost and frightened after both parents were shot and killed. After people going food shopping in Buffalo were slain. After people going to relax at a club in Colorado Springs were brutally murdered. How about the deaths at Walmart in Chesapeake, Virginia? Empathy drained. Courageous political action is tossed aside for preferred partisan politics.
Past policies passed in the bi-partisan Senate move are weak compromises. They are face-saving actions for both major parties, not life-sparing policy moves that will reduce the death toll from gun violence. We need to make a move that will save lives, requiring a complete ban on automatic weapons. The Senate’s bipartisan gun deal includes additional mental health funding, increased school safety, more crisis intervention programs, and incentives for states to align juvenile records in the National Instant Criminal Background Check System. But automatic, high-powered velocity weapons – weapons of war – continue to be accessible.
High-Powered Weapon Purchases Are Climbing
In 1994, President Bill Clinton signed an assault-weapons ban, which resulted in the reduction of the AR-15 and similar semiautomatic rifles sales. The Ban only covered a 10-year window, in which mass shootings were down dramatically. When the assault-weapons ban expired 10 years later, gun manufacturers filled the production pipeline and sales rose. Recently – and tragically – the AR-15 has been at the scene of almost every mass shooting to hit the headlines in recent years. It’s design – the spin of the bullet – and firepower make killing as easy as pressing the trigger again and again until its 30-bullet magazine is spent.
The United States is witnessing a record year of gun violence – more than 600 mass shootings in 2022. The pressure is on lawmakers to enact meaningful reforms. But, little action is expected to curb this continued slaughter of the innocent.
Weapons of War are Designed for One Purpose – to Kill
For six years as a military paratrooper and combat medic, I carried an M-4, the preferred weapon of war for infantry entering combat. The M-4 is a smaller, more convenient version of the M-16. These are the weapons of war used in past mass shootings. Some express misguided comfort that the A-15 is semi-auto only, and the M16 is fully automatic. But in combat situations, soldiers rarely fire on automatic. Few do, for every bullet counts. Let’s stop calling these rifles “automatic.” They are weapons created for war – weapons of war to wound and kill others.
Civilians are the Victims of this Gun-Epidemic War
We must heed the words of the onsite physician first responder in Highland Park, Dr. David Baum:
“The people who were (killed) were blown up by that gunfire … blown up. The horrific scene of some bodies is unspeakable for the average person. I’ve never served, but those are wartime injuries. Those are what are seen in victims of war, not victims at a parade.”
Dr. Roy Guerrero, a healer of children who rushed to Uvalde Memorial Hospital after the massacre of 19 children and two teachers at Robb Elementary School in Texas, testified during a congressional hearing on gun violence:
“I chose to be a pediatrician. I chose to take care of children. “Keeping them safe from preventable diseases I can do. Keeping them safe from bacteria and brittle bones, I can do. But making sure our children are safe from guns, that’s the job of our politicians and leaders.”
The words of Drs Baum and Guerrero echo a simple truth: our politicians are too removed from the steady death toll and its horror to fulfill their responsibilities in protecting the nation. America is at war within itself. Our political leaders decline to call for a ceasefire despite rising body count. Let’s call these weapons what they are – weapons of war.
The AR-15-styled weapon was used in the Sandy Hook massacre, the Aurora theater massacre, the San Bernardino massacre, Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, FL, mass murder in Buffalo, NY, Uvalde, Texas, Highland Park, IL and the most recent shootings. What’s the difference between the AR-15 and its military counterpart, the M16? They are assault weapons that hold a 30-bullet magazine and offer users the same firepower. Their killing capacity, like their power, is equal.
Congress must hold some responsibility for the murders around the nation. If its members cannot agree to protect the nation’s youngest citizens who sit in classrooms eager to learn to read, count, and play team sports, then they can either sharpen their empathy skills and feel people’s pain or consider their time in public office as a failure.
Congress Must See the Wounds of the Dead and Suffering
How can Congress show a higher degree of responsibility – a heightened connection to people’s enduring pain – physical and psychological? Look and remember! Each day, they should begin their sessions looking at the actual photos of those shot – the wounded and killed. They should learn about their injuries, urgent care, and rehabilitation. Also, each purchase of an AR-15 should require liability insurance. Where there is no economic impact, death becomes cheap. For almost certain, once insurance companies are paying out claims, something is likely to change.
With less than 5 percent of the world’s population, the US has almost 50 percent of the world’s civilian-owned guns. The US ranks number one in firearms per capita. Our nation also has the highest homicide-by-firearm rate among the world’s most developed nations. Forget the reasons used to explain-away mass shootings; at the scene of each of these horrific acts are often weapons of war.
Americans need patriotic public service advocates in Washington, DC, who place the survival of its citizens at the forefront of their efforts. Weapons of war, such as AR-15s, have no place in people’s home arsenals. Its bullet’s caliber rips its target apart – going in small and exiting the size of a fist. Members of Congress and their staff must be required – regardless of their political party affiliation– to see the destructive path of an AR-15 caliber bullet after every mass shooting – see the faces and hear the screams of the families impacted until those cries echo in their heads. They must identify with the continued horror the first responders will likely experience for years.
Years after my military service, I remember the faces of the wounded and dead. I remember stemming blood from their gunshot wounds. I hear their voices calling for distant mothers or asking if they will die. What was training and instinct – the ability to separate from the swirl around me and perform under fire – now is a movie reel that plays in my head.
I cherish life, my role as a healer, and now, my responsibilities as a health communicator. But each moment in harm’s way was never about policy; it was about survival. Now, we are all in harm’s way wherever we go. Congress, you must transcend your political differences and imagine the cries of children murdered, calling hopelessly beforehand for their parents unable to reach out. Ban assault weapons. Ban weapons of war.
[This post was originally published on July 22nd and has now been updated to reflect the recent shootings the continued lack of Federal government action to guard its citizens’ safety.]