They say it’s not about the gun. They say it’s about mental health, discipline, even video games.
But it is about the gun. One gun in particular — the AR-15 semiautomatic rifle.
That’s the weapon used to kill 14 students and three adults at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, in about six minutes.
I know something about this weapon, or its military version, the M-16. I carried one a few years, back when I wore baggy green skin.
Never miss a local story.
I learned to field-strip it, to keep it clean and functioning, and I qualified as an expert with it on the range.
I also learned to respect its power. At around 2,800 feet per second, the AR-15’s high-velocity .223 bullet can make an exit wound the size of a softball. If it hits an internal organ, like the liver, it’s basically vaporized.
President Trump was reported shaken by the horrific wounds of Parkland survivors he saw in hospital. It’s not at all like in the movies, he was said to have complained to an aide.
Indeed. The AR-15 and its clones are designed not only to rapidly kill as many people as possible, but to leave any survivors as badly wounded as possible.
If you are soldier, this is good. You don’t want a wounded enemy popping up to shoot at you again.
If you are a schoolchild being targeted by a mad gunman, not so good.
Dr. Heather Sher, a Broward County radiologist, described in The Atlantic how a surgeon opened a young Parkland victim and found “only shreds of the organ that had been hit …. Nothing was left to repair — and utterly, devastatingly, nothing could be done to fix the problem. The injury was fatal.”
A high-velocity bullet kills not only by impact, but by what surgeons call “cavitation.” It tears through flesh at such speed that it leaves a wake, like a torpedo. It can burst an artery or destroy an organ without even touching it. If it hits a bone, it will tumble, causing horrific exit wounds.
On the web, you can see videos of cantaloupes being exploded by AR-15 rounds. Visualize a child’s head instead, and you get the idea.
When hardened police officers and coroners described the AR-15 massacre of first-graders at Newtown, Connecticut as a “slaughter,” or “butchery,” they were not exaggerating.
Of course, other weapons, including some hunting rifles, also fire high-velocity rounds. But the combination of high velocity, rapid fire and high capacity make the AR-15 type particularly lethal — and attractive to mass shooters.
That’s one reason Congress included the AR-15 and its clones in the assault weapons ban in force between 1994 and 2004.
In my infantry platoon, our M-16s were mostly kept locked up, and we were never allowed anywhere near live ammunition except on the firing range, under close supervision.
Today, an AR-15 is easily available for about $800 to anyone non-felon 18 or over. The National Rifle Association estimates there are between 8.5 and 15 million at large in the country.
Some are undoubtedly in the hands of well-trained and responsible gun owners, but others — well, just check out YouTube.
The M-16 is a fine weapon. I was proud of my proficiency with it.
But it needs to stay in the military, trained on actual enemies, not children.
It is about the gun. This gun.
Kerry Webster lives in Lakewood. He’s a retired journalist, including time at The News Tribune, and served with the 81st Brigade (Mech.) Washington Army National Guard from 1970 to 1976.