Once, many years ago, I was taken hunting for a day in the Pacific Northwest of America. With a shotgun in his arms. It was one of those guns that had to be reloaded after every shot, and it had a terrible kick when you pulled the trigger. Due to my inexperience, I didn’t know how to hold it straight, and three or four hits left my arm black and blue for days.
But I still remember the feeling of power I felt holding that thing. And the feeling of shame afterwards. I’ve been averse to bloodsports all my life, but nearly converted easily when given the chance to shoot a flock of harmless ducks.
So I kind of understand, as repulsive as it is, the lure of guns. It’s still a struggle, however, to understand America’s passion for guns and its blind refusal to make the connection between guns and death.
I think I know America well, even though I haven’t been there for years. I associate Americans with generosity and warmth, as that has been my experience many times over the years.
It is a place of glorious countryside and beautiful and unforgettable towns. It’s easy to see, when you spend time there, why they come to see themselves as the land of the free and the home of the brave.
But they are killing each other, day after day, with unspeakable weapons. The weapon of choice is a gun – or rather a range of guns – called the AR-15. These are not shotguns that need to be reloaded every time the trigger is pulled.
I’ve seen a doctor describe an AR-15 as a gun that has three main features. Its high-velocity bullets pass through a child’s body so quickly that they destroy tissue six inches around a bullet entrance. It’s semi-automatic, which means it will fire as fast as you can pull the trigger. And it has high capacity magazines – the doctor said more than 10 bullets in a magazine weren’t necessary unless you wanted to kill humans.
It’s a killing machine. Neither a hunting machine nor a defensive machine. The sole purpose of an AR-15 is to kill other people. There are different types of AR-15 (the most popular is apparently made by Colt, a company whose website features the slogan “Legends Never Die”). But they all do the same thing: they fire volleys of bullets at extremely high velocity at their targets. And increasingly, those targets are other people.
They were banned for a time, under temporary legislation led by Bill Clinton. Most of the comments I’ve read suggest that a temporary ban only gave the weapon mystique.