Thoughtful gun control

By Angelou Del Angel | Published Saturday, March 31, 2018

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My perspective on the gun control debate is informed by my status as a Navy veteran and my upbringing in rural Texas by a stepdad that loved to hunt deer. To this day, I support hunting and conservation and have a healthy appreciation for a freezer full of venison.

In short, I grew up around firearms and later qualified on them in the service.

For base security duties, we were taught escalating levels of force. In case we should ever have to rise to and defend the use of deadly force, we learned a key sentence: “You don’t shoot to kill; you shoot to stop the threat.”

Those words should be the guiding principle behind any firearms that remain available for civilian purchase.

Proposals make the rounds on social and national media nowadays. Some suggest we treat guns like cars, with requirements for licensing, registration, inspection, and insurance. Others suggest that we need to expand the reach of mental health services. Still others focus on background checks and screening. All of these ideas have merit.

Then, there’s the notion of an “assault weapons” ban. Here is where the gun lobby and their enthusiasts have a point; what exactly makes a rifle into an “assault weapon” anyway? They criticize that we on the left just look at some black and tactical form of long-arm resembling an M-16, deem it scary looking, and then write it off as an “assault weapon,” and for the most part, they’re right.

Generally speaking, we on the left are not familiar enough with guns to tell. The term “assault weapon” is too nebulous and too open to interpretation for use as an enforceable legal standard.

In one way, the difference between an assault weapon and a normal weapon is highly visible; the physical wounds left behind. In an article on The Atlantic, called “What I Saw Treating the Victims From Parkland Should Change the Debate on Guns” a radiologist described the nature of wounds left behind from assault weapons such as AR-15’s, and compared them with entry and exit wounds from other guns, such as a 9mm. In short, when a 9mm handgun round pierces a major organ, it punches cleanly in and out, leaving a small hole that can be sewn shut in the ER. When an AR-15 connects, the projectile arrives with so much energy that it creates a few inches of shockwave around it. That shockwave pushes tissue away and then makes it collapse back into place.

Said tissue is essentially liquefied in the process, leaving a larger, untreatable, fatal wound. That, by definition, is not shooting to stop a threat; it’s shooting to kill. While there are rare exceptions, most situations calling for deadly force can be sufficiently handled by punching a treatable hole or two in the threat; once organs are liquefied and magazines are emptied, the defender is just piling it on, and has crossed the line into intent to kill.

There are four specific differences in firearm design that are more likely to produce such wounds. All of these differences can be addressed and banned with specific language in legislation. First off, there’s muzzle velocity. More speed means more energy, and more energy is precisely what creates that organ-liquefying shockwave.

A round from a 9mm Beretta handgun leaves the muzzle at a speed of 1,250 feet per second. The velocity of a round leaving an AR-15 is approximately 3,300 ft./sec. Somewhere in between, there is a workable, enforceable limit to muzzle velocity. Next, there’s the size of the round, terms of diameter (a.k.a. caliber) of the projectile fired. Greater mass, means greater energy, means a more gruesome wound. My lay guesstimate for a muzzle velocity limit is at around 2,000 ft./sec.

As for round size, I am hesitant to support a ban that would outlaw a hunting weapon such as a .30-06 bolt-action rifle, but that is probably too much caliber for civilian self-defense use.

The last two enforceable standards to quantify are simple; rate of fire and magazine size. For rate of fire, perhaps the best standard is that the only semi-automatics available to civilians would be handguns. Magazines would be simple enough to limit at 10 rounds for rifles, or 15 for handguns.

Those of us who support gun control must educate ourselves beyond seeing something black and tactical and calling it an “assault weapon.” That way, we can call out gun lobbyists and enthusiasts on their own terms of “self-defense,” armed with the gruesome knowledge of the nature of these wounds.

In spite of my upbringing and military service, I concede that exact numbers for both muzzle velocity and caliber limits call for opinions more informed than my own. Hence, for legislators, political candidates, and activist leaders, consultation with ballistics and medical experts is necessary. That way, gun control advocates can begin to frame the debate in precise scientific wording that would give way to enforceable standards and effective legislation.

Angelou Del Angel
Dallas (formerly of Bridgeport)

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