Capitol commentary: The kids are right

By Fred Benson

I have been shot at and missed. I have shot at others and not missed. I take no pride in either of those circumstances, but what I do carry with me is an intimate awareness of the destructive power of military weaponry and the mutilation it can visit on targeted human beings. The AR-15 that was used in killing 17 high school students at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., is a slightly lighter, semi-automatic version of the M16 I carried every day in Vietnam. Both are capable of killing as many people as possible, in the shortest time possible, with the most traumatic injuries possible. There is absolutely no room in a civil society for weapons designed for those purposes.

Students around the nation have rallied in support of reinstating the ban on these types of weapons and the large-capacity magazines that enable a shooter to kill so many innocent people so quickly. They forcefully state that we adults, and those representing us in Congress, are derelict by remaining silent as the atrocities mount. They are correct. It is time for us to support our children in their cries for help.

The previous ban on these weapons was signed into law by President Clinton in 1994. Under pressure from the NRA, Congress included a “sunset” provision that required reauthorization 10 years later. In the interceding midterm elections, Democrats lost a net 52 seats in the House and 8 in the Senate, giving Republicans a majority in both chambers of Congress. As a result, the ban ended in 2004.

In his 2016 book “Rampage Nation,” author Louis Klarevas studied 50 years of shooting incidents (those with six or more victims) to determine the effectiveness of the decade-long ban. The results were dramatic. Compared with the 10-year period before the ban, “the number of gun massacres during the ban period fell by 37 percent, and the number of people dying from gun massacres fell by 43 percent. But after the ban lapsed in 2004, the numbers shot up again — an astonishing 183 percent increase in massacres and a 239 percent increase in massacre deaths.”

There is broad public support for reinstating such a ban. A 2017 Pew Research Center poll found that close to two-thirds of American adults favor banning assault weapons and high-capacity magazines. More importantly, almost half of gun owners in that poll said they would support a ban.

The half of gun owners opposing an assault rifle ban argue that it will accomplish little as there are already some 15 million of these weapons in private hands. Further, they claim, other weapons can do just as much damage, and someone who wants to kill people will find a way to do it. These are patently ridiculous arguments. Doing nothing cannot be an option.

It is highly likely that most of you reading this are parents or grandparents. Just imagine getting the call informing you that your beloved child or grandchild has just been killed by a weapon that is so easily capable of slaughtering the most vulnerable among us, a weapon that Congress once determined was too dangerous to be in public hands.

Just imagine how you would feel if you had not had the gumption to speak out and support these brave kids taking the fight to Washington on March 24. Get out there. Speak. March. Wear black masking tape in the form of an inverted “V” on your shirt or jacket to show your solidarity. Contact your senators’ and representative’s offices and demand legislation to slow the tragic consequences spiraling around us. And come November, consider what your elected officials did — or did not do — to help the cause, and vote accordingly.

Fred Benson is a resident of Mount Desert and publishes Capitol Commentary, an independent political newsletter.

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