Viewpoint: Changing the world, vote by vote 

By Bill Horner 

On the evening of Dec. 14, 1998, our 25-year-old son Mark was called to the front door of his home. His roommate had answered the doorbell and found an unknown man standing on the porch. When Mark came to the door, he was quickly shot to death by the man’s handgun. My phrasing here is deliberate. Certainly, the man intended to kill Mark and his finger pulled the trigger multiple times. But it was the gun that actually killed our son. 

In a cruel irony, on the same date in 2012, twenty-six children and adults were killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School. The killer in this case was much more efficient, using a military-style semi-automatic AR-15. Again, the killer had intent, but the firearm caused the ensuing deaths and injuries. And the vividly reported catastrophes continue daily, as we know from recent events in Buffalo, Texas and Oklahoma. The numbers are mind-numbing. 

As a retired trauma surgeon, I am too aware of the years of accumulated medical 

research and multiple attempts to frame gun-related injury and death as a public health issue. We have failed. We cannot convince our elected legislators that firearm-related death and injury are preventable. In contrast, we have succeeded in reducing automobile-related injury and death with sensible restraint laws and change in automotive design. So, here we have the firearm and the automobile, both capable of killing innocent people. A person driving a car is subject to regulation and restraint; a person carrying a firearm is free to do as he pleases. Why? 

As a retired trauma surgeon, I know how both cars and guns kill and injure. Most car killings are accidental. They can be gruesome. Most gun killings are intentional, whether by one’s own hand or by another’s. AR-15s kill in a very special and intended way. If anything, they are more gruesome. They were the prototype of the US military’s M-16, designed to “…penetrate the standard US steel helmet at 500 yards…,” among other criteria. The result is a projectile that travels very, very quickly to its target and generates something called kinetic energy. How does one visualize this? If you were hit in the head with a 100-mph big league fastball, you would likely sustain a concussion and a possible skull fracture. You would be recognizable. If you were hit in the head with an AR-15 projectile, your head would essentially disappear or be rendered so fragmented that you would not be recognizable. AR-15 projectiles have the designed quality of tumbling when they hit the target, to cavitate the soft tissue and create multiple secondary fragments if they hit bone. If nothing else, a tiny entrance wound (.22 sized) becomes a hideous exit wound. I know. I have seen them. 

Why is this semi-automatic (one shot for every pull of the trigger finger) military weapon in the hands of civilians? 

Senate Republicans, WAKE UP! I am laying this on you. All of you. In the past, you have protected gun manufacturers from any liability for the injuries their products cause. You have allowed a formerly well-intentioned National Rifle Association – it was organized to promote marksmanship – to proliferate into a fundraising PAC (Political Victory Fund), on which you depend for political support and approval. The NRA has declared the AR-15 as “America’s Rifle.” You have refused to fund public health research in firearm-related death and injury. In the present, you embrace the libertarian view that the guarantees of the Second Amendment apply not just to the community, but to the individual. You espouse individual liberty and freedom even as those who pull the triggers of these weapons deny the life, liberty and pursuit of happiness of the victims they kill and maim. Is there not a voice or mind among you that can break out of the ideological strait jacket you find yourselves restrained in? 

Voters, regardless of party, RISE UP! DO SOMETHING! Stop feeling uncomfortable in saying “gun control.” During the 2016 Maine Question 3 Referendum on background checks (we didn’t lose by much), I was hesitant to articulate anything other than “gun safety.” Not now! Certain guns should be controlled. 

Handguns are problematic, especially in urban areas with high crime rates. The notion of home defense is justified there, but here in Maine? Data show that we and our children are more likely to kill ourselves by accident or suicide than be killed by someone else. It is your relative that is often your worst enemy.  

Leave our law-abiding sportsmen alone. Their sporting rifles and shotguns are NOT the problem. Do not be judgmental of them for going hunting in the fall and winter. I certainly did as a youngster, as do some of my grandchildren. 

But who needs a 30-shot magazine AR-15, here in Maine or anywhere else? Target shooters will argue that it’s a fun rifle to shoot. Ranchers in Wyoming like to shoot declared pests such as prairie dogs with them. Check out YouTube if you want to see one vaporize. But a Maine deer hunter?  

Unfortunately, this voting season we will have no opportunity to ban the AR-15 or other military firearms in civilian hands. But we can vote for candidates who openly support a beginning process to meaningfully decrease the millions of inappropriate firearms that our civilian population has acquired. Let’s turn Wayne LaPierre (CEO of the NRA) on his head. Let’s turn his “The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun” into “The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a vote.” Vote for candidates who are willing to talk about and act upon selective and appropriate gun control! 


Bill Horner, M.D., FACS 

Bar Harbor 

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