The Proliferation of Powerful Guns

Does anyone's "right" to have a gun that fires hundreds of rounds in a matter of a minute outweigh the right of a 7-year-old simply to celebrate her 8th birthday?
12/17/2012 05:36 pm ET Updated Feb 16, 2013
In this photo provided by the Newtown Bee, Connecticut State Police lead children from the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Ne
In this photo provided by the Newtown Bee, Connecticut State Police lead children from the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., following a reported shooting there Friday, Dec. 14, 2012. (AP Photo/Newtown Bee, Shannon Hicks) MANDATORY CREDIT

If there has ever been a game changer in the national conversation on the role of guns in America, what happened at Sandy Hook on Friday is that tipping point. I think there is an overwhelming consensus that this country will never be the same after 20 children -- age 6 to 7 -- were slain in what will likely go down as the most tragic mass shooting in our history. Charlotte, Daniel, Olivia, Josephine, Ana, Dylan, Dawn, Madeline, Catherine, Chase, Jesse, James, Grace, Anne, Emilie, Jack, Noah, Caroline, Jessica and Avielle are all heroes who have paid the ultimate price for America's unwillingness to pass sensible gun laws. All of the weapons used to murder each child were bought legally.

If nothing else, we can no longer deny the patently obvious connection between the proliferation of powerful guns and gun-related death. Put in its most basic terms, every extra bullet held by this shooter's high-capacity clips, means that one more first or second grader is never coming home to his or her parents. The capacity to spray a room with bullets and the speed of the carnage almost guaranteed that there would not be an opportunity for law enforcement (or anyone else) to intervene in time to save any lives.

The laws that allow private citizens to legally possess assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition clips reflect an absurd disconnect between ideology and humanity. No matter what your views on the meaning and import of the second amendment, we must, at the very least, inject some common sense into the debate and answer basic questions: Do civilians need these types of weapons? Does access to combat weapons by civilians make society safer? Are these guns really used for self-defense? Does every debate about guns have to focus more on flawed dogmas about the meaning of the Bill of Rights rather than on the reality of how Americans suffer exponentially higher gun deaths than any other industrialized country? Does anyone's "right" to have a gun that fires hundreds of rounds in a matter of a minute outweigh the right of a 7-year-old simply to celebrate her 8th birthday?

In all my years of being a criminal prosecutor, I have never even heard of anyone who needed a high-capacity or combat weapon to defend their homes or their family. My guess is there is none. Who exactly are you expecting an attack from? In addition, no hunter really uses assault weapons or high-capacity handgun clips to hunt. Ask any gun advocate why they need or believe there is a right to a weapon of war and you will get a muddied answer that cites an absurdly broadened right that the drafters of our Constitution would have scoffed at. There is an irrational fear driven by a public interest group that has controlled the politics and the conversation on this issue far too long. The problem is that a rigid ideology has trumped common sense. Texas Congressman Louie Gohmert is emblematic of this disconnect when he went on national television after Friday's shooting and claimed that the problem wasn't too many guns but too few, suggesting that the principal should have been armed with M-4 assault rifle.

We cannot forget the shocking 2011 Tucson rampage in which a mentally disturbed man brandished his semi-automatic Glock pistol outside a supermarket and began rapidly firing into the crowd. In less than a minute, thanks to a high-capacity .33-round ammo clip, Jared Lee Loughner managed to kill six people, among them a nine-year-old girl and a federal judge, and wound thirteen others, including his target -- U.S. Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords. Since Glock pistols use a standard clip of 15 rounds, a high-capacity clip of more than 30 rounds certainly gave Loughner a "tactical advantage." The assassin was finally tackled while trying to reload yet another super-sized clip. So other than killing a lot of people quickly, what's the point of defending a civilian's right to buy and use these military-style clips?

In fact, the kind of high-capacity clips that Loughner legally bought at a sporting goods store were once banned under a federal law that expired in 2004. Since the Tucson massacre, there's been only a rippling of concern from Congress to legally limit the use of high-capacity ammo. It appears that anyone who advocates for common-sense laws to rein in the manufacture and sale of these high-powered clips is guaranteed to face fierce NRA opposition.

After the Aurora, Colo., shooting (less than five months ago) in which 12 people were killed, also with a semiautomatic rifle (with a 100-round drum magazine) we did nothing. The gun lobby again claimed that the real problem was the restrictions on the movie audience's ability to be armed and shoot back at James Holmes who was wearing tactical gear and a ballistics helmet and had tear gas grenades, hundreds of rounds of ammunition and multiple firearms. Does anyone really believe that?

I think it is clear that someone who is determined to kill people will almost always find a way and any imposed legal restriction will not eliminate murders or mass murders. That doesn't mean that we should make it easy -- and we make it way too easy -- to obtain weapons that have no legitimate purpose other than killing lots of people quickly. We don't have to give criminals the means to exponentially increase the carnage. I think common sense laws that lower the kind and supply of guns that fall into the hands of criminals is step one. Don't wait until it's your child, grandchild, niece, nephew, brother or sister that is killed to reflect on what are America's core values. If you think what happened in Sandy Hook couldn't happen to you or your loved ones, talk to the parents of the 20 children who went to sleep Friday night with an empty bed in their home. On Thursday night, they too believed that their lives would never be touched by gun violence.