12/20/2012 02:15 pm ET Updated Feb 19, 2013

Who Needs a .223?

I am a life member of the National Rifle Association. My family has owned guns for generations and has sent men to military service for more than a century. I strongly support the Second Amendment to the Constitution.

But, I have a simple question: what does a civilian need with a .223, a caliber developed by and for the military for small arms combat situations?

This question occurs to me for three reasons: the late mother of the Newton, Ct., killer owned and practiced with a .223; the .223, reports have it, is the single biggest seller among rifles in the United States; finally, the .223 serves no civilian or hunting purpose, in my view, that other calibers serve at least as well and with less opportunity for deadly mistakes.

Please know that I am not talking about the silly argument about the physical configuration of "assault rifles." The changes brought about by the now-lapsed assault rifle ban were almost entirely cosmetic. It was at least interesting, if not amusing, to listen to lawmakers who didn't know an assault rifle from Aunt Mamie's goat pontificate about how outlawing assault rifles would lead to some nirvana. Let's disregard for this discussion that kind of ignorance.

Let's concentrate instead on the essentials. What does this caliber do that cannot be done in hunting and personal defense better by other weapons in other calibers. Perhaps this argument can be best illustrated by a heated series of exchanges among serious gun-owners after the post-Hurricane Katrina violence.

What weapon(s), gun owners were asked by a highly-respected gun magazine, would you choose if you had had to defend yourself and your family in the violent aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. As one might expect, thousands of suggestions flooded in. A few opted for the .223 in semi-automatic, rifle configuration. Others suggested a variety of handguns in different calibers and different kinds of bullets. Some offered hunting rifles used widely for deer and other larger animals.

What seemed to me to be the dispositive comment came from an elderly man who noted: "My son has been an emergency room physician for many years. He reports to me that he has never seen anyone survive a .12 gauge, double ought buck shot wound to the upper torso." In short, if you want to protect your home and family from intruders, don't buy an AR-15. If such a situation occurs, you are going to be full of adrenaline, your heart beating 150 bpm or so, and you will panic. If you are a member of a SWAT team, or have just left military combat, you are likely to be able to hit a target, often in the dark and in the matter of seconds you have to react properly. If you are almost anyone else, the odds that you will hit your target with an AR-15 in .223 are small.

Do you really want to protect home and family from intruders? Go out and buy a .12 gauge or .16 gauge shotgun. Load it with buckshot. Make sure the gun has a fully open choke. That way, when that mysterious figure breaks into your house and begins marching up the stairs, and your hands are shaking almost uncontrollably, you can fire in the general direction of the intruder with some certainty of disabling him. Throw out the .223; it will likely be more dangerous to you than the intruder.

Let's get serious. Many states, including those in our region, demand that anyone who wishes to use a long gun to hunt deer or similar prey pass a hunter safety course before being allowed to get a license to hunt. Long guns' records reveal that they are vastly safer than hand guns or semi-auto AR-15s. If we require a license and training for long guns, it makes eminent sense to require at least as much training and licensing to own an AR-15 or similarly configured semi-automatic rifle.

Finally, for those who like the AR-15 as a varmint gun, here's what we used on the ranch I used to own in very rural, southwest Colorado -- a single shot .22 long rifle. We used a .300 WinMag for big deer and elk. We had our trusty .12 gauges for home protection.

We in the NRA should demand licensing and training certification, especially by an NRA certified instructor, before we allow purchase of handguns and semi-auto rifles. It is sensible, will save accidental deaths as well as mass murders, and it will lead to much safer homes and hearths.