In 2018, I find two sides of myself at odds. I am an Army veteran whose training leads her to consider the M-4 rifle and its civilian equivalent, the AR-15, normal and not an especially big deal. I am also a mother who sends her kids to a public school every day, and has been horrified by overhearing her Kindergartener discuss lockdown drill procedures. In today’s America, only one side of this internal conflict can win.
I remember a conversation with my parents after another shooting. My mother, a longtime elementary school teacher, was understandably emotional. “It sprays a hail of bullets!” she said of the AR-15. “Why would anybody need one of those?!” I shook my head, thinking how uninformed civilians were, and explained that semiautomatic means the rifle feeds another round into the chamber by itself rather than being manually fed as is the case with lever action rifles, but that only one round is released per trigger squeeze. I explained that it was not much different from some deer rifles in that way.
My interactions with other civilians led me to believe that most calls to ban weapons like the AR-15 were rooted in misunderstanding of their features. I reduced their entire argument to that. To me, the M-4, and therefore the AR-15, was no big deal. It fired drastically fewer rounds in a minute than the M-249 light machinegun I also carried during my time in the Army, and wreaked substantially less havoc than the Mk-19 grenade launcher that was mounted on top of my squad’s Humvee.
While I may have been correct about its technical capabilities, that wasn’t the point. I was this comfortable with that rifle because it was designed to kill human beings as expeditiously as possible. Therefore, the Army trained me and every other soldier to use it proficiently. The US military has been using some variation of this weapon for generations because it is incredibly well suited to that purpose. This is the exact point that every horrified civilian saw immediately, and a lot of veterans, myself included, missed.
The AR-15 is the modern mass shooter’s dream.
What’s more, when I started to think about this more objectively, the technical capabilities of the AR-15 created a stronger argument for a ban. Since most law enforcement officers carry handguns, an assailant armed with an AR-15 has such a noticeable advantage over those tasked to stop them that it becomes a David and Goliath type of situation.
Handguns are inaccurate in general, and at long distances in particular. When I qualified with the 9 mm Beretta in the Army, the targets were 5-15 meters away, whereas the M-4 targets were 75-300 meters. Even the highly trained NYPD only hits 18% of their targets in the field. They carry handguns. Rifles are easier to stabilize, and accurate at a distance and up close.
This type of rifle delivers a far more deadly blow than a handgun, as the round leaves the barrel at roughly 3x the velocity, and rips into the body with such force that it causes a path of damage several inches wide and far longer than the comparatively slow and wide handgun round. A shot that would be survivable from a handgun is often fatal from an AR-15 for this reason due to rampant tissue death and organ damage.
This weapon, which was designed to kill human beings, does not need to be sold in civilian society.
The AR-15 is the modern mass shooter’s dream. In addition to its highly accurate, highly deadly, technical capabilities, a person only has to be 18 years old to buy one, and they’re sold in many major retailers, and every gun show I’ve ever been to, often with no waiting period. Those who would do us harm know this well. That’s why it has become the choice weapon for many mass shootings in recent years. From Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, Las Vegas, Pulse nightclub, and Sandy Hook Elementary School, an AR-15 was used to kill 151 people combined.
We can change that, though, and we should. This weapon, which was designed to kill human beings, does not need to be sold in civilian society. Keep your deer rifle; Keep your shotgun; Keep your target pistol. If you want to carry this style of rifle, join the military. Our kids’ safety is far more valuable than our right to privately own a gun whose primary purpose is killing human beings.
Anna Bernoulli is a contributor at Refinery29. The views expressed are her own.