When it comes to guns, I won’t sugarcoat it: I am part of the problem that I know exists in America. Even though the statistics show owning a gun increases your odds of being a victim of gun violence, I am still drawn to them like a moth to flame.
My gun safe is stocked with a range of old guns, new guns, pistols, and shotguns. From civil war era to the current crop of military assault weapon hardware, I find them fascinating tools of human culture, history, sport, and industry.
Ironically, this affinity toward guns didn’t come from a family legacy of hunting or target shooting. My childhood was a gun-free zone, policed by parents with strong liberal pacifist tendencies who banned my ownership of any plastic toy replicas or b-b guns.
As an adult, the appeal of guns for me didn’t wane. It was, in small part, what attracted me to military service. I served 20 years in the Army and Army National Guard, most of the time as an Infantry Officer, where combat assault weapons were the tool of the trade. During my career, I have seen the power and might of these assault weapons firsthand, having personally inflicted wounds on enemy soldiers, and bloodied my hands while treating gunshot wounds of fellow combatants. Yet despite these traumatic personal experiences with assault weapons, I still collect them and I admit that, in some abstract way, they give me a sense of protection and security in these turbulent times.
But I recognize that America would be a safer country if assault weapons were removed from the marketplace.
During my career, I have seen the power and might of these assault weapons firsthand.
Throughout my career as an Infantry Officer, I led hundreds of soldiers in peacetime and wartime. We had all the training, assault weapons, and applied tactics in the world. We recognized the unforgiving nature of the assault weapons we carried, and we built in many redundant safeguards to prevent weapons-related accidents. We drilled on these safeguards daily. We limited access to the weapons and to ammunition like it was gold in Fort Knox. We reinforced these safeguards through repetition and correction punitive actions for those who forgot any aspect of weapons safety. And even with these high standards, accidental discharges and injuries, including suicides, were far too common.
At a minimum, our public gun policies towards semi-automatic assault weapons should mirror the military’s approach to them. Specifically, no one should be allowed to touch an assault rifle until they have had extensive training on its use. No one should have access to the rifles outside of structured monitored shooting exercises. Once required training is completed, the rifles should go back into a safe, and should be segregated from ammunition. Anyone exhibiting depression, anxiety, or other illnesses affecting their mental health should have even less access to weapons, and should be “volun-told” to seek counseling.
These are the professional standards, so why would we set our public civilian standards any lower? Why would we ever allow anyone who has never handled a weapon in their life, who may be suffering from mental health or life challenges, to wander into a store and walk out with a semi-automatic assault rifle and ammunition mere minutes later?
Since the school shooting in Parkland, Florida two weeks ago, survivors have spoken out in favor of gun control, organized marches and protests, and confronted lawmakers and the National Rifle Association (NRA) on a national stage. While it appears the public is listening, the same cannot be said of many lawmakers. On Tuesday, the Florida state legislature rejected a ban on assault rifles, to the disappointment of several of the shooting survivors who were in attendance at the state capitol building. The message, to me, was clear: we have a lot more work to do. It’s why I’ve chosen to speak up.
I am one of the 50 percent of gun owners who support tighter restrictions. That means a wait of at least two weeks between the purchase and delivery of a weapon — a policy that would help cool the jets of someone who may have been inspired by malicious anger to purchase a gun. It means mandatory background checks for all gun sales, especially assault rifles. It means connecting mental health databases with background checks. It means either banning future sales of assault rifles and grandfathering in existing rifle ownership (like New York State did with its 2013 SAFE ACT), or seeking an outright ban on the ownership of assault rifles — both of which are steps that can stop the influx of new assault weapons into our communities.
The diehards in the NRA say these limitations to gun ownership are the first steps toward a fantastical tyranny. That hasn’t been the case in New York, since its passage of the SAFE ACT in 2013. In fact, the number of gun-related violent crimes has decreased across the state. No matter how loud the histrionics from the “Chicken Little” gun lobbyists, the sky isn’t falling and won’t fall if we tighten the rules on gun sales and ownership of semi-automatic assault rifles.
We, as a country, need to stop listening to gun lobbyists who prey on fear, and profit from unlimited assault rifle sales. Poll after poll has shown that the NRA does not represent mainstream gun owners when it comes to their feelings about regulations for assault rifles and background checks. While the organization pretends to speak for all Americans, its shameless defense of open-ended assault rifle ownership has put very real blood on their hands. And the policies it defends have enabled mass shooters to continue to perpetuate carnage across our country.
Benjamin Tupper is the author of Greetings From Afghanistan, Send More Ammo: Dispatches from Taliban Country. He has served in the Army and Army National Guard for 20 years, serving first as an enlisted man and then as a commissioned officer. Prior to joining the National Guard, he earned his Bachelors and Masters Degrees at Syracuse University, where he focused on Political Science in the United States and abroad. Tupper’s writing has appeared in BBC, Slate, and NPR.