You probably have heard the simplistic explanation, often delivered proudly as if it is the very first time someone has thought to say it: “Guns don’t kill people, people do!”
This retort is most often given after another senseless murder of innocents, like the tragedies at Tops Friendly Market in Buffalo, N.Y., or Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas. When impassioned gun control advocates talk about AR-15s or multi-round magazines, online sales of weapons or gun show purchases and the numbers of mass murders or school shootings in America, someone will inevitably reply, “Guns don’t kill people, people do!”
That is absolutely correct. Guns don’t fire themselves. Rifles don’t walk into grocery stores or school classrooms. Bullets don’t load themselves into magazines. Guns don’t choose their owners or plot their own use. They don’t put themselves into canvas bags and drive miles to accessible targets. They don’t hate people of minority races or resent the joys of childhood. People do these things.
So, since people and not guns kill people, there must be laws, regulations and controls in place to keep people with guns from killing other people.
Such restrictions on dangerous inanimate or non-human “players” and the people that use or keep them would not be unique in American society. Many rules of this type already exist, and we live by them every day.
One might argue, “Cars don’t kill people, people who drive them do.” That is also correct, yet there are laws, regulations and controls that limit who can drive a car and under what conditions they may drive. There is an age limit that regulates when a person may drive legally. Driver’s training is encouraged, but not required under certain conditions. A driver’s test and a written exam, however, are mandatory before getting a license to drive. Insurance on the vehicle is not optional. One is arrested for driving under the influence or driving too fast or recklessly. The vehicle one drives must be annually tested, then registered, to prove that it is in safe operating condition.
“There are laws, regulations and controls that limit who can drive a car and under what condition they may drive.”
Or, another perhaps will say, “Drugs don’t kill people, people who sell or distribute them do.” This is correct, as well. Nonetheless, certain drugs, if used incorrectly, can harm or even kill and thus are regulated. They can only be dispensed legally by a trained pharmacist based upon a doctor’s prescription. Those who sell or distribute drugs illegally are arrested and prosecuted. As much as is possible, harmful drugs are kept out of public circulation. Drug bottles have safety lids to keep small children from accessing them. There is even an age requirement for buying certain over-the-counter cold or allergy medicines.
Someone else could suggest, “Planes don’t kill people, people who pilot them do.” I agree. But because of the danger of pilot error and the possible loss of life in the plane or on the ground, those who fly planes must have passed rigorous training courses. The FAA requires a minimum of 1,500 hours of flight experience along with necessary instruction before being licensed as an airline pilot. Licensure must be renewed periodically. Pilots can be arrested for flying under the influence. Pilots with mental issues will be grounded until they are well. Air traffic controllers actually limit what pilots may or may not do in the air. “GEO zones” that restrict flying around airports, power stations, military bases and certain government buildings or monuments must be obeyed, under penalty of law.
Maybe a person will intone, “Knives don’t kill people, people who carry them do.” That’s a fact. Yet there are laws, both federal and state, which regulate whether knives may be carried in public at all. Remember that Crocodile Dundee couldn’t carry his Bowie-style knife around the city. Knives of a certain type, such as switchblades or stilettos, may not be carried in public. Knives may not be taken into schools or other government property such as courthouses or military bases. Even the smallest Swiss multiblade knives may not be included in carry-on baggage for plane travel and will be confiscated by TSA officers.
“There are laws, both federal and state, which regulate whether knives may be carried in public at all.”
Perhaps one will claim, “Pit Bulls don’t kill people, people who own them do.” Therefore, they might argue, don’t euthanize the dogs after they have attacked a child or the postman and savagely injured or even killed a human, for they’re just following instinct. While this is perhaps debatable, there are regulations for keeping an animal in a populated neighborhood. Dogs must be in fenced enclosures. When outside, they must be on leashes. Moreover, dog owners who choose to possess animal breeds considered potentially vicious know they are liable for suit or even arrest if others are harmed by their dogs.
These examples do not exhaust the list of potentially dangerous vehicles, machines, tools, weapons, plants, food items, insecticides, biogenetic agents, recreational activities, animals or other items that have governmental regulations and restrictions in place in order to create a safer society.
People with guns kill people
People with guns kill people. That increasingly has been our American reality for many years. Here is a list of mass killings in the United States in the last 10 years, published by Bishops United Against Gun Violence, an organization of more than 100 Episcopal bishops working to curb our epidemic of gun violence:
- Six dead at the Wisconsin Sikh Temple.
- Twelve dead at an Aurora, Colo., movie theater.
- Twenty-eight dead at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.
- Six dead at Santa Monica College, Calif.
- Seven dead at a Hialeah, Fla., apartment complex.
- Thirteen dead at the Washington Navy Yard.
- Four dead at Fort Hood, Texas.
- Seven dead in Isla Vista, near UC Santa Barbara.
- Five dead at Marysville Pilchuck High School in Washington.
- Six dead in Montgomery County, Pa.
- Nine dead at Emanuel AME in Charleston, S.C.
- Sixteen dead at a San Bernardino, Calif., office.
- Ten dead at Umpqua Community College, Ore.
- Six dead in Kalamazoo, Mich.
- Four dead at a Hesston, Kan., office.
- Five dead at a Wilkinsburg, Pa., backyard party.
- Fifty dead at Pulse Nightclub in Orlando, Fla.
- Five dead at Cascade Mall in Burlington, Wash.
- Five dead at Fort Lauderdale airport.
- Four dead in Fresno, Calif.
- Eight dead in Lincoln County, Miss.
- Four dead at an Eaton Township, Pa., supermarket.
- Nine dead at a Plano, Texas, football-watching party.
- Fifty-nine dead at a Las Vegas concert.
- Twenty-seven dead at First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas.
- Seventeen dead at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla.
- Five dead at the Veterans Home in Yountville, Calif.
- Four dead at a Nashville, Tenn., Waffle House.
- Ten dead at Santa Fe High School, Texas.
- Five dead at the Capital Gazette Newspaper in Annapolis, Md.
- Four dead at the Fifth Third Center in Cincinnati.
- Four dead at a Rite Aid distribution center in Aberdeen, Md.
- Eleven dead at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh.
- Thirteen dead at a bar in Thousand Oaks, Calif.
- Five dead at a bank in Sebring, Fla.
- Five dead at their homes in Ascension and Livingston Parishes, Louisiana.
- Six dead at an industrial park in Aurora, Ill.
- Four dead at a home in Clinton, Miss.
- Four dead in Solon Township, Mich.
- Thirteen dead at a municipal building in Virginia Beach, Va.
- Four dead at the Gilroy Garlic Festival in Gilroy, Calif.
- Twenty-two dead at a Walmart in El Paso, Texas.
- Ten dead in the Oregon District of downtown Dayton, Ohio.
- Eight dead on the road between the cities of Odessa and Midland, Texas.
- Five dead in their home in Elkmont, Ala.
- Four dead at a bar in Kansas City, Kan.
- Four dead at a backyard football watch party in Fresno, Calif.
- Six dead in a cemetery and kosher market in Jersey City, N.J.
- Six dead at the Molson Coors complex in Milwaukee.
- Five dead at a convenience store in Springfield, Mo.
- Five dead in the northeast side of Indianapolis.
- Eight dead at three spas in Atlanta.
- Ten dead at a grocery store in Boulder, Colo.
- Four dead at an office complex in Orange, Calif.
- Five dead at a home in Rock Hill, S.C.
- Nine dead at a FedEx facility in Indianapolis.
- Seven dead at a birthday party in Colorado Springs, Colo.
- Ten dead at a rail yard in San Jose, Calif.
- Four dead at Oxford High School in Oxford Township, Mich.
- Five dead in Lakewood and Denver, Colo.
- Five dead at The Church in Sacramento, Calif.
- Six dead in downtown Sacramento, Calif.
- Ten dead at a supermarket in Buffalo, N.Y.
- Twenty-two dead at Robb Elementary in Uvalde, Texas
The gun of choice: The AR-15
The gun of choice for killing people, reports CBS News, is the AR-15, the most popular gun in America, with more than 11 million owners. It is a semi-automatic rifle similar to military-style weapons and it can be disassembled and reassembled in minutes. This was the weapon used in many of these mass shootings, including the massacres at First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs, Texas; Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla.; the Harvest Music Festival concert in Las Vegas; the Pulse nightclub in Orlando; a Department of Public Health Christmas party at a banquet room in San Bernardino, Calif.; a Walmart in El Paso; Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.; Topps Grocery in Buffalo, N.Y.; and Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas.
“The gun of choice for killing people, reports CBS News, is the AR-15, the most popular gun in America, with more than 11 million owners.”
The AR-15 is especially deadly. Although its trigger must be pressed each time a shot is fired, it can discharge bullets incredibly quickly. Salvador Ramos, the 18-year-old high school dropout who claimed 21 lives at Robb Elementary School, fired 142 rounds, most in the first four minutes. Ramos bought 1,000 rounds of ammunition, which is more than the 210 rounds — consisting of seven 30-round magazines — a soldier typically carries into a battle zone.
When a .223 projectile exits the barrel of an AR-15, it is traveling at 3,200 feet per second and is still moving at 1,660 feet per second at 500 yards. It hits its human target carrying 335 foot pounds of force, tumbling at the point of impact. Instead of simply boring into flesh, this bullet rotates over and over, making a much bigger wound and destroying bones and organs on its horrific flight.
NRA promotes AR-15 ownership
But despite the destructive nature of AR-15s, they are still defended by many politicians and much of the gun-owning citizenry. The NRA, the organization that hides its greed and self-interest behind a smokescreen of patriotism and Second Amendment rights defense, is the nation’s biggest promoter of AR-15 sales.
In a 2016 article titled “10 Reasons to Own An AR-15,” the NRA lists self-defense, fun/recreation, teaching/learning, hunting, tinkering, farm/ranch use, competitive shooting, disaster preparedness and bringing women into shooting as justifications for the sale of this firearm to civilians — interestingly, only nine rather than the stated “10 reasons.” Cynically, I might suggest that perhaps they neglected to mention “killing innocent victims in a mass murder event” as the 10th reason.
The article actually tries to make the case that this is “America’s rifle,” suggesting the final reason for owning an AR-15 concerns patriotism. They say: “While those who hate guns would have you think the AR-15 is nothing more than a murder machine, in truth it’s the musket of our day — everyman’s rifle, proudly owned by patriotic men and women of all ages, colors and interests.
“Regardless of why we, as Americans, choose to own AR-15 rifles, we will always face the scoffers — Second Amendment deniers who would be happy to take away our right to own any gun. In the end, we don’t need to puzzle for answers to anyone who rudely asks us, ‘Why do you need an AR-15?’ Instead, we should simply ask our own question: ‘Why should the government be able to deny us the constitutionally protected right to own one?’
“Owning an AR-15 is as uniquely American as baseball, apple pie and the Second Amendment. It’s a classic example of American exceptionalism, independence and ingenuity — all the things that make us the land of the free and home of the brave.”
American exceptionalism not a point of pride
“American exceptionalism” is rarely a cause for pride, and certainly not when applied to the fact that our nation has such a bleak history of mass shootings and murders of the innocent. For Americans to say we should have the right to purchase, own and use any kind of weapon because we are the land of the free is tantamount to saying common sense rules or laws that would make people safer don’t apply here because of our freedoms.
I am encouraged by bipartisan conversations about new regulations, laws and controls governing semi-automatic weapons in the United States which are taking place in the wake of these latest shootings. These conversations in Congress are consistent with the will of a majority of the American people, although passing gun control measures in the Senate is a challenge, given the influence over politicians of powerful gun lobbies, including the NRA.
Thus, since people with guns — and not just the guns themselves —kill people it is certainly time to pass more legislation that will inhibit people from using weapons, especially those like the AR-15, to maim and murder their neighbors.
Rob Sellers is professor of theology and missions emeritus at Hardin-Simmons University’s Logsdon Seminary in Abilene, Texas. He is a past chair of the board of the Parliament of the World’s Religions in Chicago. He and his wife, Janie, served a quarter century as missionary teachers in Indonesia. They have two children and five grandchildren.
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