I’d like to suggest a reading assignment for those Democrats in the state legislature who are not yet prepared to vote for a bill that would ban the sale of guns classified as assault weapons in Colorado. And it wouldn’t hurt if Gov. Jared Polis, who apparently opposes the bill, also took a look because it’s extremely unlikely it has any chance of being passed without Polis’ support.
With Polis’ support, I must add, the bill might have a real chance to become law.
And yes, I know everyone at the Capitol is especially busy this time of year — what with so many bills yet to be considered and so little time left on the legislative calendar, which ends on May 6.
But the reading is important, and Democratic legislators may find themselves with much unwelcome free time as heavily outnumbered Republicans insist on more and more bills being read in full — working sort of like an unlimited-debate filibuster, which Democrats, as the rules allow, had finally shut down in the Colorado House — in an attempt to run out the clock on, among others, gun-safety bills and abortion-rights bills.
Elections, I remember hearing someone say, do have consequences, and the last election gave Colorado Democrats historic legislative majorities, but not apparently historic enough to get the latest assault weapons bill passed, even as four other gun-safety bills are moving through the legislature.
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So here’s the assignment. On the morning of the nightmarish school shooting in Nashville — the one that claimed the lives of six victims, including three children — the Washington Post coincidentally published an in-depth, multi-story take on the AR-15 and how it turned from a 1950s-era weapon of war, largely ignored by gun buyers at the time and for years later, into a modern-day icon. The stories are a must read for anyone who cares about gun violence, and I’d like to think that includes even those who routinely oppose all gun-safety laws.
Starting sometime after 9/11, riding on the back of a series of well-funded advertising campaigns, AR-15 style weapons would become the best-selling rifle in America. According to a Washington Post/Ipsos poll, 1 in 20 American adults — that’s in the neighborhood of 16 million people — now own one or more of the AR-style rifles.
Some own them because they’re “cool.” Some own them because they’re lethal. Some own them for self-protection. Some own them for target practice. Some own them to own the libs. Some very few — but still too many — own them because they can kill a great number of people in a very short amount of time. They are so dangerous that after the cops in Uvalde, Texas, unforgivably failed to rush the shooter at Robb Elementary, they told investigators they were afraid to take on an AR-style rifle.
Although 90% of American gun deaths involve handguns, the AR-15 has been used in 10 of the 17 most lethal mass shootings since 2012. The Nashville shooting doesn’t make the top 17, which, sadly, tells us too much about gun violence in America, which is now the leading cause of death among those under the age of 20.
The Washington Post not only outlines the long journey the AR-15 took to becoming the gun that divides America — you may remember the Remington Bushmaster ad campaign about punching your “man card” — but on the day after Nashville, it also published an article about what a bullet delivered by an AR-15 does to a body, and particularly to a child’s body.
The “blast effect” is something we know about, or at least something we vaguely recall, but the Post got permission from the parents of two children who were blown away in school shootings by an AR-15 to show exactly how their bodies had been ripped apart.
The images — shown in 3D animation — are disturbing to see. The article is disturbing to read. But, if only to honor the parents who had the courage to allow the Post, using autopsy reports, to replicate the deaths of their children, we must look.
Usually we can’t look even if we wanted to. The crime scene photos are rarely shown by the news media in any detail. They are rightly seen as too gruesome and too invasive. And so the body-shattering impact of a high-velocity bullet delivered by an AR-15 is rarely seen by the public, and maybe more importantly, by the people who write the laws governing their use.
But the parents of Peter Wang, 15, who was killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, and the parents of Noah Pozner, 6, who was killed at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut, agreed that the simulated images were important to see.
The story first shows how the impact of a bullet fired by an AR-15 differs in lethality from a 9mm bullet fired from a handgun. Then it shows how the AR-15 rounds destroyed two young bodies.
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Let’s look at what a bullet did to Noah, the first grader, one of 20 children killed that day, along with six adults. Noah was found in a small bathroom in a pile of 17 bodies, 15 of them children, all of them dead. The shooter had fired 80 rounds into the bathroom. Three had hit Noah. I’ll quote from the Post on the wounds.
“The bullet that struck Noah’s left thumb caused the smallest of his wounds. His hand was badly mangled.”
“The bullet that struck Noah’s back crossed through the center of his chest, filling it with blood. It broke apart into fragments, according to 2019 court testimony from chief state medical examiner Wayne Carver.”
“The bullet that hit Noah’s face caused an almost ‘complete destruction’ of the lower lip and jaw.”
“Noah’s wounds were not survivable, Carver testified. ‘This particular kind of projectile, it’s got so much energy that it just breaks up.’ The pattern of metal over a wide area, he said, ‘would give me a marker of … what organs were destroyed and how completely.’”
Peter Wang was shot 13 times. He was wearing his Army JROTC uniform and hoped to attend West Point. Noah Pozner, because he was 6, was wearing a Batman sweatshirt and wanted to be either an astronaut or a taco factory manager.
How badly were they injured? Read the story. And read this from Joseph Sakran, a Johns Hopkins trauma surgeon and gunshot survivor on the AR-15: “It literally can pulverize bones, it can shatter your liver and it can provide this blast effect.”
He added that when doing surgery on people shot with high-velocity rounds, body tissue “literally just crumbled into your hands.”
In other words, these are war-intended guns that don’t belong on the street or, even more obviously, in the hands of untrained civilians. These are high-velocity weapons that not only kill but leave survivors with wounds, both mental and physical, that are likely to last a lifetime. And as we know too well in Colorado, anyone affected by the church-school shooting in Nashville will be affected forever.
The story in Nashville is different. The identified shooter in Nashville, Audrey Hale, was apparently transgender and had recently begun to use male pronouns, which explains nothing about shooting 8 and 9 year olds except that anyone — man, woman, child, nonbinary, whatever — can kill all too effectively, and quickly, with these weapons of, yes, mass destruction. According to police, Hale had an AR-style rifle and an AR-style handgun.
And yet, in the era of transgender bashing and drag show banning, the loathsome Marjorie Taylor Greene tweeted, “How much hormones like testosterone and medications for mental illness was the transgender Nashville school shooter taking? Everyone can stop blaming guns now.”
Of course, we have no idea what, if any, medication Hale was taking. And there’s no scientific indication that taking hormone treatment makes anyone more violent. Of course it is true that the overwhelming percentage of mass shootings are committed by males.
What we do know is that the six people in Nashville were killed by bullets shot by Hale from a high-velocity AR-style gun. And we know this, too — as I heard one pundit saying on cable TV news — that the motives behind these mass shootings may each be different and may each be difficult to understand, but that what they all have in common is the shooter’s easy access to guns.
Which brings us back to the state legislature. You can make the point that banning assault rifles — as Polis tried to do when he was in Congress — doesn’t work unless you have a national law and this Congress, despite Joe Biden’s pleas, certainly won’t pass one.
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You can make the point, as Polis has, that improving Colorado’s red flag laws might well be a more effective way of reducing gun violence. But the red flag laws don’t preclude assault weapon bans. In nine states and the District of Columbia, they have both red flag laws and assault weapon bans.
But here’s what else you might think about, as mass shootings multiply and school shootings multiply and AR-15 style weapons, which 16 million Americans own, are increasingly the weapon of choice:
These guns were meant to kill people. It’s what they were designed for. A stand against these military-style weapons is a stand against senseless gun violence, which takes place in the United States far more often than in any comparable country in the world.
I hope that Polis and other Colorado Dems who don’t want to take the hard vote on an assault- weapons ban aren’t simply trying to run from a fight. Because the fight, as we all should know, has long been upon us.
Mike Littwin has been a columnist for too many years to count. He has covered Dr. J, four presidential inaugurations, six national conventions and countless brain-numbing speeches in the New Hampshire and Iowa snow.
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