In Defense of the Assault Weapons Ban


The finding that the AR-15 rifle was being actively selected for premeditated indiscriminate mass killings in 2012 fundamentally changes the debate regarding Senator Feinstein’s Assault Weapons Ban.  Not only does this finding take this weapon and mass shootings beyond anecdotal observations, it has predictive value.  We now know with certainty that there will be another horrific premeditated and planned mass killing involving this weapon or another having similar rapid fire and high capacity capability.  And it will be difficult to defend against as we cannot predict the timing, the venue, or the selected targets.  It is clear that both the weaponry and background checks on all buyers should be addressed to reduce the opportunity for, and carnage of, future premeditated indiscriminate mass shootings.  This should become a fundamental part of the upcoming debate on the Senate floor.  Should meaningful gun control legislation fail in the Senate, for those senators who opposed there is little doubt that some would have swallowed a ‘poison pill’ regarding their political career.

In a previous article (ref), analysis of mass shooting events in the last half of 2012 concluded that the AR-15 rifle was being intentionally selected for premeditated indiscriminate mass shooting events.  Based on comments received about that work, this firearm was further examined in the context of all 15 mass shootings reported during 2012.  The outcome is described in the following section.

I wrote an Op-Ed piece describing how these findings fundamentally change the debate regarding Senator Feinstein’s Assault Weapons Ban (AWB) legislation.  It is clear that we need to address both weaponry and background checks if we are to take meaningful steps in reducing the opportunity for, and carnage of, other future tragedies such as Aurora, CO and Sandy Hook Elementary.  However, due to the time sensitive nature of the debate and vote in Washington, and the uncertainty of its publication, I have decided to post it here and distribute through social media that can be directed to both the news media outlets as well as politicians.  Should readers agree with the content presented here, they are encouraged to do the same; e.g., RT’ing the article to the Twitter address of the senators you choose.

Following the Op-Ed piece I present a section on tactics regarding its use in the rapidly approaching US Senate debate on gun control legislation (assuming such debate can get past the threat of a Republican filibuster).

In Defense of the Assault Weapons Ban (Unsubmitted Op-Ed)

An interesting statistic fell out of the current gun control debate.  The NRA stated that there were about 3 million AR-15 rifles in the hands of civilians in 2012; a number that was verified in a review article on that firearm.  Although three million might seem like a large number, it represents only about 1% of all firearms (hand guns, rifles and shotguns) available to American citizens and, more specifically, less than 3.0% of all rifles held by the public.  Yet this weapon was being reported with some level of frequency in mass shooting events last year.

Regarding history, the AR-15 was developed by the Fairchild ArmaLite Corporation in the 1950’s for military use.  The company sold the rights to Colt in 1959 that began marketing it to military forces.  Today’s AR-15 is the semi-automatic civilian version of the military’s M16 assault rifle and is a ‘family’ of rifles with multiple manufacturers producing various models.

Of the 15 total mass shootings reported in 2012, the assailant chose a rifle in five of those events.  Four of those five events were premeditated and planned by the shooter; this includes two of the worst mass shootings in our history (Aurora and Sandy Hook).  There was no connection between the shooters and their victims, and no reason was found for the selection of victims in the premeditated planned events other than indiscriminate mass killing.  All occurred in different states involving different shooters, different venues, different selected populations, and are thus considered to be independent events.

In all five cases where the shooter chose to use a rifle, a member of the AR-15 family was selected.  In fact it was the only rifle found at these events.  The odds of this firearm, that represents only 2.7% of all rifles available to American citizens, showing up at all five of these independent events simply by chance are infinitesimally small; several approaches consistently yield odds of less than one chance in a million.  The intentional selection of this firearm is further supported by the behavior of at least three of the shooters who either stole one, or purchased one, specifically for their event.

This fundamentally changes the debate about the Assault Weapons Ban in two ways.

First, it is not just that this weapon was being used in some events in 2012; it was being actively selected as a weapon of choice.  This selection is consistent with the weapon’s design and original intended use – rapidly and efficiently inflict mass casualties.  But rather than military combatants, civilians were the targets.

Secondly, as this weapon is being actively sought for such events, continuing to expand public availability of this firearm under current market conditions could only increase the opportunity for its use in future mass shootings (or by extension another weapon having rapid fire and high capacity capabilities).  As all of the premeditated planned events in 2012 involved different venues and different targets, a future assault would be difficult to defend against.  School security can be enhanced in an effort to protect children, but Anders Breivik, the perpetrator of the infamous Norway massacre, created a diversion to increase vulnerability of children at a camp.  It is not possible to anticipate all the possibilities a deranged mind may think of that could claim multiple other young lives.

Although arguments have been made that there are other more powerful weapons in the hands of American civilians, power would not seem to be the desired characteristic of a firearm for these events.  It would be the ability of the weapon to rapidly inflict mass casualties, and by design, history and appearance (and thus perception), the AR-15 would be a good fit.

We obviously can’t prevent all such incidents from occurring, but we can take steps to limit opportunity and reduce the carnage.  Logic dictates that, if there is an interest in preventing such horrific events as Sandy Hook and Aurora, both the weaponry and the ability to check the background of all buyers should be addressed.  And even this solution is not fully adequate as the estimated three million AR-15’s currently in civilian hands would be grandfathered under this legislation, and in at least two of the events last year (the holiday mall shooting in Happy Valley OR and Sandy Hook Elementary) the weapon was stolen.

Nothing has been proposed in the current legislation that our Supreme Court has deemed to be an infringement of Second Amendment rights, including prohibiting ‘dangerous and unusual weapons’.  And the legislation exampts over 2200 other makes and models of rifles and shotguns.  This should not be about politics or ideology.  It should be about public safety.  The Assault Weapons Ban belongs in the gun control bill.


The above findings not only take the AR-15 and mass shootings beyond being just anecdotal observations, they have predictive value.  As the weapon is being actively sought in premeditated, planned events for the purpose of indiscriminate mass murder, we know with certainty that it will be used for such events in the future, consistent with the intent of its design and original use.

This matter needs to become part of the debate on the senate floor.  For those who would oppose both the AWB and the Universal Background Check (UBC), or support only a watered-down version of the UBC, or prevent any debate on the matter at all, they would be doing so knowing with certainty that another such horrific event will occur.  We would not know the timing, the venue or the selected population thus making it exceptionally difficult to defend against.

This would essentially place a ‘poison pill’ with those who would make such a decision (and it is difficult to understand how one could live with such a decision in good conscience).  When the next event occurs, and we can only hope that it does not involve the loss of multiple other youngsters, a senator’s record would become quite public.  Considering the public outrage about the shooting at Sandy Hook and the broad public support for current gun control legislation, serious questions would be raised as to why the senator chose not to address this matter when they had the chance knowing that another event would be forthcoming.  Considering the public’s emotional reaction to the recent shootings, there would be little tolerance about a discussion of Second Amendment rights, or fears that firearm transaction records could lead to national registry with government confiscation of guns, or that we need to possess assault weaponry to defend ourselves from our government.

There would be a political price to be paid.  For some that could mean losing their seat a primary challenge (Citizens United allows unlimited contributions in primaries) or for others in a general election where their record would undoubtedly come into play.

I, for one (and I know I speak for many), have watched in disbelief what is transpiring in the Senate following the mass killing of 20 youngsters and their teachers at Sandy Hook, with some senators not even wishing to address the matter all.  The stage needs to be set to play hardball should our elected officials fail to make meaningful steps to prevent  horrific events of the nature we witnessed last year as well as buck the broad opinion of the American public about the need for meaningful commonsense gun regulation.

But that can’t be done unless those fighting for the legislation on the floor set that stage for us.