Like many Americans, I am disappointed that the reinstatement of the assault weapons ban will not be included in the Senate bill on gun control. It is my hope that Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D) of California, who introduced the legislation, will bring the assault weapons ban provision to the floor as a separate measure in the form of an amendment.
I am also eager to break the misconception that most gun-control advocates are predominantly left-leaning, big government Democrats, and advance the national dialogue on why America needs new gun-control legislation to limit the legal accessibility of “military capable” rifles, such as the semi-automatic AR-15 and high-capacity magazines.
I have so-called “street cred.” I am a registered Republican, worked at the conservative American Enterprise Institute (AEI), voted for George W. Bush not once, but twice, and served two tours in Iraq as an Army officer where I experienced extensive ground combat. I support America’s Second Amendment rights, the idea of small government, and the sacrosanct personal liberties entrusted to the American people by the Constitution.
However, the more I engage former military colleagues, friends, and family members on gun violence in America, the less I understand this debate to be about personal liberties and the ability to protect oneself and family from either marauding criminal gangs or a tyrannical government, and the more I see this debate to be about personal selfishness at the expense of other Americans’ right to life.
Most of the conversations with gun-rights advocates typically begin with their defense of the Second Amendment and the immutability of this right. I prefer to take a more nuanced and historical view of the Second Amendment, recognizing that it was written in the late 18th century before the advent of high-capacity rifles and machine guns and for the purpose of protecting a weary citizenry from an oppressive and dictatorial government.
I also like to inform my gun-advocating colleagues and friends that the Constitution is not the gospel and has been amended 27 times since its signing in 1787, including for the provisions of universal suffrage and the abolition of slavery. As demonstrated throughout the course of American history, the Constitution has proved to be a living document, which has reflected the state of affairs and needs of its citizenry.
The next line of reasoning I encounter from some gun advocates is that they need high-powered rifles for self-defense from criminals, thugs, and for the remote chance that the American government will morph into an Orwellian police state. The latter argument is not taken seriously by the vast majority of the country. In most conversations with mainstream gun-rights advocates, this argument can be brushed aside as unfounded.
However, the right to own a gun or rifle for the purpose of self-defense or hunting game is a protected right in my opinion. But if self-defense or hunting are truly the rights we are attempting to protect, then non-assault style weapons should fit this function. Assault rifles are inherently offensive in capability and far surpass the self-defense, litmus test.
As a former Army officer with extensive experience with military assault rifles, such as the M16 and M4 (variants of the AR-15), both used for the offensive purpose of neutralizing or killing as many combatants as possible in the shortest duration possible, I can attest that these types of weapons cross the commonsense threshold of a weapon of self-defense. The AR-15 semi-automatic assault rifle, while legally purchased and in the wrong hands, demonstrated its offensive capabilities in both the Aurora and Newtown shooting sprees.
Most people with a military or weapons background, whom I converse with, are in agreement that a simple pistol is significantly more effective in defending oneself in close quarters, such as in a home invasion, while limiting the likelihood of shooting unintended targets, such as family and neighbors.
Therefore, what is the honest answer for owning a high-powered rifle, such as the AR-15, for most of the gun enthusiasts whom I speak with?
The answer is surprising. After reasoning through the aforementioned arguments, many gun advocates believe that regardless of the public harm inflicted on society through these weapons, and regardless of these weapons’ limited practical use in self-defense, the Second Amendment still protects their personal right to own these weapons for the purpose of target practice and collecting, if for no other reason.
I feel this mindset is truly selfish and one I cannot condone; it is inconsistent with the Constitution that I swore to support and defend while I was deployed to Iraq. It is time for gun advocates, including my colleagues and friends, to place the welfare of the country first and take a cue from one of the Army’s axioms – “selfless service” – and support legislation in curbing the legal accessibility of offensive weapons like the AR-15.
Steven L. Katz is a former Army officer, veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom, and graduate of Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government.