bullets and gun on black velvet desk
Hal Bidlack

Hal Bidlack

We are now at the end of a very long week, filled with pain and grief for far too many of our fellow Americans. The recent mass shootings (I prefer to call them mass murders) have touched all Americans and has inspired some to again joust at the GOP windmill of the Senate for better background checks and such.

If you can stand it, I’d like to give you another thought on this debate that might be useful. If your mind is fully made up — in either direction — on gun control, you can save yourself a couple of minutes by skipping the rest of this essay. That would be sad, though, as I strongly believe that people should always be of an open mind, but should base their beliefs on logic, evidence, and reason, and not because you were raised that way or because that’s how all your buddies think.

Colorado has been down this road before. You recall when State Senate President John Morse was recalled from office over laws limiting gun ammo magazine sizes. John is a long-time friend of mine and I rued his recall.  There are many lessons to be gleaned from his story, but alas that too must await a later column.

Why should you listen to me on guns? My editor often asks those types of questions (Hi Kindly Ed!). My opinions are informed by my upbringing, as well as my 25-plus years of active duty service, to include my final two years, where I worked as a military cop. As a result, I’ve fired and carried weapons that are absolutely assault rifles and that I feel no civilian should own.

Ok, please take a minute and reread Hamilton’s Federalist Paper # 29, I’ll wait here. You see what he did? He explained the Second Amendment and he’s a Founder and everything. You can see with your own eyes what the Founders meant by “well-regulated militia.” But that debate is for another day.

And so, I’d like to get you to rethink the whole assault rifle thing along the following lines.

Very importantly, we should stop saying “military-style weapons” and start talking about military-grade weapons. Style could be something as simple as whether you have a something that looks like a military weapon but doesn’t truly function as one. If we talk about military-grade weapons, we’ll be having the correct discussion. Lots of people like military-style clothing, for example, with epaulets and fancy buttons, but such clothing is hardly combat grade. Only the most radical gun nuts would argue for no limits at all on what people can own. I own four myself, so you may tag me with whichever label fits your mood. 

I posit that no rational person thinks your crazy neighbor down the street should be able to buy a flame thrower and no rational person argues for a right to have an anthrax cannon or a grenade launcher or an F-35. So, we all agree on drawing a line; we just disagree on where that line should be.

I’d suggest there are three key questions that must be asked about a particular weapon, and the answers to these questions will truly help the “legal/not legal” debate on guns.

So, what are the three questions?

  • How fast does the weapon shoot? The Dayton shooter got off 42 or more rounds inside of 30 seconds. No deer hunter needs that rate of fire, and you really don’t want to be spraying the better part of 50 rounds at the burglar you think is robbing you.
  • How far does it shoot? A true military-grade weapon, like I carried, is designed to fire a very high-velocity round that can travel through your bedroom door and, frankly, through another house or two before being stopped. A shotgun, on the other hand, has much more “stopping power” and those pellets are far more easily stopped by walls and such.
  • How many rounds does it shoot without reloading? This comes down to a rate of fire issue, in that semi-automatic and full-auto weapons fire much faster, with a simple trigger pull, than does, say, a shotgun. And this is also where magazine size matters. The El Paso shooter had 100 round magazines. Sorry, but no hunter needs that. Such magazines are for mass murder. As a military cop, I carried four clips with 30 rounds each for my M-16. I’d have been outgunned by the El Paso shooter.

You see? Three simple questions that can help you frame the proposed legality or illegality of a military-grade weapon. Don’t get distracted by fancy straps or bayonet lugs, as those don’t contribute to being military grade. It’s all about how many you can kill and how fast and from how far away? 

Surely, we can find some compromise? Mitch McConnell? You there?

Hal Bidlack is a retired professor of political science and a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel who taught more than 17 years at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs.

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