People gather at makeshift memorial for the victims of Saturday's mass shooting at a shopping complex in El Paso, Texas, Sunday, Aug. 4, 2019. (AP/Andres Leighton)

It's not Democrats who are making guns a political issue: It's all the dead bodies

All three recent mass shootings involved military-style assault rifles. Now there's no excuse for inaction


Lucian K. Truscott IV
August 17, 2019 12:00PM (UTC)

We can’t keep up. We can’t keep up with the lies, we can’t keep up with the racism, we can’t keep up with the anti-immigrant hysteria, we can’t keep up with the firings and resignations, we can’t keep up with the flat-out lunacy, but most of all, we can’t keep up with the dead bodies.

In a single week, between Sunday, July 28, and Saturday, Aug. 3, there were three separate mass shootings in this country. In Gilroy, California, at a popular garlic festival, a man wearing a bulletproof vest and carrying an AK-47 style assault rifle, killed three people and wounded 13. Two of the dead and several of the wounded were children. The shooter had six high-capacity magazines in his possession: one was a drum magazine holding 75 rounds of 7.62 mm ammunition, and the other five held 40 rounds. He had bought the AK-47 and ammunition just three weeks before he opened fire on the festival goers.

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Six days later, in El Paso, Texas, another man opened fire at a Walmart with yet another AK-47 style assault rifle, killing 22 people and wounding 24. In a racist screed published on a conspiracy-oriented website shortly before the shooting, the killer bragged that he had sought to buy so-called 8M3 hollow-point ammunition for his AK-47, which he described as “a bullet unlike any other,” because of its increased lethality. Evidence emerged after the shooting that he had purchased his AK-47 not long before the shooting. His mother was reported to have called the Allen, Texas, police department and reported her son’s ownership of the weapon, wondering whether it was legal for him to own it since he didn’t have any firearms training and was emotionally and intellectually immature, in her opinion. She was told that in the state of Texas, it was legal for him to own such a powerful, deadly firearm, and to carry it out in the open, which he did at the El Paso Walmart just before he began shooting.

Hours after the El Paso shooting, in the early hours of Aug. 4, another gunman opened fire on a crowd gathered outside a bar in Dayton, Ohio. This time the gunman was armed with an AR-15 style assault weapon. This one was in a pistol configuration with a shortened barrel fitted with a 100-round drum magazine. He was able to kill 10 people and wound another 22 within 30 seconds before being shot dead by responding police. A second man was later arrested and charged with having helped the shooter by purchasing the body armor he wore and the 100-round magazine he used.

Two days after the El Paso and Dayton shootings, Time Magazine reported that 62 people have been killed in mass shootings in 2019 so far. The same day, The New York Times reported that there had been 32 shootings so far this year that could be described as “mass shootings” using Justice Department terminology for incidents resulting in three or more deaths.

What do these killings have in common besides their “mass” designations? There should be no argument that all three of the multiple killings were committed with what can only be described as weapons of war. The assault weapons used in Gilroy and El Paso were copies of the AK-47, a rifle designed by Mikhail Kalashnikov just after World War II for the Soviet military. It has been used by armies all over the world as a combat rifle capable of both semiautomatic and automatic fire. In every war the United States has fought since Vietnam, American forces have faced enemies armed with the AK-47. Iraq. Afghanistan. Syria. Somalia. Niger. Every one of these countries and more. 

The AK-47 is not a varmint rifle used to plink at tin cans or shoot groundhogs and squirrels. It’s a high-powered weapon designed for one thing, to kill human beings, and it has killed hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of them since it was first put into service in 1948. The standard magazine designed for the AK-47 holds 30 rounds of 7.62 mm ammunition. There are also magazines that hold 40 rounds, and drum magazines holding 75 rounds. There is only one reason you need 30 or 40 or 75 rounds of ammunition: to shoot multiple rounds at someone who is shooting at you. 

The AR-15 style assault rifle used in Dayton is a variant of the M-16 rifle designed by the ArmaLite Corporation for the U.S. military in 1964. It fires a high-velocity 5.56 mm bullet designed for accuracy and lethality. The weapon in its military configuration is capable of automatic and semiautomatic fire. Its civilian counterpart, such as the weapon used in Dayton, is capable of semiautomatic fire. Fitted with a high capacity magazine, it can fire dozens of rounds per minute. The shooter in Dayton, using his 100-round magazine, was able to fire 41 rounds in 30 seconds, according to CNN. "It is fundamentally problematic," Dayton Police Chief Richard Biehl told CNN. "To have that level of weaponry in a civilian environment, unregulated, is problematic."

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Evidence seems to indicate that all three shooters in Gilroy, El Paso and Dayton purchased their weapons shortly before they were used. In other words, the shooters obtained them with mass killings in mind. The Las Vegas killer went out and bought 14 AR-15 style rifles with 12 magazines holding 100 rounds, and eight AR-10 style assault rifles with high-capacity magazines. He used this arsenal to kill 58 people and wound 422 before turning one of his assault weapons on himself. So did the killer at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh. He bought a Colt AR-15 and used it to kill 11 and wound six. Same with the church killer in Sutherland Springs, Texas. He bought a Ruger SR 556 AR-15 style assault rifle and used it to kill 26 and wounded 20. None of these men had their AK-47s or AR-15s just lying around the house. All of them went out and bought weapons of war for the express purpose of using them to kill human beings. There is a simple equation at work here. You put a disgruntled man together with a high-powered weapon of war and a whole bunch of bullets, and what you get is dead bodies. 

It isn’t Democrats who have made guns a prime political issue in the 2020 election. It’s the dead bodies. People are sick of it. Children are afraid to go to school, or to the mall, or to a public event like the garlic festival in California. So are their parents. So is everyone else. People don’t know anymore when they are going to walk into a movie theater or a nightclub or a church or a synagogue or a restaurant or a department store or the office where they work and have someone open up on them with a semiautomatic assault weapon firing bullets that were designed and manufactured to kill human beings. 

This is why guns are a legitimate political issue. Because they keep being used to kill people. Everybody knows that there will be another mass killing. They don’t know when it will happen. They don’t know where it will happen. But it will happen. Some man – they are all men, 100 percent of them – will go out and buy an assault rifle, or several assault rifles, and a whole bunch of ammunition, and he will use it the way it was designed to be used, to kill people. And then it will happen again. And again. And again. 

Guns are a political issue because nobody has done anything about these weapons of war. Guns will be a political issue until Democrats – and it will be Democrats – force Republicans to do something about them. Guns will be a political issue as long as weapons of war like the AK-47s and the AR-15s which have been used over and over and over to kill are made illegal to sell and to buy. Guns will be a political issue so long as the bodies keep piling up.

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Lucian K. Truscott IV

Lucian K. Truscott IV, a graduate of West Point, has had a 50-year career as a journalist, novelist and screenwriter. He has covered stories such as Watergate, the Stonewall riots and wars in Lebanon, Iraq and Afghanistan. He is also the author of five bestselling novels and several unsuccessful motion pictures. He has three children, lives on the East End of Long Island and spends his time Worrying About the State of Our Nation and madly scribbling in a so-far fruitless attempt to Make Things Better. He can be followed on Facebook at The Rabbit Hole and on Twitter @LucianKTruscott.

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