I was just about to graduate from the eighth grade when the Columbine High School massacre occurred. I remember it well.
In the immediate aftermath, there was a sense of foreboding. It was a bit like the morning of 9/11 when it almost seemed like planes were just going to keep crashing into buildings all day with no end in sight. It felt like the next school shooting could happen the very next day, and there was no reason it couldn’t happen at my school.
As time wore on, the suspicions began. You would hear mutterings about certain students, the odd kid who was always drawing swastikas in his textbook. Someone would wonder aloud if maybe he had a kill list, and someone would overhear that and tell someone else that he DEFINITELY had a kill list, and then you would wonder if your name was on it. Didn’t you tell him that one time that you didn’t have a spare pencil to loan him? Was that enough to make him decide to end your life in a hail of gunfire?
Columbine certainly gave me a healthy dose of paranoia as a young man, but my experiences look quaint compared to what kids must endure today. I never had to experience an active shooter drill. I was never taught how to barricade a door so a madman couldn’t shoot me. I can’t imagine what those drills are doing to the psyches of our young people.
Back in ’99 when Columbine occurred, I never could have guessed the horrors we would all witness in the following two decades. I never imagined that I would eventually know multiple people whose lives had been impacted by gun violence. I certainly never imagined that I would co-author a book with the father of a victim of gun violence. I never imagined the horror of Sandy Hook. And I never imagined that ten years after Sandy Hook, history would repeat itself in Uvalde, Texas.
In the aftermath of the Uvalde massacre, I’m hearing the same idiotic suggestions that we arm our teachers. The officers of the Uvalde Police Department refused to enter the school for an hour (“They could’ve been shot,” said Lieutenant Chris Olivarez of the Texas Department of Public Safety in what may be the single worst defense I have ever heard) despite being equipped with military hardware, instead focusing their attention on preventing parents from entering the school to save the lives of their children. If these fine representatives of the thin blue line were too gutless and cowardly to go in the school and stop a lone gunman, then I don’t think we should ask underpaid, underfunded, under-respected educators to lay their lives on the line and engage in active firefights.
Before I continue, I want to make one thing clear to whatever audience I still have after that line about gutless cowards:
I’m a gun person.
Now, I don’t mean that I’ve fashioned gun ownership into a remarkable facsimile of a personality. I simply mean that I own some guns. I enjoy shooting them, and I’m a pretty decent shot. I know a lot about guns. I’ve had a concealed carry permit for a decade.
There is a thing that gun people like to do when talking to non-gun people, which is leverage non-gun people’s lack of knowledge about gun minutiae in order to make it seem as though all of their arguments are invalid. For example, when a non-gun person is talking about how dangerous AR-15s are, gun people like to ask them, “What does the AR stand for?”
“Assault rifle!” the non-gun person replies.
“Haha!” the gun person retorts. “It stands for ArmaLite Rifle! If you don’t know that, then why should I listen to anything else you have to say about your desire that children not get massacred?”
Well, as a gun person, I’ll tell you what I think needs to happen, and then I’ll tell you why I think it needs to happen very, very quickly.
There are three things we could do in this country that would cause a massive reduction in shootings. The first thing is barring gun ownership for people under 21. Some media sources are quick to report that the Uvalde shooter had no prior criminal record. They’re less quick to report that a number of close acquaintances were concerned about his mental health and he bought a $1,900 DDM4 semi-automatic rifle the minute he turned 18.
The second thing we need to do is more effectively punish those who make straw purchases of firearms that are used in homicides or other criminal activities. If you buy a gun for someone and they use it to commit a homicide, I believe you should be held just as liable as the shooter.
The third thing — and this is going to be WILDLY unpopular with the gun people, but it needs to be said — is that no civilian should be able to purchase a semi-automatic rifle. Semi-auto rifles like the AR-15 can fire a bullet just as fast as you can pull the trigger. I’ve fired an AR-15 before. It’s a lot of fun. But it has no legitimate civilian use, and I’m not in favor of sacrificing children just because something is fun.
“But I’m a hunter!” the gun people say. “I need a semi-automatic rifle for hunting!”
Yeah, well, no offense, but you suck at hunting. Any animal on Earth can be felled with a bolt-action or lever-action rifle. If you can’t bring down a deer with a bolt-action, then you need practice, not an AR-15.
Realistically, I don’t think any of my three suggestions are ever going to happen. Too many of our politicians are bought and paid for by the NRA. But I wish we could implement these changes because I’m deeply concerned about a new development in firearm technology.
In 2019, SIG Sauer announced a new rifle cartridge, now designated as the .277 SIG FURY. This cartridge was designed for the U.S. Army’s Next Generation Squad Weapon Program, essentially a program to replace the firearms the Army currently uses with upgraded hardware. The .277 SIG FURY ended up being selected as the Army’s round of the future.
This is a super-high pressure rifle round that can punch clean through body armor. That’s a useful thing if you’re in the military, but it’s not a round that you necessarily want to see in civilian hands.
Guess where I’m going with this.
Very soon, semi-automatic rifles are going to hit the civilian market chambered in .277 SIG FURY. The first of these rifles will be a variation on the SIG MCX rifle, which you might remember as the weapon of choice from the 2016 Orlando nightclub shooting that claimed 49 lives.
The first semi-automatic rifle chambered in .277 SIG FURY is not going to be cheap — probably about $8,000 plus whatever profit gun shops want to make on top. But those prices will go down in time, and gun collectors will want to own a civilian version of the military’s newest firearm.
I’m worried about what’s going to happen when civilians can have access to a semi-automatic rifle that can fire rounds capable of piercing modern body armor. I’m also worried about what’s going to happen when gun owners sell off their AR-15s to buy this expensive new rifle, thereby flooding the used market with cheap semi-auto rifles that almost anyone can afford.
I’m fully expecting to get hate mail from this column, just for floating the idea that civilians shouldn’t have certain kinds of rifles and we shouldn’t sell guns to people whose brains have not yet fully formed. I’m sure I’ll receive some full-throated defenses of semi-automatic rifles. I’m far beyond caring.
If the price of a fun, impractical rifle must be paid with the lives of innocent children, then the price is too damn high.