On Wednesday, St. Valentine’s Day, I had just printed out an article from the CNN website headlined, “Exclusive: Gun lobbyist helped write ATF official’s proposal to deregulate.” Minutes later came news of gunfire at a high school in Parkland, Florida. By nightfall, 17 were dead.
Ronald B. Turk, acting deputy director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, submitted that proposal at the beginning of the Trump administration. But before he turned it in, Turk asked for help with his draft from Mark Barnes, “a lawyer who has lobbied for the National Rifle Association, a gun show trade group, and gun manufacturers.”
According to CNN’s Jose Pagliery, the white paper “suggested a number of ways to reduce the agency's regulation of gun manufacturers, dealers, owners and international trade. All of these reflected priorities of the gun industry.”
Among lobbyist Mark Barnes’ contributions, he suggested a call for the ATF to conduct “a new sporting purpose study” of the AR-15 and AR-47 semiautomatic assault rifles. He wrote Turk, "These firearm types are now standard for such sporting activities as bore (sic), coyote, and prairie-dog hunting. ATF should re-examine it's (sic) almost 20 year old study to bring it up to date with the sport shooting landscape of today.” In the final version of his memo, Turk repeated this almost word for word.
Sporting activities? These are weapons, vicious killing machines. An AR-15 is what 19-year old Nikolas Cruz bought for his rampage at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High in Parkland. AR-15-style rifles were used in the Newtown, Connecticut, killings in 2012 (28 dead); the San Bernardino, California shootings in 2015 (14 dead); Orlando in 2016 (49 dead); Las Vegas in October 2017 (58 dead) and a month later, Sutherland, Texas (26 dead).
These are not sports weapons and they sure as hell don’t belong in the hands of any civilian, much less the mentally disturbed. In 2016, just after the Orlando shootings, Peter Rhee, a trauma surgeon at the University of Arizona, told Sarah Zhang of Wired magazine that the damage to the human body done by a bullet from an AR-15 “looks like a hand grenade went off in there.”
“The bullet from an AR-15 might miss the femoral artery in the leg, but cavitation may burst the artery anyway, causing death by blood loss. A swath of stretched and torn tissue around the wound may die. That’s why, says Rhee, a handgun wound might require only one surgery but an AR-15 bullet wound might require three to ten.”
Unless, of course, it kills you immediately, a likely outcome. A couple of years ago, the family of the AR-15’s inventor, Eugene Stoner, said they were certain that he designed the rifle as a military weapon only and did not intend its use for hunting or worse: "He died long before any mass shootings occurred. But, we do think he would have been horrified and sickened as anyone, if not more by these events."
Yet here’s the National Rifle Association – contributor of nearly $30 million to Trump’s presidential campaign and some $20 million to 2016’s GOP Senate candidates -- lauding the AR-15 as “America’s Rifle,” praising its “ability to be modified to your own personal taste,” and delighting in a Twitter account’s gushing that the weapon has “so, SO, SOOOO many accessories.”
Good grief, it’s a deadly weapon of mass destruction, not Barbie’s Dream House.
And here’s Remington Arms, which in past years marketed its AR-15 Bushmaster to the testosterone-addled with slogans like “Consider your man card reissued” and, “Forces of opposition bow down. You are single-handedly outnumbered.” Imagine how words such as those might sound to an angry teenager like Nikolas Cruz, his rage and apparent white supremacist beliefs urged on by fantasies of firepower and revenge.
So now there are 17 dead in Parkland, Florida. They are grieved by their families and by the other kids and teachers who survived this 21st century St. Valentine’s Day Massacre. They are mourned by the rest of us, even the hypocritical officeholders who offer their “thoughts and prayers” while sucking up to the NRA for campaign cash, and who defend the right to own as many big, deadly, terrorizing guns as anybody wants in the name of a constitutional amendment originally designed not to encourage the wholesale butchering of man and beast but to provide civilian militias with muskets.
On Wednesday, the day of the killings, I printed out that CNN article relating yet another example of Washington’s undrained swamp, a lobbyist working with a Federal employee to deregulate and make it even easier to buy and own guns.
On Thursday, I looked back at the piece I wrote after October’s Las Vegas killings and realized that with just a change of date and location and the replacement of a couple of quotes, the words were as valid in the wake of the Parkland killings as they were in the wake of Vegas.
That’s because killing begets killing and as sure as the setting of the sun, there will be more senseless, multiple slaughters of the innocent. But there’s a difference this time. Early this week, Remington Arms, maker of the AR-15 Bushmaster and other guns, filed for bankruptcy, citing declining sales and falling revenues.
What’s more, there’s a realization growing that’s greater than in a long while, a realization that come November, we have a good chance to vote a lot of these venal, toadying-to-the-gun-lobby bastards out. Admittedly, that may cause Remington and other gun makers’ sales to rebound as the NRA and others once again stir fears of Democrats seizing weapons.
But two years later, unless impeachment and conviction have clicked in, we can go after the president himself, the fatuous leader for whom guns are not only the nation’s “man card” but a way to pander to his almighty base and keep campaign cash rolling in from the gun lobby.
In truth, the commander-in-chief who denounced “American carnage” in his inaugural address revels in that carnage and relies on it to keep him at the top. On Election Day 2020, you can make that come to an end.
Michael Winship, senior writing fellow at Demos and president of the Writers Guild of America-East, was senior writer for Moyers & Company and Bill Moyers’ Journal and is senior writer of BillMoyers.com.