After the latest gun massacre, students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, and throughout the country, are leading a movement that might finally loosen the National Rifle Association’s (NRA) chokehold on our government. But to get there, they will have to triumph over an increasingly irrational and inhumane gun lobby, their mercenaries in Congress and the reality-disconnected White House.
Romanticizing “wild west,” Hollywood-style shootouts, Trump is selling the idea that “former marine” tough guys, cut from the mold of White House Chief of Staff John Kelly, would have saved those high school teenagers and are the solution to preventing future school shootings. Apparently, there are hundreds of thousands of these Rambos on an island somewhere, just waiting to teach Shakespeare in our public schools. Predictably, Trump even bragged to the nation that he would have rushed in to confront the shooter himself, even without any gun. Additionally, in tweets and on televised interviews, the president offered this stunning amalgam of fact-free, fantasy-filled pearls of ignorance and misinformation:
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“Frankly you have teachers that are marines for 20 years, they retire and become a teacher … they’re people that have won shooting contests … for whatever.”
“It’s called concealed carry, where a teacher would have a concealed gun on them. They’d go for special training and they would be there and you would no longer have a gun-free zone. Gun-free zone to a maniac — because they’re all cowards — a gun-free zone is ‘let’s go in and let’s attack because bullets aren’t coming back at us …”
“We have to harden our schools, not soften them up. A gun-free zone to a killer … that’s like going in for the ice cream.”
” … and that teacher would have shot the hell of out him before he knew what happened.”
“If a potential ‘sicko shooter’ knows that a school has a large number of very weapons talented teachers … who will be instantly shooting, the sicko will NEVER attack that school … problem solved.”
Trump’s responses were a more incoherent version of the exact same language used in a speech given by NRA Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre on the very same day to the Conservative Political Action Conference. His answer to mass shootings is more guns — and of course, more profit for gun manufacturers.
An entire book could be written on the morbid nonsense of this strategy, but in short: Of 156 mass shootings between 2009 and 2016, only 10 percent occurred in “gun-free” zones. Moreover, many mass shooters intend to commit suicide or go down in a blaze of glory. Armed math teachers would provide no deterrence whatsoever, as handgun-wielding teachers would be badly overmatched by assault rifles.
Of course, all guns can kill, but they are not created equal in their lethal potential. The NRA calls the AR-15 “America’s rifle.” And that label speaks volumes about the US and about the NRA. It is the weapon of choice for mass shooters, and you can buy one for as little as $500. In Florida, you can buy one more quickly and with less oversight than a handgun. Anyone over 18 with nothing on their record can buy one within minutes of walking into a store, as did the Parkland shooter. Its inventor, Eugene Stoner, designed it specifically to offer an advantage to US troops over enemy troops using the Russian AK-47 in wartime.
Assault Rifles: Physics and Anatomy
Physics and anatomy are not often part of the gun control debate. They are both far beyond the concerns of the NRA or the comprehension of Donald Trump. But the physics behind firearms and the anatomical consequences they create tell perhaps the most important story about whether gun battles are the solution to these exclusively American mass shooters.
The kinetic energy (and therefore destructive potential) of a bullet is equal to one- half of the mass of the bullet, times its velocity squared. Bullets come of out of an AR-15 at 3,300 feet per second, three times the velocity of the average Glock pistol, producing kinetic energy 10 times greater than bullets from a handgun. Furthermore, AR-15 bullets “tumble” as they penetrate flesh, widening the area of tissue damage. Peter Rhee, a trauma surgeon at the University of Arizona, compares the damage from a handgun bullet to the AR-15 this way: “One looks like a grenade went off in there. The other looks like a bad knife cut.”
Because of the destructive potential of the AR-15, accuracy is not particularly important for a shooter to wreak massive damage to the body. There’s no recoil “kick” to an AR-15. It is light and easy to hold, making it extremely easy to pull the trigger, rapidly and endlessly. With a standard magazine that holds 30 bullets and is designed for quick change out, a shooter can get off hundreds of rounds within a few minutes, especially if it’s equipped with a bump stock that makes it fully automatic, requiring only one pull of the trigger to deliver all the bullets in the magazine. Every feature of the AR-15 is part of an overall package designed to kill many human beings as coldly and efficiently as possible. It is a weapon of mass destruction if there ever was one.
Unless it hits the heart or a major blood vessel, a bullet from a handgun creates tissue damage confined to roughly the diameter of the bullet. The injuries are usually non-fatal, and the bullets are often stopped by bones or lodged in tissue. But the high-velocity, high-energy bullets from an AR-15 are specifically designed to cause massive collateral damage in the human body, leaving a much wider path of destruction, utterly destroying organs rather than simply putting a hole through them. Despite its rather small size, an AR-15 bullet can literally obliterate three inches of the largest bone in your body, the femur. Likewise, it can shred a major artery several inches away from the point of impact. One bullet can turn the largest organs in your body, your liver and your brain, into mush. The exit wound can be as large as an orange. Most victims that die from AR-15 bullet wounds bleed to death on the spot, with no chance for survival.
Trump and every politician that takes money from the NRA should be forced to come into the operating room with me and look at what is left of an innocent child or teenager when their body has been riddled with bullets from an assault rifle. If a victim is “lucky” and survives, removing the dead tissue created by an AR-15 bullet will require a series of multiple, sequential operations. Survivors are often left debilitated, with impaired organ function, and require more surgeries throughout their lifetime. They are often relegated to a life of chronic pain and permanent disfigurement.
Stoner, the AR-15 inventor, didn’t have an AR-15 for sport, hunting or for self-defense. In fact, he did not own one at all. Although Stoner has long since passed away, his family says he would be horrified that civilians have access to this weapon of war. He would undoubtedly be horrified that “tough guy” teachers would be expected to engage in gun battles against them.
Reading, Writing and Gun Battles
No matter how heroic an English teacher might intend to act with a concealed handgun, in facing a shooter with an AR-15, they would be so overmatched it would basically be a suicide mission.
Accounts that the 6′ 5″ highly regarded, armed and well-trained security guard at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School failed to engage the shooter until the slaughter was over further prove the point. More accounts suggest the first police responders didn’t either. While, if true, this doesn’t speak well for their “valor,” nor does it follow Trump’s Hollywood script, but it is hard to accuse them of acting irrationally. If Trump seriously expects to arm tens of thousands of school teachers, when their life is on the line and they stand little chance of stopping the killing, how many will die heroes or instead, choose to do whatever else they can, short of a suicide mission?
To be sure, stories of heroism among the victims often do emerge — like Peter Wang, a 15-year-old freshman, shot to death while holding open a door and allowing his fellow students to run to safety. He likely saved dozens of lives. But to make public policy predicated upon the willingness of tens of thousands of teachers to make the ultimate sacrifice is a macabre and sadistic insult to the teachers, the students, their parents and the entire country. If that is what Trump and the NRA expect of school teachers in the US, they will abandon the profession en masse, and the public-school system itself will join students in the graveyard of the NRA.
The NRA’s stonewalling of conversations around gun control in the face of the never-ending and accelerating pace of mass shootings, carries a societal cost far beyond the thousands of murders themselves. It sends a defiant and very public message that empathy, human decency and reverence for human life are no longer desirable characteristics of US society. The NRA is a primary catalyst in the arrival of the very grotesque, dehumanized hellscape that they claim to be fighting against.
When Americans see their government, elected officials, business interests and their fellow neighbors all standing idly by while gun manufacturers brazenly peddle the tools of mass murder through the NRA, a national theme that “life is cheap” becomes established. Even the lives of our school children are cheap. Pleas for gun control by grieving and tearful family members of victims plastered all over the news are met with cold indifference or worse: ridicule and contempt on social media. It took only hours before the surviving students of the Stoneman Douglas massacre, who were giving heartfelt outbursts to the media following the unspeakable horror of seeing their friends riddled with bullets and bleeding to death, were maligned and mocked by right-wing media and their devotees.
Everyone knows that the media aphorism, “if it bleeds it leads,” is a valid criticism and has been since before the days of William Randolph Hearst. And to be sure, although mass shootings get the most media attention, they represent only a small portion of the gun tragedy epidemic.
But without an ounce of shame, self-awareness or the hypocrisy involved, Dana Loesch, a right-wing provocateur and NRA spokesperson, stood at CPAC and accused the “legacy media” of hoping for gun massacres, bellowing to a cheering audience that “crying white mothers are ratings gold.” The NRA even released a video in the same time frame that slammed the mainstream media for being the “casting call for the next mass shooting.” Of course, neither Loesch nor other NRA brass mentioned the role of guns in the tragedy, or expressed any sympathy for the victims and their families.
Our “reality TV star president” remains further detached from reality by portraying the Parkland massacre as a lack of heroism. Trump and the NRA’s latest solution is just another sequel to their Hollywood fantasy that “the only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.” But reality has moved beyond that. No “good guy” (teacher) with a gun can stop a “bad guy” with an AR-15.