"And I looked and I beheld a pale horse,
And his name that sat upon him was death, and Hell followed with him."*
The New York Daily News captured the scene - "The Connecticut mass murderer used an assault rifle to slaughter his 26 victims, spraying dozens of bullets into a helpless group of first-graders ..." Within this one sentence battle lines have already formed. Someone will write, if they have not already, that the rifle used was not an assault weapon.
So the hell what.
The rifle I carry at work is, as a practical matter, indistinguishable from the one used in Connecticut. Both are direct descendants of the AR-10, designed by employees of the Armalite Corporation in the 1950s and marketed to the US Military as their next generation shoulder weapon. Among the design features was increased magazine capacity (30 rounds being common), an ergonomically-friendly pistol grip, recoil-reducing mechanisms and a straight bore-to-shoulder alignment that makes the weapon easier to control - that is, remain on target - during rapid fire.
Over the decades, with many years of combat experience to draw on, the modern rifle incorporates a dizzying array of options depending on mission requirements. I have chosen a holographic optic that projects an aiming ring onto a small glass square (the red dot moves as the device's perception of bullet impact point changes), a small flashlight attached to the handrail, a soft pistol grip and a competition trigger. Why? Because my job may require engaging in an armed encounter with someone shooting a weapon at me, as has happened in the past to several of my coworkers. As happens all over our country, every day.
Why would such a weapon be freely available, so much so that one disturbed individual after another can acquire one, arm themselves with it and wade into a gathering place shooting indiscriminately? Some Pro-Gun Absolutists maintain that mass executions are the price we pay as a free society.
I'm a lawyer. I've taught Constitutional Law at the undergraduate level. Our "Free Society" is not just capable, but obligated, to ask itself if the laws under which we organize ourselves demand that the murder of six-year-old Olivia Engel and seventeen of her classmates is a wage of freedom. We have grown, as humanity, beyond the belief that sacrificing children on the alter of superstition keeps us safe.
Or, have we? The president's words and tears may ease our broken hearts, but does little to deal with the underlying issues. While we argue over root causes and individual responsibility frightful weapons meant for limited uses, and users, are as easy to obtain as a gallon of gasoline.
It doesn't have to be this way. In our republic, we believe our rights derive not from the government, or from a piece of paper signed by men dead two centuries. Thomas Jefferson wrote 236 years ago:
"[W]henever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the
Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government,
laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form,
as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness."
We don't have to abolish the Second Amendment, nor turn our backs on the principles underlying its existence in our Constitution. All we have to do is accept that six year old girls looking forward to Christmas need not meet a violent end because an unstable boy got hold of a combat arm and went on a rampage. We need to start asking questions, seeking answers and understanding it may mean some kinds of firearms are off limits to many, maybe even most.
We need to do this now.
*Revelation 6:8, The Holy Bible, King James (Cambridge Version).