Friday, October 27, 2023

A Call for Action on Military Style Arms

The horrific slaughter Wednesday night of 18 innocents, many of them children, and the wounding of 13 more in southern Maine by a gunman using an AR-15 style semi-automatic assault rifle defies understanding. Not understanding of how and why someone could perpetrate such an evil. Rather, it reinforces the difficulty understanding those who believe owning military equivalent arms should be a protected right in America.  

I have yet to hear or read about someone who used an AR-15 to legitimately defend their home from invasion. Or from an attack by a wolf pack. Or any other danger that could be countered just as competently by an ordinary rifle or handgun. Those standard firearms would suffice in almost all instances. 

I am not against gun possession as guaranteed in the Second Amendment to the Constitution. But the right to bear arms meant something entirely different in 1789 than it has come to mean in 2023. The Founding Fathers never contemplated the firepower now available. They did not foresee everyday citizens possessing cannons or other means of mass destruction.

Back in colonial times, all the way to the Civil War, muskets, rifles and handguns fired single bore bullets. A shot in the arm or leg was not life threatening or life changing, unless it struck a major blood vessel. Even if a bullet got lodged in one’s torso it could be extracted, albeit by a delicate operation. 

That changed during the Civil War. Why? Because the type of bullet changed. Instead firing a round, smooth bore bullet, soldiers shot a French-designed MiniƩ ball which, upon entering a body, shattered bones in its path (

“The large number of amputations performed during the (Civil) war was the result of the severe nature of the wounds caused by the MiniĆ© ball, the number of wounded needing immediate treatment, and the often poor condition of the patients,” according to the National Museum of Civil War Medicine (NMCWM) in Frederick, MD. 

War is often said to be a catalyst for invention, for military hardware (the atomic bomb being the most horrific) and medical improvements (the development of pavilion hospitals to treat Civil War casualties). Indeed, as the NMCWM explains, “Many of the advancements made during the war still influence our modern medical practices. Those ideas—a structured ambulance system, on-site response by trained personnel, the use of triage, a focus on logistics, a hospital system with tiered levels of care—are still relevant today.”  

(Editor’s note: From the outside, the NMCWM hardly looked worth entering when Gilda and I, along with my brother and his wife, visited it pre-Covid. It is in an old building in downtown Frederick. Once inside, however, the multi-level museum was chock full of interesting and enlightening information about wartime medical care.)

The AR-15 style rifle predominantly used by mass murderers inflicts harm not seen except on battlefields. Yet, Republican legislators, backed up by conservative judges, have blocked repeated efforts to minimize the availability of the weapon, suppressing even the requirement of background checks before a purchase can be made. 

While elected officials, including the new Republican Speaker of the House Michael Johnson, expressed the standard call for prayer and healing after Wednesday’s slaughter, a more pointed call for action was made Thursday by CBS Late Night host Stephen Colbert. Spend a few minutes watching him eviscerate Johnson and all those who time after time fail to address our nation’s gun problem (the first five minutes of Mike Drop” are generic monologue; stay tuned for the passionate call for action):