Guest editorial: Can we minimize mass murder?

Recent repeated instances of terrorist mass murder in our country have made it mandatory that we enact legislation to fix the issue and ultimately save our society as we know it. 

As a young boy, I was extremely interested in guns and hunting. Out of deference to that passion, my parents enrolled me in an NRA course in Vermont that taught youngsters marksmanship and gun safely. That was one of the primary functions of the NRA in the l930s. 

Later in my life, trading on the lessons learned from my NRA education and living mostly abroad, I took part in competitive skeet shooting and hunted from Europe through the Middle East. For years I had access to a goose blind on the eastern shore of Maryland and took advantage of the wonderful dove hunting of northern Virginia. I also served the Vt. Fish and Wildlife Board. Throughout that period, I was a regular member of the NRA and in the 1960s became a Life Member. 

The focus of the NRA changed in 1975 after the passage of the Gun Control Act of 1968, which created a system to federally license gun dealers and established restrictions on particular categories and classes of firearms. At that point the NRA ceased being an organization that focused on sportsmen, hunters and target shooters. It began to focus primarily on gun control issues. And that is where it is today. The only major difference between the NRA today and its pre-1975 predecessor is that it has become incredibly wealthy and has gotten heavily involved in national politics — particularly those surrounding the Second Amendment of the Constitution and the election of presidents and members of Congress. 

Stated succinctly, my interest in guns is in hunting rifles and shotguns. During my perhaps overactive hunting days, which pretty much ended when I turned 85, I had a double barrel, improved cylinder/modified choke 12 gauge shotgun for upland bird hunting; a full choke, 12 gauge automatic shotgun for waterfowl; a .22 caliber rifle for rabbits and a 30.06 rifle for deer, boar and other large animals. Basically, that array of weapons covered just about any hunting situation you can imagine. Guns and hunting have played a major positive role in my life. 

For those reasons, I would be actively uninterested in any legislation that would take those rifles and shotguns away from me, and I suspect there are literally millions of people in this country who share that view. 

But we now have to deal with some new realities that did not exist 50 and more years ago. We have people who seek to threaten much of our way of life. Just try to imagine raising kids at a time when you would have to train them to deal with armed attacks on them in their places of worship, their shopping areas, their schools and who knows where else. 

This new and horrendous reality has highlighted the wide existence of what are really military-style weapons in our society. It is perfectly legal for you to have a semi-automatic rifle that can fire a round as fast as you can pull the trigger and can be fitted with a cartridge holder that will give you 200 rounds. The availability of these guns, of bump stocks and cartridge holders to just about anyone who wants to own one can turn anyone into a domestic terrorist. Don’t argue self-protection. You don’t need 200 rounds for that. A pistol or your hunting weapons will do that nicely. 

Why are these guns available and why is their continued availability so fiercely defended by the NRA? It is clear that the NRA decided years ago that to give in on any attempt whatsoever to control guns would soon lead to a total ban. That view persists and we see it reflected in the NRA reminder to the White House this week that any (White House) action will anger his (the President’s) crucial base. Clearly, the White House does what the NRA dictates. 

Any move to control the environment that produces these mass murders is welcome, including background checks and red flag legislation, but the only real solution lies elsewhere. In a perfect world, we would ban all assault weapons and bump stocks, but if it’s OK to kill just a few people at a time but not to kill a large number, then the answer is clear — forget assault weapon and bump stock bans. 

Ban high capacity magazines. An assault weapon without a high capacity magazine simply can’t hack it for a committed mass murderer. 

Haviland Smith 

Haviland Smith is a retired CIA Station Chief who served in Europe and the Middle East as Executive Assistant in the Director’s Office and as Chief of the Agency’s Counterterrorism Staff.

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