I feel compelled to respond to the Viewpoint by Emerson Bolen in Wednesday Journal of Aug. 28 [Wake up, America! Guns are not the problem]. He starts out with very disrespectful words about Mayor Abu-Taleb’s Viewpoint of Aug. 14, calling it a “rant,” which I find totally unacceptable given Abu-Taleb’s sincere and thoughtful article. Then Mr. Bolen states that the Mayor’s viewpoint is “loaded with inaccurate and misleading information.” It seems to me that he was referring to his own viewpoint, which contains several serious inaccuracies that need to be addressed.

Mr. Bolen indicates that he knows what he is writing about because he has a long history of carrying assault weapons. I feel I can write about these weapons because I have fired both semi-automatic and fully automatic weapons in a military context.

The AR-15 is the “civilian” or “sporting” version of the military M16 assault rifle, with the only significant difference being that the AR-15 rifle cannot shoot in full automatic mode. The AR-15 uses similar ammunition as used in the M16, a .223 Remington cartridge, which when fired shoots bullets at approximately 3,000 feet per second. When such bullets hit a human (or animal) body at such a high speed, they cause what is called a cavitation effect: the bullet sends shock waves through tissues and severely damages them, causing devastating wounds beyond just the penetration by the bullet. Furthermore, this weapon can be fired at a rate of up to 3 shots per second, emptying a standard 20- or 30-round magazine in 7-10 seconds, and it can fire as many as 60-90 rounds in one minute with re-loading. 

Clearly the AR-15 and its ammunition are intended and designed to kill people, many of them, rather than target shooting or hunting. One could thus rightfully call the AR-15 a “weapon of war,” as Mayor Abu-Taleb does, in the hands of people who are waging a “war” on Jews, immigrants, Muslims, people of color, or just people in general. An AR-15-like weapon was again used in the mass shootings in Odessa, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, while similar AK-47-based weapons were used in the shootings in El Paso and Gilroy. By contrast, a hand gun, even a semiautomatic one, does not shoot bullets at such high speeds and causes far less damage; it is therefore the weapon of first choice for law enforcement officers who need to stop a criminal from harming others.

Next, Mr. Bolen seems to suggest that there is less of an outcry against “criminal/gang-related shootings” than mass shootings. Nothing is further from the truth; just speak with people who live in high-crime areas or the Chicago police commissioner and mayor. Mass shootings result in a higher profile in the media because of their large casualty rate in a single event. However, every day at least 100 people are killed by a gun in the U.S., eight of them children(!), and at least 300 more people are injured by a bullet every day. No doubt, every single one of these casualties results in an outcry by the survivors affected, but few get high media attention.

To call people who want to see measures taken to reduce gun violence “the anti-gun mob,” as Mr. Bolen does, is in my view inflammatory and very disrespectful of the viewpoint of other Americans.

He also seems to suggest that AR-15-like weapons are needed to protect businesses and buildings in situations of riots, using as example the disturbances in Ferguson (2014) and Los Angeles (1992), both reactions to police violence. In Chicago, similar events last took place 50 years ago (after the killing of MLK). It is ludicrous to suggest business owners arm themselves with high-velocity, semi-automatic rifles with high-capacity magazines to protect themselves against something that is extremely rare. We have the police for that.

Then Mr. Bolen completely misstates crime statistics in London and New York City, writing that the homicide rate in London is higher than that in NYC. In fact, using annual statistics, New York has a significantly higher homicide rate than London, with New York recording 3.4 homicides per 100,000 people in 2017 whereas London recorded 1.2 per 100,000 that year. In addition he leaves out the fact that the NYC homicide rate has reached a historic low, making that city one of the safest in the country. NYC and NY State have some of the country’s strictest gun regulations, and the United Kingdom has some of the strictest gun regulations in the world. 

In Britain, less than 5% of all homicides were committed with a gun, but in the U.S., 73%. These numbers illustrate the effectiveness of gun regulation in bringing down gun deaths (and injuries). Of note in this respect, mass shootings and resulting fatalities were down in the U.S. between 1994 and 2004 when assault weapons were banned, and have since sharply increased in number and in the number of resulting fatalities (Donohue and Boulouta, New York Times, Sept. 5).

Finally, Mr. Bolen informs us that he likes to shoot guns and target shooting. I entirely respect his choice of activities, which I assume take place on gun shooting ranges. And that is where this shooting should happen and the guns and ammunition used should be safely stored. There is in my view no place for AR-15-like weapons and their ammunition outside such secure venues.

We may live in “a sick, decaying society” as Mr. Bolen puts it, although even if you agree with this statement it may be for quite different reasons than his. However, to state that firearms are not the problem [when it comes to gun violence] is incorrect. Gun violence requires a gun, ammunition, and a person pulling the trigger. Logic dictates that regulating one of these three factors would reduce gun violence; regulating two would be more effective; and regulating all three is likely to have the greatest effect. 

Only 4% of all gun violence in the U.S. is attributable to mental illness and only 20-25% of people committing mass murders using guns have any history of mental illness. Thus, people who may consider perpetrating gun violence are very difficult to identify and therefore regulating guns and ammunition are likely the most effective ways to reduce gun violence and mass shootings. 

As Mr. Bolen correctly indicates, suicides represent the largest fraction of gun deaths. Strictly regulating access to both guns and ammunition would most likely also have a significant reducing effect on the high suicide rate in the U.S. (twice as high as in the UK) since using a gun is such an easy and highly effective way of killing oneself.

Maarten Bosland is an Oak Park resident and a member of Gun Responsibility Advocates, which maintains that greater responsibilities, including common-sense firearm regulation, must accompany gun rights. 

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