What do the perpetrators of the massacres at Sandy Hook, at Aurora, at Orlando, and at Sutherland Springs have in common? They were all men under 30 and they all used versions of the same kind of firearm, the AR-15, the semi-automatic version of the military's M-16 and the bestselling gun in America.
It might be difficult to make this connection because as I write this, the section on the use of AR-15s in mass killings has been deleted from Wikipedia by a user called Niteshift36, who claimed that including such a section at all was inherently biased. According to his user profile, this no-doubt scrupulous and disinterested editor of the world's most widely used work of reference is "proud to be an American," "a native speaker of the English language," "skeptical of anthropogenic global warming," and "supports concealed carry laws." He is also a veteran, a Tom Clancy and 24 fan, someone who thinks we should "say NO to political correctness," and a self-professed "Jedi."
With all apologies to Jedi Master Niteshift36, this is ridiculous. If the killers had all worn Mickey Mouse sunglasses or been found with Metallica tattoos, it would be considered noteworthy. It's not biased except in the sense that reality itself is biased against childish gun enthusiasts. But whether he wins his edit war or nay, he has done a great service by reminding us what we're dealing with whenever we try to argue. He fits a profile, of revoltingly adolescent, video game-addicted LARPers who think that their hobby of playing dress-up with murder weapons is a constitutional right.
The AR-15 is not just a gun. It is a hobby, a lifestyle, an adolescent cult. An entire industry has grown up around the endless array of accessories and modifications that allow these weapons to fire more quickly and more accurately with greater ease, to be reloaded more efficiently, and to resemble their military-issued cousins more closely. As a correspondent for one enthusiast website puts it in his breakdown of the best recent "gear":
Seeing as how America's Rifle, aka the AR-15, is hands down thee most popular rifle in the United States, there's certainly no shortage of do-dads and add-ons to morph it into the perfect fit for your application. Up in the rarified air that is SHOT Show, we're exposed to hundreds of new AR accessories, some good, some pointless, and some just flat out weird. And while weird is my middle name, I'll stick to breaking down the "gotta have it" accessories that'll turn your AR into something fierce [sic throughout].
Something fierce indeed! Whatever your needs and budget, there is something out there for you. Do you want "something that lets you spew lead as quickly as possible"? Then track down a Slidefire stock, which "allows the user to simulate firing in automatic." If "you're building a rifle or SBR that's meant for close quarters fighting or even shooting out of a vehicle, then a muzzle brake that shields the guy next to you is mandatory." For the well-stocked and previously muzzle-braked, there is always the Maklarbak TTC Magazine Follower. "When you run empty with your AR, it usually results in an ‘Oh Crap' moment followed by a mandatory reload." Ah, yes, that awful moment when having spewed as much lead as possible with my simulated automatic trigger, I have to pause momentarily and put more lethal bullets in my toy. Wouldn't want that.
Thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands, of people who participate in this hobby are good natured, law-abiding, sane, and decent. They are also childish and callous. They give the game away with their talk about firing out of vehicles and "fighting" at close quarters or otherwise. The NRA is full of it when it says that the AR-15 can be used for hunting. So could a bazooka or a grenade launcher. An atomic blast would also get the job done on the white-tailed deer front, I'll warrant.
Unfortunately for decades now the gun lobby has traded on the ignorance of idiotic urban liberals in order to persuade otherwise sensible deer hunters and target pistol shooters that AR-15s and their many imitators are as useful in their preferred form of an entertainment as a .30-06 or a 12-gauge. The us vs. them narrative has been so successful that many of my own friends and relations who only a decade ago would have gladly accepted commonsense restrictions on weapons of this kind now own the guns themselves.
Which is why I am not optimistic about our ability to pass any kind of meaningful legislation. The Republican Party owes too much of its support to people whose economic well-being it gleefully neglects but whose ill-considered attachments to dangerous toys it has safeguarded as a kind of poisoned consolation prize. Nor do I think that if we were somehow able to ban the manufacture, sale, and possession of all such weapons and carry out a more or less successful confiscation scheme we would never see anything like what happened in Sutherland Springs again. The real causes are chthonic; AR-15s are only the accidents that have in many cases enabled them.
But I do not think I could tell the parents of a slaughtered 18-month-old baby that there is absolutely nothing we can do. Could Niteshift36?