Whenever there’s a mass shooting where the shooter uses an AR-15, the call goes up for a ban on assault rifles, an idea which was tried back in 1994, but only lasted for ten years and wasn’t really a ban. Not only did the 1994 statute allow current assault rifle owners to keep possession of their weapons, but gun makers could make a few cosmetic changes in the look and the feel of the AR and other assault-style guns which didn’t really change the essential lethality of the product at all.

              The odds that Congress will vote another assault rifle ban are slim, if only because this is the kind of issue where members of the GOP House caucus who might be willing to consider such a law are now beginning to worry about primary challenges next year from the alt-right, and anything which smacks of gun control is a toxic enough issue to determine the outcome of a close vote.

              On the other hand, the shooting this week not only took place in a Southern, pro-gun state, but also took the lives of three children and three adults in a private, church-based school. Which makes it a little more difficult to promote gun ownership as some kind of God-given ‘right.’

              Aside from the fact that the design of the AR-15 makes it a more efficient gun to use when a shooter wants to kill as many people as possible in a public space, what we will also no doubt begin to learn is how owning an AR-15 answers some kind of basic psychological need for white men to prove they are still a privileged group even when the objective basis for privilege, like good-paying manufacturing jobs have all been shipped overseas. 

              This is an argument made by a Professor of Psychiatry, Jonathan Metzl, whose book, Dying of Whiteness, is a clever approach to understanding how Donald Trump was able to capture white, working-class support. He references studies which see the ownership of guns, particularly assault rifles, as affirming masculinity at a time when ‘broad-shouldered, white men dominated the culture’ as well as holding those well-paying factory jobs which have disappeared. [p. 74.]

              The idea that the assault rifle is a symbol for masculine pride and authority may sound kind of obvious, but it happens to be an argument which has little, if anything, to do with why assault rifles are popular to the point that they wind up in the hands of people like Audrey Hale. In fact, the gun really started selling when the gun industry began referring to the AR-15 as a ‘modern sporting rifle,’ precisely to obscure its history and development as a military gun.

The idea that a weapon which could fire 90 military-grade rounds in less than 3 minutes would be sold as ‘sporting’ equipment was a brainchild cooked up by the National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF) which had been getting reports from big-box chain stores like Cabela’s that women were reluctant to bring their children into retail locations which sold military guns.

The picture at the top of this page is from the website of Daniel Defense, the company that made the assault rifle used to kill 19 students and 2 teachers at the Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, TX last May.

I owned and operated retail gun shops in three states (SC, NY, MA) between 1981 and 2014. Did I sell hundreds of assault rifles over that span of years? I did.

I can’t recall a single customer who bought one of those guns from me and said that he was either affirming his manhood, or trying to protect himself, or any of the other reasons which are given out to explain the popularity of this gun.

Customers bought assault rifles in my shop for the same reason they bought any other kind of gun: they had some extra cash in their pocket and they wanted to buy another gun.

The entire gun industry rests on the simple truth that every consumer item either develops a following or the item stops being displayed on store shelves.

Which means that the only way to get rid of the violence caused by the use of an AR-15 is to take the gun off the shelves.