I will call myself a hunter, although it’s an activity I stopped long ago. For years, I on occasion hunted, whether for duck, geese, pheasant, grouse, dove or deer. Now, I shoot only in defense of my garden, using a .22-caliber rifle against groundhogs and squirrels.
During my nine months of Marine Corp training in the mid-1950s in Quantico, Virginia, I used a Browning 12-gauge shotgun in the fall to hunt dove in the cornfields around Baltimore. The gun held up to five shells, all of which could be fired just by pulling the trigger five times. It would be considered a semi-automatic weapon. To get a hunting license in Maryland in those days, one was required to plug a shotgun, limiting its capacity to three shells. Such was the definition of a hunter — one who could bring down a bird with no more than three shots. Such were the rules of conduct for sensible hunting in order to put safety first.
The weapon used to kill 14 students and three staff members at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on Feb. 14 was an AR-15, developed as an assault weapon for U.S. soldiers and first used in the Vietnam War. It, too, would be considered a semi-automatic weapon, but one with a regular 30-round magazine or a high-capacity magazine holding 100 or more rounds. The rounds develop very high muzzle velocity, giving the bullet tremendous destructive power, particularly through the ricochet effect it has on hitting bone. Hardly, the effect one would want in hunting birds to eat.
The AR-15 was considered the signature weapon in the Vietnam War. By pulling the trigger rapidly, one can fire dozens of rounds in seconds. The AR-15 can also easily be converted by its owner into an automatic assault weapon, avoiding the national ban on the sale of automatic weapons.
Despite multiple efforts over many years to ban the AR-15 and similar rifles designed for war, Congress has failed to act. In most states, almost anyone 18 years or older can walk into a gun store and, minutes later, walk out with an AR-15, as many magazines — regular or high capacity — as desired, and bullets to fill those magazines to capacity.
No license like I had to get in Maryland for a shotgun to hunt game. No plug to limit firepower. No governmental oversight of how this weapon is used. Just license to kill, if not encouragement by design.
This situation is a despicable case of countrywide insanity. It must be stopped. Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson of Florida hit home on Feb. 15 when he said on the Senate floor: “I have hunted all my life. … But an AR-15 is not for hunting. It’s for killing.”
This weapon and others like it must be banned from sale throughout the country. It can happen, given the outrage and energy of students, who continue their protests and are planning a march on Washington on March 24. These students need support, and there would be no better group to provide that support, marching shoulder to shoulder with them on March 24, than parents who hunt. They recognize, as Nelson does and as every real hunter must, that hunters have no need for assault weapons nor magazines of 30 or more rounds, and pride themselves on their ability to hit prey with one shot, or at most two or three.
Hunter-parents should support their children and the students of our country by going to Washington on March 24 and bear witness to this great, essential and ultimately winning demand for sensible gun control laws.
Bevis Longstreth is a retired partner of the New York-based law firm Debevoise & Plimpton. He was twice appointed by President Ronald Reagan as commissioner of the Securities and Exchange Commission, where he served from 1981 to 1984. For several years following retirement, he taught financial market regulation at Columbia Law School in New York. He summers in Phippsburg.
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