It’s time for drastic, unpopular measures

How many more murders must take place at schools before we, as a nation, realize that something drastic, perhaps even unpopular, must be done?

One would have thought serious measures would have been put in place after Columbine, but they weren’t, and now, almost 19 years later, the 25th fatal active school shooting at an elementary or high school has taken place.

This time, on Valentine’s Day, 17 people were killed, most of them high school students.

It took the perpetrator only 6 minutes to shoot more than two dozen people, using an AR-15 rifle to spray myriad bullets into classrooms and hallways.

And still we, as a nation, side-step the issue. The president side-steps the issue. Congress side-steps the issue, all because a very powerful force, best known as the National Rifle Association, has us all believing to ban or tightly control weapons meant for military use is stifling our rights as an American.

Understand this: many of our friends and family in Sampson County are hunters and gun enthusiasts. We love them, and we respect their right to own guns and use them. We want them to own guns if they want to. In fact, we have no issue with their right to carry a gun, nor anyone else’s right to do so.

But we do have an issue with an AR-15, and outside of military use, we see no need for anyone to own them even though the N.R.A calls it the most popular rifle in America.

Sure, it might be fun to own one or to shoot it, but we believe most people would be willing to sacrifice its use if it might mean one less school shooting, one less youngster killed at the hands of a gun-wielding madman.

And like it or not, the truth is no one outside of the military has any business with an AR-15 any way. Why? Here are some very good reasons:

• Five of the six deadliest mass shootings of the past six years in the United States involved the use of an AR-15-style semiautomatic rifle;

• The AR-15 and its variants have seemingly become the weapons of choice for mass killers;

• They are very easy to buy — and in some states far easier to obtain than a handgun;

• It is light, easy to hold and easy to fire, with a limited recoil. Bullets fly out of the muzzle more than twice as fast as most handgun rounds.

• AR-15-style weapons are fed with box magazines that can be swapped out quickly. The standard magazine holds 30 rounds. Equipped in this way, a gunman can fire more than a hundred rounds in minutes. In other words, those looking to do a lot of damage in a hurry will likely look to the AR-15 first.

Originally designed for troops to kill enemy fighters, the AR-15’s popularity should not be a deciding factor in whether manufacturers, if not legislators, should consider doing the right thing and stopping their use.

While we aren’t foolish enough to believe that banning the AR-15 for personal use will automatically halt mass shootings, it will be a first step and one that sends a powerful message. Other messages will need to be sent as well, including to Congress and the president, who both need to take a critical look at all aspects of these shootings — tell-tale signs, unchecked reports by the FBI, more funding for mental health programs — and actually do something about them.

There will never be a complete fix for mass shootings, but burying our heads in the sand, allowing powerful forces like the N.R.A. to control the dialogue and merely accepting that these tragic, horrifying attacks are simply a part of society today does not do justice to all those who have lost their lives.

Look at the fear in the faces of survivors of Wednesday’s shooting, hear the sorrow and pain in the voices of family members of those killed, look into the eyes of the victims. How many more tragedies will it take, how many more families will have to suffer before we realize that something drastic, something unpopular, even, must be done, is worth doing, and should be our next step.