Orlando Attack: Citing forefathers is misplaced in gun debate

by | Jun 19, 2016 | Detroit Free Press, Comment | 2 comments

The assault rifle traces back to Nazi Germany. Did you know that? The Germans were trying to develop a more effective weapon for their soldiers, one that rivaled the firepower of a submachine gun but had better accuracy in more confined spaces.

Kill faster, closer in. That was the idea. Adolf Hitler, according to some accounts, even named the weapon: Sturmgewehr. It means “storm rifle.”

Tuck that somewhere in the back of your mind. The first people to really utilize this weapon were Nazis. Not our forefathers. Not Thomas Jefferson. Not George Washington.

No matter where we stand on the volatile gun control issue, we might think twice about that before boldly embracing assault rifles as part of our American heritage.

And we might at least scratch our heads at a Tennessee lawmaker named Andy Holt. As of Friday, he was refusing to halt a campaign event that would give away — give away — two AR-15 assault rifles as prizes, despite the nation mourning the mass murder in Orlando, which killed 49 people, perpetrated by a shooter, Omar Mateen, who used a similar weapon.

As Holt told CNN: “I don’t concede to the idea we should change our plans because this individual inappropriately used a firearm.”


Designed to kill

How exactly did Mateen, the killer, inappropriately use his weapon, a Sig Sauer MCX assault rifle? He killed a lot of people in a close space. That’s exactly what it was designed for. Not shooting deer. Not target practice.

Here is how the manufacturer touted the weapon in its 2015 catalog: “Ready to perform anywhere. SIG SAUER combines industry-leading innovation with battle-tested experience to engineer the world’s toughest, most devastatingly accurate pistols and rifles … all in our mission to provide elite shooters with the complete weapon systems they need to prevail under any circumstance.”

Does that sound like shooting tin cans?

And what are the two winners of Holt’s campaign event supposed to do with their AR-15 rifles? Unless they hang them on the wall or put them in a trophy case, eventually there is only one purpose. And if you say, “They would only use it on their enemies,” just remember, that’s how sick minds like Omar Mateen view innocent people.

This hasn’t deterred Holt. “I’m furious that I get phone calls from the media asking me if I’m still going to give away an AR-15 at our (event) rather than asking me how many extra firearms I’ll be handing out to ensure people can protect themselves,” he wrote on Facebook. “After all, it was a bullet that stopped the terrorist.”

With that logic, what’s the use of arguing?

Can’t ignore the tears

In fact, you might ask, why even write about this issue at all? You’re just asking for abuse. Don’t believe me? Wait a few hours and check the comments. I’ll be called every name in the book, a moron, a bleeding heart, ignorant of firearms, many other juicy words.

So why do it? Because, like many of you, my heart breaks watching these families bury their children and cry out for some kind of reform. And I guess I’d rather ignore criticism than ignore their tears.

Can you imagine how a grieving mother or wife feels today reading that assault rifles are being given away by a politician? So maybe the next Omar Mateen, a U.S. citizen with no criminal record, can win it?

That’s why I bother. Because, like many of you, I’m weary of watching people being mowed down in clubs, churches, even elementary schools. I’m weary of statistics like 24,000 gun violence incidents already this year in America (and only 1,000 having to do with home invasion).

Yes, Mateen was once on the terror watch list. But he wasn’t anymore. And we still legally sold him a gun. How does that make sense? Yes, violence like Orlando begins with a sick mind, but a sick mind with an assault weapon is more lethal than one without.

Is it so awful to insist on banning the sale of certain guns designed for rapid-fire killing? These were not weapons of our forefathers. The AR-15, according to the family of the man credited with designing it, was never meant for civilian use.

By the way, I am not in favor of disarming all Americans or taking guns from hunters. But critics won’t care. If Sandy Hook didn’t change our laws, I don’t see how Orlando will.

So what’s the point? Is it even worth invoking Gandhi’s reminder that “an eye for an eye” only leaves the whole world blind?

Probably not. Today, Gandhi might be called names, too. But I’d still rather hold up that kind of history than a rifle developed to kill my countrymen in World War II.


  1. mercedes3

    No one has condemned you.
    Anyone who argues with truth never wins.
    Great Column!

  2. susanbeamer

    Mr. Albom, THANK YOU – THANK YOU – THANK YOU, for one of the best researched and presented arguments about assault rifles. Fascinating history. Many people stand with you on this subject. Sadly, they don’t make as much noise as those who would condemn you. PLEASE continue the common sense discussion and encourage others to join you!


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Mitch Albom writes about running an orphanage in impoverished Port-au-Prince, Haiti, his kids, their hardships, laughs and challenges, and the life lessons he’s learned there every day.

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