A Veteran on the Need to Control Civilian Arms

George Frey / Reuters
Editor’s Note: This article previously appeared in a different format as part of The Atlantic’s Notes section, retired in 2021.

For recent items about gun massacres, and the public response, please see (starting with most recent):

An ongoing theme in many of these items is the responsibility—practical, political, moral—of the responsible gun-owning community in the face of ongoing massacres.

A veteran who owns AR-15s writes in on this point, with emphasis in original:

I read your suggestion that current assault-rifle owners (particularly of AR15 rifles or derivatives) might begin to recognize that the they don't actually need to own such a weapon and possibly even turn them in.

I happen to own two similar weapons myself, and I readily admit that I do not need them.  They are pleasurable to shoot, which I do not do all that often.  Other than that, they lay in the top of my closet.  My Revolutionary War reproduction Brown Bess musket gets far more use.

It also happens that I am a school teacher.   I spent yesterday afternoon in  class assuring 14 -year-old students it was okay to text their parents that all was well, after I observed several students earlier in the day replying to anxious missives from parents.

I told them their parents were a little freaked out.  I told them I was a little freaked out also.

I did not tell them that I was livid with anger.  I did not tell them I had not been able to sleep the last two nights because I was alternating between depression and rage.  I did not tell them that otherwise rational adults were now insisting that I and other teachers should now bring handguns into our classrooms and pretend to be infantrymen on a potential battlefield in school every day, because it was even more unthinkable to simply not sell any more weapons of war to civilians!

I used to be a soldier. I served, mostly in the U.S. Army Cavalry, from 1992 to 1996. I was on guard duty at the front gate of our post in Tongducheon, South Korea, the night we went on war alert that we getting read to attack the North Korean reactor complex at Yongbyon. I carried an M60 machine gun while I was there, and I was the door gunner for my helicopter. That was a long time ago: before I was badly and permanently injured [in a civilian job], before earning [advanced] degrees, before earning a lot of grey in my hair. I turned 50 last year.

Like I said, I enjoy shooting my rifles. I also said they mostly sit in my closet untouched. I don't need them. Nobody needs them. Many other people, like me, simply enjoy the hobby aspect of shooting them as I do. However, Red Dawn Wolverine fantasists who dream of Civil 2.0, and unreconstructed racists fending off the hordes of Michael Brown teens who menace their fever dreams are a very large part of the equation. They are the ones who largely drive the extreme margin of the gun rights debate.

In any event, we know the truth. The truth is the gun lobby, many of their supporters, and their lap dogs in government will willingly sacrifice our children...my students...and me as well...to their atavistic god of American military myth rather than just live with only a lever action rifle or a bolt action deer gun.

This is the sheer insanity of it. They want me to go back to being a soldier. They want my colleagues who never even went to boot camp to now be soldiers with me on the new classroom battlefield so that they do not have to even stop selling any more of these things. This is how deranged and perverse our debate has become.

It won't do any real good to unilaterally turn my weapons into police at this point, although I would do so if that is what we decide to do as a society without hesitation. Few other owners of similar weapons would do so. All too many have been prepping themselves for their guerilla war against gub'mint tyranny for 35 years and they will certainly not cheat themselves of their shabby uprising if we hand them the opportunity.


We cannot dissuade ourselves that we must, at the very least, stop additional sales now! No more AR platforms in gunshops. No more Kalashnikovs or H&K carbines or whatever. No more detachable magazines of more than ten rounds. No more pandering to the nuts who dream of their own movie that they star in every night. No more attention paid to their sophist arguments on how to define what an assault rifle means, or insistence that killers will always find a way, or that silly liberals don't know the difference between a real military weapon and (insert whatever AR clone here)...

My teenaged son is not up for the gun sacrifice lottery. My students are not up the gun sacrifice lottery. My colleagues and I are not up for the gun sacrifice lottery. I am not going to go back to being a door gunner in the hallway of my school so that an 18 year old unstable kid, or a 30 year old angry man, can buy a weapon, come to my place of mentorship and learning and then kill my students and my friends.

I'm not going to do that for you, fellow gun owners. I'm not going to do that for you, gun makers. I did my rifle carrying bit for the US of A. I am not going to do it now. My colleagues are not going to do it now. My students deserve a classroom where the threat is kept away in the first place. So do I and every other teacher.

We are not going to shut up. We are not going to go away. We are not going to be nice or polite. That cow left the barn.

We are angry, and we are going to make sure you know that we are angry. We are going to make sure you know that your right to buy a weapon of war does not outweigh our right to live and work in our classrooms.

I can already hear the cries of hypocrisy directed at me, and maybe they are right. But I say I don't need the assault rifles I have, and I say that if we all need to turn them in, then we need to turn them in. That is a decision we need to discuss and make. We already banned sales once before however, and we can do that right now if we have the will. Whatever we do from here, though, we are going to be in your faces and telling you that it is time to stop the insanity.