An Arms Race We Can’t Win
By ANDREW JENSEN
In 1999, I was a student at Chatfield High School, in Littleton, Colo., where students from nearby Columbine High were diverted after 13 people were killed in the April 20 massacre there. After graduating, I joined the Army. When friends and family asked why, I replied that the tragedy made me realize that the people you love can’t always protect themselves. Serving, I thought, was a way to help them.
My career as an infantry officer included two years in Iraq and Afghanistan, thousands of miles from Aurora, Colo., where my dad, my brother and his fiancée now live, less than a mile from the movie theater where James E. Holmes fatally shot 12 people last week. And they’re just the kind of fun-loving, adventurous people who would go to a midnight screening of “The Dark Knight Rises.”
After years of training and war, I’m left wondering: can you ever really protect people you care about?
As a veteran, should I register for a concealed-carry license and always be armed? Even then, would I, as a trained rifleman, really be able to shoot a single person through a cloud of tear gas in a movie theater full of people screaming and running? What if I started shooting and there was another person with a gun in the crowd?
Or should I lobby for increased gun control?
For months after the Columbine massacre, people were constantly telling one another: “I wish I’d been there, I would’ve tackled that guy.” My Chatfield classmates and I would stand on the steps of our school and watch as Columbine survivors limped into class on their crutches. The reality, of course, is that we wouldn’t have tackled the shooters. Shooters aren’t tackled until their clips are empty, and by then it’s too late.
Serving in a combat zone means constant vigilance against unseen enemies. It means wearing heavy body armor, no matter what the weather is doing. It means taking weapons with you when you eat or use the restroom. It means, quite literally, never putting them down. The common argument made by gun-rights advocates is that they “don’t want to be in a one-way firefight,” which argues for not restricting the sale of things like semiautomatic weapons, high-capacity magazines and tear-gas grenades. Their contention is that the only real way to stop dedicated shooters is for there to be plenty of other shooters around.
Those who truly believe that need to be carrying a gun right now, wherever they are. They need to keep it closer than I kept my weapon in Iraq. In Iraq my fellow soldiers’ lives were on the line. Soldiers’ lives are important — but our families’ safety is even more precious.
Those who truly believe that anyone should be able buy semiautomatic weapons will need a gun at soccer practice, at church, at “Batman” movies. That’s the only logical choice. And civilian life will feel almost like being in Iraq.
The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence has compiled a 62-page list of mass shootings since 2005. What’s striking is that there isn’t a single example of a concerned bystander with a concealed-carry permit who stopped a mass shooting. I believe that what I learned in Iraq holds true for the United States: constantly carrying weapons is harder than it sounds, and a determined gunman will orchestrate a mass shooting precisely where and when we are least prepared for it.
We’re also excessively pessimistic about our ability to control firearms in the United States. Since 9/11, federal officials have done an excellent job of restricting the fertilizers and chemicals required to produce homemade explosives. Were we to enact a ban on semiautomatic weapons, we would eventually be able to recover enough of the existing gun inventory to make a difference. Providing for the safety and security of its citizens is any government’s core function. We should urge our government representatives to immediately enact more stringent restrictions on firearms ownership and to increase enforcement of existing gun laws.
There will always be violent loners. If they don’t kill with guns, they’ll find some other way to do it. Semiautomatic weapons, however, are what enable them to shoot dozens of people in a movie theater. Is someone’s right to buy an assault rifle worth having to carry a weapon yourself, every moment you’re outside your home, for the rest of your life?
Andrew Jensen served for five years as an infantry officer in the United States Army.