AR-15 controversy hides real discussion

Battle over gun highlights left, right more interested in scoring points than solving problems

By Mike McGann, Editor, The Times
UTMikeColLogoI’ll spare you the bad gun puns — we’ve certainly seen more than enough of those in Chester County the last few days.

In case you missed it, there’s an uproar of righteous indignation that Chester County Sheriff Carolyn “Bunny” Welsh’s office is auctioning off an AR-15 semi-automatic rifle for charity, one helping to fund Sheriff’s Office canine training.

If you read the headlines — you’d think Welsh is either some sort of evil gun maven or a paragon of The Holy Church of The Second Amendment. In reality, she’s neither, just an elected official trying to make things a little better by trying to raffle off something of value.

And yes, even Walsh admits that in hindsight, after the shootings in Newtown, Conn. — a mass killing in which an AR-15 was used — another option might have been better, in an interview with my colleague, Kathleen Brady Shea. In hindsight, because the raffle was long in the works before the December shootings – and has been held the three previous years without a peep.

And no, it’s not being called off.

And thusly, condescending “harumphs” and disapproving head shakes have come those who, as always, know better.

But not from this corner.

While I do think it’s reasonable to have a debate about what classifies as a military weapon and what doesn’t (because if everything is in play, I want a fully armed M-1 Abrams tank — so I can finally get through the U.S. 1-U.S.-202 intersection in a timely manner at rush hour) one point remains unarguable: the semi-automatic AR-15 is currently a legal weapon to own and use.

“But, but, but…” some will sputter, “it’s an ASSAULT RIFLE.”

Well, the term “assault rifle” is vague to the point of being insulting and coined more often by those who do not understand guns. Yes, it does a lot of damage to pretty much anything you shoot at it with, and it is reasonable to have a discussion about whether you should be able to walk into Wal-Mart and carry one out, without even the discussion itself being seen as some sort of unholy attack on the Second Amendment.

But not a whole lot of that is relevant to the fact that the sheriff’s office is raffling off an item that is currently completely legal to own.

Welsh said that the winner — if they don’t opt to donate the weapon back to the Sheriff’s Department as many have said they would — will undergo a background check.

Right there, that makes the weapon safer than a very large majority of weapons sold without checks, sold without any regard to the ability of the buyer to use the weapons safely and responsibly. As compared to the abject irresponsibility of the U.S. Congress which played politics with a sensible, even-the-playing-field issue such as universal background checks, this one AR-15 is a single snowflake versus a blizzard.

And, look, while Welsh could never admit it, if she were to backtrack and call off the raffle, her political career would be in tatters. Already, a small but vocal minority in the party disparagingly calls her a RINO — Republican In Name Only — due to her moderate, common-sense positions on some issues. And some of these folks are on the Chester County Republican Committee.

More than one GOP supervisor candidate has told me privately that they were grilled on their gun stances, rather than those of taxes, open space, economic development and zoning, during their party endorsement meetings. One can only imagine what might happen were Welsh to cave on this issue.

So, yeah, once again we have extremists of both persuasions more interested in sloganeering and headlines than in looking for solutions. And Welsh, to my mind, got caught in the middle unfairly, whacked by some — including some in the media — with political, rather than public-safety agendas.

Instead of having real conversations about how to make our kids — all of us — safer, we resort to watching both sides take something fairly innocent and turn it into an opportunity to score political points.

Until enough of us stand up and say “enough” and demand that our elected officials (and yes, the media, too) act like grownups instead of a bunch of middle school students (as the father of two sixth-graders, I apologize — middle school students routinely act more mature and with more forethought than our elected officials and a frighteningly large number of members of the media), this is going to keep happening.

Long before we beat on Bunny Welsh, we need to have a chat with our local members of Congress and the State Legislature and ask them to explain why they oppose something — universal background checks for gun purchases — that some 90% of us agree is needed.

And if your county committee person happens to be one of the 10% — a rabid minority — maybe you need to be asking why they’re on the county committee, or elected to much of anything.

Maybe then, we can have a grown-up conversation. Maybe.

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  1. Patti says:

    A few more things I need to add. There’s been a lot of talk about the true definition of an assault gun and assault rifle vs semi automatic hand gun. The kind many thugs use. Do you really think any kind of official definition matters to those who have been in any way harmed by them? And by harmed I mean physically and emotionally. To live in or near the line of fire of these guns every day is horrible. The unexpected onslaught of bullets is something nightmares are made of. Literally. Once the gunfire erupts you cannot even think straight enough to defend yourself with your own gun. You’re too busy ducking or running for cover. Does this sound like a weapon that belongs on the streets and in the homes of what is supposed to be a peaceful society ? No law will ever stop gun violence completely but we need to make every effort to decrease it as much as possible. Including in our own personal lives. One thing that concerns me is people insisting so strongly that they have a right to own one of these guns even to the point of forgetting that someone in their home could “snap” and use it to harm someone.

  2. Patti says:

    I wanted to clarify some things from my last post. First off I believe that assault rifles should be reserved only for the military and law enforcement. Law enforcement because of the increasingly heavily armed thugs and dangerously mentally ill they encounter. It’s reasonable that the average citizen should not need one. The fire power behind them is virtually indescribable. Hearing it on TV and experiencing it up close when your life is in danger are totally different. Even with the semi automatic hand gun used during the shoot out I was caught in the middle of it fired off many rounds in a few short seconds.

    Secondly, not everyone who is mentally ill is potentially dangerous. Mental illness has gotten a bad rep over the years due to television, movies and the violent actions of some. Most “mentally ill” people are incapable of violence. It’s the dangerously ill whose hands these guns need to be out of the reach of.

    In May of 2012 I wrote a letter to lawmakers to try to get assault guns banned but the letter was much more than that. It was an effort to make them aware of the urgency this country faces with regard to gun violence. The physical and emotional trauma facing victims, the increasing dangers that law enforcement faces, straw purchasing ( when someone who can legally buy a gun for someone who can’t ) and gun trafficking. Recognizing that, while they are heroes police officers are not indestructible. They’re human beings who have families, friends and communities who need them. Steel workers are well protected by people inside and outside of their companies. Police, firefighters and EMS are worth the same protection. While it wasn’t my intention I heard from a lot of lawmakers including President Obama. Trust me, they are NOT trying to take all guns from people. They are just concerned for our safety. They believe in our Constitutional rights. They just want to make sure that guns end up in safe hands and that assault weapons are banned.

    Again, no one is trying to take away all guns. It may be a hassle but go through a background check. Get yourself cleared to own one. Learn how to take care of it, to use it and safely store it. For obvious reasons I hate guns. In a perfect world we would only need them for hunting. But hunters, unless they want to make swiss cheese out of a deer or enjoy the taste of lead in their bear stew don’t need guns that fire off a multitude of rounds in a short amount of time. You may think that no one has the “right” to control your weapon ownership but nowhere in the Constitution does it say that we can own any kind we want. We can’t own bazookas or machine guns in this country so why not restrict assault rifles.

    When I wrote to lawmakers I shared my own two experiences. I did it because it’s one thing to tell them that people are being traumatized by gun violence. It’s another to tell them how. No one has the “right” to deliberately and selfishly do this to another human being. There’s a difference between self defense, defending others and plain selfish evil. Some harm others because of mental illness but many others do it out of sheer and knowing disregard for others.
    In society we tend to go by higher percentages and statistics but every life is precious whether one person or fifty are affected. If a ban, law or stricter background checks saves even one life then it will be worth it. Even one life lost or ruined is one too many.

  3. Patti says:

    I survived gun violence twice myself. Once when a bullet was fired into my home going through one end into the other. The bullet missed my head by three feet. The second time when someone shot a semi automatic off of a porch twenty feet above my bedroom. The last shooting has left me severely traumatized. Civilians and emergency workers are being hurt or killed every day. They aren’t shooting with air. They can’t harm or kill by shooting air. They have to have the guns to harm people. So to say it’s not the guns doesn’t make sense. Many say it’s not guns that kill people. It’s people that kill people. It’s both guns and people that kill. Guns have their place in society. For self defense, hunting and protecting others in non criminal ways. However, guns that have the fire power to propel bullets through vests and through one end of a home clear through to the other end do not belong on our streets or in homes. A type of gun that there is no hiding from does not belong in circulation. No, nothing will stop criminals completely but to have no gun control is crazy. To have no back ground checks is too. If we only had laws that criminals can’t get around there would be no laws. They will get around every law. The idea is to reduce crime as much as possible.
    Have you ever heard the barrage of gun fire coming from an automatic gun? I was at home. We’re supposed to feel safe at home. We’re supposed to feel safe every where we go. Not to be afraid of being ambushed by a gun toting lunatic at home, work, school, at the movies or on the streets carrying an AK-47 or AR-15. There are problems in life that require more than one solution and this is one of them. Gun control and better checks are two of the solutions. One misunderstanding that people have is that the government is trying to take away all guns. That is not what they are trying to do. They are trying to encourage more personal responsibility and keep as many guns out of the hands of the mentally ill and criminals as possible.

    People consider it an inconvenience to go through back ground checks not considering the “inconvenience” of countless nightmares people who are traumatized by these guns can have. I often dream of being shot or shot at by automatic guns. I am hyper sensitive to sudden, loud noises. Living with this kind of pain or the pain of losing a loved one or friend to these guns is a pain no one should feel. You know, airport security checks are a hassle too but we all go through it for everyone’s safety. The inconvenience of some should never over ride the safety of all.

  4. The problem isn’t gun control. Its why AR-15 military weapons are popular.

    “ Fairleigh Dickinson University’s PublicMind found that 44% of Republican respondents agreed that an “armed revolution” might be needed in the next few years to defend liberties.” @:

    People arming themselves in preparation for a war of armed militias in firefights against our federal government and UN invaders is nothing new for me. I’ve been observing Skinheads, KKK, property rights groups and more recently John Birch Society & Ron Paul groups for decades.

    Whether they know it or not the people of Coatesville were terribly beaten up by the militia-freedompatriots-2nd Amendment-property rights-Gun Owners of America-JBL types types that think “Sustainable Development” and revitalizing Coatesville is a United Nations plot.

    Sustainable development has a sinister sounding name “Agenda 21” or Agenda for the twenty-first Century. The militia-freedompatriots-2nd Amendment-property rights-Gun Owners of America-JBL types believe “Agenda 21” is being foisted upon unsuspecting local planning commissions and small town governments across the USA. Our Chester County part of “Agenda 21” is “Creating a sustainable future for Chester County” @

    The militia-freedompatriots-2nd Amendment-property rights-Gun Owners of America-JBL types believe “Agenda 21” is a plot by the United Nations to take our guns in advance of a United Nations invasion. They’re stocking up on AR-15s to fight the United Nations troops.

    The center of the gun control debate has nothing to do with controlling gun violence. The problem is that skinheads, KKK, Ron Paul and JBS people that once were fringe areas of the Republican Party are now at its center.

    I think of them as people who inspire domestic terrorism. I’ve been let’s say watching them in Chester and Montgomery County for more than 2 decades.

    You don’t need to peruse “Stormfront” anymore to find this stuff. Just look at the latest legislation proposed by Republicans in DC and across the nation.

    I think it’s horrible that Republicans have allowed extremists and potential domestic terrorists to lead them by the nose.

  5. Patti says:

    I spoke to Sheriff Welsh on the phone after reading the article about the sale questioning her about why she would be doing this. She was extremely sensitive, kind and compassionate about the whole thing. As much as I am very much against this gun being put back onto our streets I understand that she is caught in the middle and unfairly demonized. She didn’t say this. It’s just the way I felt after talking to her. I do admire her efforts though to perform such a strict background check. That says a lot about her true character. Despite her own views on the issue she very much respected mine.

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