Commentary: Sales of AR-15 assault rifles can and should be restricted

The Sacramento BeeDecember 27, 2012 

No more distractions. No more fake arguments that lead nowhere.

It's about the weapons – the AR-15 assault rifles and variations of them that were meant for military use but are being used to kill civilians with frightening speed and ease.

Beloved by enthusiasts for its light weight and ability to smoothly fire many high-velocity rounds with accuracy and speed, the AR-15 is the most popular rifle in America.

"About 1.5 million of the rifles have been made in the last five years alone, by manufacturers large and small. Firearm sales are at record levels, and AR-15s are a big reason why," wrote Guns & Ammo earlier this year.

Hold that thought and consider the old saying about how the toughest form of corruption to combat is the one where many people are getting paid.

In the Newtown, Conn., massacre, Adam Lanza used an AR-15 manufactured by Bushmaster to massacre 26 people at Sandy Hook elementary – including 20 first-graders murdered in their classrooms. Three days before Newtown, an AR-15 was used to kill two people at a Portland, Ore., shopping mall by a 22-year-old suspect named Jacob Tyler Roberts, police say.

Last July, an AR-15 was used by 24-year-old James Holmes, the suspect in the mass killings at an Aurora, Colo., movie theater, authorities say.

Close to home, an AR-15 was used to murder Jose Antonio Diaz, a Yolo County sheriff's deputy who died in a hail of gunfire in a 2008 ambush. His killer, Marco Antonio Topete, was sentenced to death in February.

"Topete took that cop on a chase down a deserted road so he could get him into a place of darkness where he could set up in the shadows and kill him with a weapon of war," said Jeff Reisig, the Yolo County district attorney.

Why is that weapon of war in civilian use and so easily acquired across the country? Why is it not restricted for military and law enforcement use only?

Not only is there no federal ban on assault weapons, the vast majority of states have no specific laws restricting these dangerous weapons or high-capacity magazines.

Yes, bad people could still get them on the black market. Yes, handguns kill far more people in America than weapons like the AR-15.

So what? Reasonable people can agree that such weapons can be restricted among civilians without threatening the Second Amendment rights of others.

In fact, the Second Amendment accounts for such restrictions. "Like most rights, the Second Amendment right is not unlimited," U.S. Supreme Court Justice Anthony Scalia wrote in a 2008 majority opinion upholding the rights of individuals to possess a firearm for self-defense in their homes.

In that decision, Scalia also wrote that the Second Amendment allows for the denial of weapons to people who are unfit, as well as for the "historical tradition of prohibiting dangerous and unusual weapons."

Last summer, after the Aurora killings, Scalia reiterated this point and the National Journal wrote: "There were legal precedents from the days of the Founding Fathers that banned frightening weapons, which a constitutional originalist like (Scalia) must recognize. There were also 'locational limitations' on where weapons could be carried, the justice noted."

What "locational limitations" have the courts traditionally upheld as gun-free zones? Schools.

So when the National Rifle Association advocated for armed guards at all schools on Friday, it was not only tossing out another red herring to distract people from targeting guns, it was going against legal precedent.

How much more proof do you need of the NRA's chief motivation, which is to wrap itself in the flag and the cloak of inalienable rights while cash registers bulge with the blood money of unfettered gun sales?

Scalia seems ready to uphold bans on assault rifles and high-capacity magazines, if only politicians stopped being afraid of the NRA and banned them in the first place.

How many more babies need to be slaughtered before that happens?

Lanza hit many of his tiny victims with as many as 11 bullets. Reisig said Topete "assassinated" Diaz with 17 shots in three seconds. Diaz's colleagues, seasoned veterans of law enforcement, were destroyed emotionally by the viciousness of the crime. Some suffered severe post-traumatic stress symptoms.

When it came time to show the video of the killing that was taken from the dashboard camera of Diaz's cruiser, a Yolo County courtroom burst into sobs and wails at the sight of what an AR-15 did to a brave public servant who never had a chance.

"It was overwhelming," Reisig said.

"We spent a lot of time trying to prepare friends and family for what was coming in this video, but nothing we did could prepare them for hearing it and seeing it live."

"The tape is so powerful, people completely and understandably lost it. I heard the cries of (Diaz's) mother. His brothers and sisters … . The judge took a break to regain control of the courtroom."

Now we need a break to regain control of our country.

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