Military weapons were generally never available to the public until relatively recently. Beginning in the 1970s, the NRA and arms industry began to advocate a novel and distorted interpretation of the Second Amendment, which promoted a private right to possess firearms based in part on the notion that this right was hinged on a right to rebel against the government itself. But the same Founders who drafted the Second Amendment had also defined treason in the body of the Constitution as “taking up arms” against the government.
Military weapons are designed and intended for inflicting mass casualties on the enemy in combat, not for hunting or recreational use. Semi-automatic assault rifles, equipped with devastating lethal high velocity bullets and mega-capacity magazines, destroy the internal organs of their targets and cause extremely high fatalities. As an emergency room trauma surgeon who tried to save victims of a mass shooting perpetrated by a killer wielding such a weapon described it — the victims’ organs looked like overripe melons that had been smashed by a sledge hammer. There was nothing left to repair.
In 1994, after 98 people were murdered by shooters wielding such weaponry in separate incidents in California and Texas, Congress passed a 10-year ban against the commercial sales of assault weapons. There were no mass shootings during the decade of the ban.
But in 2004, a different Congress let the ban lapse and refused to extend it despite its success. Even worse, that same Congress, knowing that the carnage would resume after the expiration of the ban, enacted legislation, the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act (PLCAA) after lobbying by the arms industry and NRA, to immunize manufacturers and dealers of these military grade firearms from civil liability arising from the inevitable mass murders that resulted because of their reintroduction into the private market.
A sample of the tragedies which followed include: Virginia Tech, 33 fatalities (2007); Fort Hood, 14 fatalities (2009); Sandy Hook Elementary in Connecticut, 27 fatalities (2012); San Bernardino, California, 14 fatalities (2015); the Orlando nightclub in Florida, 49 fatalities (2016); Sutherland Springs, Texas, Baptist Church, 26 fatalities (2017); Las Vegas, 58 fatalities (2017); Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, 17 fatalities (2018), El Paso, Texas, 22 fatalities, 26 wounded (2019); Dayton, Ohio, 9 fatalities, 27 wounded (2019).
More recently, the utterly fabricated pseudo-justification for trafficking in military weaponry — the supposed “right” to commit treason by waging war against the government — has featured heavily armed seditionist “militias” plotting to attack the Capitol of Michigan to kidnap and execute its governor and other officials and — even more sinister — attack the very seat of the government of the U.S. Congress, in an effort to murder the vice president, the speaker of the House, and the Senate majority leader and other legislators as well as others deemed “enemies” by the “militias.” This was nothing less than an attack on our democracy itself.
The Jan. 6 armed assault of the Capitol overwhelmed security and came perilously close to decimating the nation’s Congress and obliterating the freedom of the people electing our leaders. And all of this was energetically provoked and encouraged by the warped contortion of the Second Amendment — a contortion that has its roots in the greed of the arms industry to generate revenue. It is now irrefutable that the cost to society of flooding the market with military weaponry is measured not only by the multitude of lives that already have been lost and broken, but likewise threatens the cost of civil war and the loss of all our cherished rights and freedom.
For this, Congress grants “immunity” to the arms dealers? For rewarding sedition, mass murders, violent attacks on our Constitutional heritage of self-governing through free and open elections by the citizenry?
It is past time for Congress to cease subsidizing those who profit by and engage in these horrendous attacks on the People, their children, and their government. I encourage all citizens to urge their representatives in Washington D.C. to immediately repeal the PLCAA.
A former federal prosecutor, Judge Thomas Coffin was a U.S. magistrate for the District of Oregon until his retirement in 2017.