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Mass murderers’ other commonality: AR-15

A Bushmaster AR-15 semi-automatic rifle and ammunition. (Associated Press)
A Bushmaster AR-15 semi-automatic rifle and ammunition. (Associated Press)

The guy who killed all those people at Sandy Hook Elementary used a Bushmaster AR-15 .223-caliber assault rifle with 30-round magazines.

The guy who killed all those people in the Aurora, Colo., movie theater last summer used a Bushmaster AR-15 assault rifle with 100-round “drums.” The guy who shot up the mall near Portland a couple weeks ago used a Bushmaster AR-15.

Just the other day, when a felon and all-around messed-up dude in New York set a fire and then shot responding firefighters, he used a Bushmaster AR-15.

In the course of the vigorous dressing down I received last week for suggesting that guns might somehow play a role in gun violence, I was struck by the repeated insistence that the weapon used in that Connecticut elementary school was a trifling little thing.

Small caliber, I was told. A little twenty-two, more than one correspondent suggested. Readers invariably called it a “so-called assault rifle,” as if that wasn’t really what it was. One critic wrote dismissively of “the dreaded Bushmaster that I’ve never heard of and been around guns my entire life.”

I have not been around guns my entire life, except in the sense that we are all around guns all the time – millions and millions of guns. Still, somehow, I have heard of the dreaded Bushmaster.

Here’s some of what I’ve heard:

• The man who shot up the movie theater in Colorado had 3,000 legal rounds of .223 ammunition, including a 100-round drum that he had purchased online. The police chief of Aurora estimated he could fire between 50 and 60 rounds per minute, one trigger pull at a time.

• In the weeks after that shooting, some lawmakers proposed limits on high-capacity magazines. That proposal went nowhere, of course. “Who determines what ‘high-capacity’ is?” Luke O’Dell, of the National Association for Gun Rights, asked at the time. “It’s a slippery slope we start walking when we start picking and choosing what rights of the Constitution and Bill of Rights we’re going to follow.”

• The Bushmaster .223 is one of a few versions of the demilitarized M16 – rifles known as AR-15s. It can only be called a “little twenty-two” – a little rabbit plinker – if you’re trying to fool someone you think is dumb. While the ammunition for the assault rifle and the plinker may be the same diameter, the .223 has a longer projectile and much more power – a lot more gunpowder behind it.

• It is an excellent sniper rifle. It was the weapon used by the Beltway Snipers in 2002.

• Ads for the rifles make this moronic appeal: “Consider your Man Card reissued.”

• You can buy one in any number of stores for anywhere from $900 to $2,500. You can also buy high-capacity magazines – though who’s to determine, really, what constitutes high-capacity? Let’s just say you can buy 100-round drum magazines, or 100-round regular magazines. You can buy 60-round magazines. You can buy 30-round magazines. You can even buy 10-round magazines, if you just hate the Constitution.

• Sales of assault rifles and other guns tend to spike after mass shootings, as if there were some kind of perverse, sick-hearted marketing at work.

• The Bushmaster company is part of a conglomerate of 13 arms manufacturers, the Freedom Group, which had sales of $775 million in 2011, including the sale of 1.1 million rifles and 2 billion rounds of ammunition.

• The Freedom Group’s companies provide a lot of financial support to the National Rifle Association, which took it upon itself earlier this year to put out a statement denying that the conglomerate was affiliated with the devil, George Soros.

• These ties probably have nothing to do with the resistance that the NRA and NRA-sponsored politicians have so vigorously offered to assault-weapons bans. These ties probably have nothing to do with the simplistic insistence offered following every American gun massacre that semi-automatic assault weapons are merely cosmetically different than piddly little deer rifles, and, as everyone surely knows, piddly little deer rifles aren’t dangerous at all, and, as everyone surely knows, guns themselves are no more conducive to mass killing than knives or bombs or poison or large sticks lying around in the road.

• With a ludicrous regularity, we are asked to accept the idea that – evil being evil, and crazy being crazy – banning the Bushmaster or 100-round magazines would do no more good than banning sticks or rocks. With ludicrous regularity, this view prevails politically. I wouldn’t bet against it, even now.

• Reverence for these guns – at least for those who’ve heard of the dreaded things – runs deep, deep, deep. In 2007, the longtime hunting editor of Outdoor Life, Jim Zumbo, wrote this on his blog: “I call them ‘assault’ rifles, which may upset some people. Excuse me, maybe I’m a traditionalist, but I see no place for these weapons among our hunting fraternity. I’ll go so far as to call them ‘terrorist’ rifles. … Sorry, folks, in my humble opinion, these things have no place in hunting.”

• For this outrageous sacrilege, Zumbo lost his job following a NRA-fueled witch hunt. He begged forgiveness, and made a groveling pilgrimage to Texas be educated in the sporting uses of assault weapons by Ted Nugent, sociopath and author of “Wango Tango.”

• That is absurd. But it is not a joke.

Shawn Vestal can be reached at (509) 459-5431 or Follow him on Twitter at @vestal13.

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