The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Republicans should see what an AR-15 does to a child’s body

Kimberly Salter, whose husband was killed in the Buffalo shooting, reacts while listening to testimony during a June 7 hearing. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)
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Among the most infuriating talking points from gun fetishizers is that weapons of war have a legitimate use, such as hunting feral pigs or “varmints,” as Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) said on Tuesday. Machine guns would kill them, too, but we do not allow such firepower for the purpose of hunting prairie dogs.

Such an argument is a revealing admission of utter selfishness: I want to use this particular gun to kill some animal, even though a less deadly weapon would be just as effective, so the heck with the little children being slaughtered in schools. It is also a lie and an attempt to play down the destructive force of certain weapons.

The notion that every American must have access to every possible weapon has never been the rule and defies common sense (should people be able to buy howitzers?). It also turns the Second Amendment into a recipe for mayhem never envisioned by its authors.

As retired Army Maj. Gen. Paul D. Eaton explained in a tweet thread, weapons such as an AR-15 are deadly weapons with "the same basic functionality that our troops use to kill the enemy. Don’t take the bait when anti-gun-safety folks argue about it. They know it’s true. Now you do too.” Perhaps he and other military leaders should testify before Congress.

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Kathleen Parker

counterpointLet’s be honest: On guns, the enemy is us

Also ignore the argument that banning assault weapons won’t work. That is propaganda from gun manufacturers that contradicts evidence from the 1994 assault weapons ban. New York University’s Michael J. Klein writes that in “the years after the assault weapons ban went into effect, the number of deaths from mass shootings fell, and the increase in the annual number of incidents slowed down. ... The data shows an almost immediate — and steep — rise in mass shooting deaths in the years after the assault weapons ban expired in 2004.”

But reason and data only goes so far in today’s politics. Sometimes visceral horror is required of the type delivered in testimony on Wednesday from parents of gun victims and from Roy Guerrero, a pediatrician who saw the mangled, unrecognizable bodies of children in the Uvalde, Tex., school shooting. Guerrero told lawmakers he saw “two children whose bodies had been pulverized by bullets fired at them, decapitated, whose flesh had been [so] ripped apart, that the only clue as to their identities was the blood-spattered cartoon clothes still clinging to them.”

Those who survived are also a testament to the unnecessary, frightful power of these weapons. The mother of a man shot in the Buffalo massacre explained to Congress, “Let me paint a picture for you: My son Zaire has a hole in the right side of his neck, two on his back, and another on his left leg, caused by an exploding bullet from an AR-15.” She added, “As I clean his wounds, I can feel pieces of that bullet in his back. Shrapnel will be left inside of his body for the rest of his life. Now I want you to picture that exact scenario for one of your children.”

Republicans who attempt to normalize these weapons should have to confront the reality of their deadly force. If they do not listen to parents and doctors, they should see graphic pictures of the carnage they cause. Maybe that will make them stop prevaricating that these are ordinary weapons with ordinary uses.

I used to believe that showing pictures of murdered children would be exploitive, creating a backlash against gun-safety proponents. But we know that photos can be essential to prevent people from rationalizing, denying and minimizing atrocities. We know they turned public opinion in the past, including those of Russia’s war crimes in Ukraine; of Phan Thi Kim Phuc running naked after a napalm attack in Vietnam; of Emmett Till’s mutilated body (“Let the people see what they did to my boy," his mother declared in demanding an open casket). Perhaps images of massacred children will make Republicans think twice before they defend weapons of war as no more terrifying than a shotgun.