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. Bob Grabus says:

    Mike once again proves himself to be focused, concise reporter. This is without doubt the best article I’ve read on this issue.

  2. Agreed. says:

    I’m all for background checks and expanding what constitutes competency. Should an Alzheimer’s patient’s right to own a weapon supercede his or her caregiver’s right not to be shot as an intruder? We need some common sense.

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