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    Another Mass Shooting; Now Can We Have Stricter Gun Control?

    By Louise “Lou” Fischer

    In November of last year, I wrote a column in which I shared my background in competitive recreational shooting while at the same time calling for stricter gun control (http://sfbaytimes.com/enough-already-need-stricter-gun-control/). At that time, I was heartbroken by the increase in mass shootings and could no longer accept the wishy-washy “thoughts and prayers” offered by the NRA and other opponents of gun control. I even said that I “hoped and prayed” we would not have another mass shooting anytime soon.  

    And yet on Valentine’s Day, in a supposedly safe and sacred space, 17 students and teachers were senselessly murdered. Seventeen families’ lives were irreparably shattered not by a tragic accident or an act of Florida’s sometimes-severe weather, but by a completely preventable act of gun violence carried out by a former student who had already been identified as “dangerous and unstable.”

    The AR-15 semi-automatic rifle—easily modified to be fully automatic—was the weapon of mass destruction used in Florida and was the common denominator in the most notorious and deadly (or efficient, depending on which side you are on) mass shootings in the United States including:  Sandy Hook, Aurora, Orlando, Las Vegas, Sutherland Springs and San Bernardino. As I said in my November 2017 column: these guns must be banned; they are not designed for hunting or competitive target shooting. They are built to efficiently exsanguinate and then kill human beings. There is no reason, other than mass murder, for anyone who is not in the military or law enforcement to own these types of weapons.

    How did this happen?

    The literal answer is that the AR-15 is a very good killing machine. It is designed to fire 45 rounds (bullets) per minute, but with simple modifications to make it fully automatic, even an unskilled shooter operating under pressure and duress that most likely occurs while mowing down unarmed innocent people can fire 5–8 rounds per second, meaning 300–500 bullets per minute.

    The killing potential of a gun is directly proportional to the amount of kinetic energy delivered to the human body when the bullet strikes. For the physics buffs with an affinity for Newton’s Second Law of Motion, the equation is: Kinetic Energy = ½ bullet mass * velocity of bullet when fired. A standard 9mm handgun, carried by cops and bad guys in every TV show and movie produced in Hollywood, is an effective weapon, but in comparison to the AR-15, it is downright slow with an average velocity of 1,200 feet per second and a kinetic energy of 400 foot pounds.  

    The standard AR-15 bullet travels at 3,251 feet per second and delivers 1,300 foot pounds of kinetic energy. A bullet from a handgun might cause tissue destruction in a vital organ in a small area (1–2 inches), but a round from an AR-15 will literally pulverize the organ; the same effect as dropping a carved Halloween pumpkin off a 12-foot wall onto a concrete sidewalk. This is why AR-15 shootings have such high fatality rates.

    Why does the U.S. have so many mass killings?

    There is no single or easy answer to this question. With school shootings, bullying, revenge, isolation, serious mental illness, lack of positive role models and a culture that embraces extremism—such as our current Presidential administration—are contributing factors. Easy access to guns and the failure of classmates, parents, teachers and guidance counselors to see the warning signs and to take action compound the danger. In the case of the Parkland, Florida, shooting, many classmates commented that this shooter was someone who was “likely to snap and do something like this.”

    The U.S. has a terrible track record of caring for its mentally ill. In the 1960s, community mental health programs cared for people with schizophrenia and similarly severe disorders including depression, with treatment that included compassionate care and proper medication. President Reagan defunded—and tore down—the state asylum system and promulgated the idea that mental health care is better provided by local communities, but the program was never fully funded. Our American system of care is in shambles. I take BART to Civic Center for work and see the heartbreaking symptoms of mental illness every day on the walk from the station to my office. We do not have a sophisticated system of care and protection.

    I have one more simple and deadly mathematical equation:

    Easy access to guns + inadequate background checks + highly efficient weapons + substandard care for mentally ill individuals = more mass casualty shootings.

    The 19-year-old shooter in Parkland, Florida, should never have had access to the AR-15 assault rifle and large-capacity magazines he legally purchased. We need to learn the lessons from our past, or we’ll just keep repeating recent tragic history instead.

    Louise “Lou” Fischer is the Immediate Past Co-Chair of the Board of Directors for the Alice B. Toklas LGBT Democratic Club and has served as an appointed and elected Delegate for the State Democratic Party. She is a San Francisco Commissioner and has served in leadership positions in multiple non-profit and community based organizations.