Do I have the right to an assault rifle?

Published 6:38 pm Tuesday, July 31, 2012

“A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.”

Many of you recognize these words as part of the 2nd Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

I have my own collections of guns. Some of them are longer than I am tall; others are not any bigger than a deck of cards, easily hidden in my pocket. In addition to the shotgun my father gave me on my 12th birthday, I have other guns that belonged to him and both my grandfathers.

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I used them to learn to hunt when I was growing up. Although I have never had to use one in my defense, there is a certain comfort in knowing that if the unthinkable should happen in this crazy world, that I would be able to protect my family.

For most of my life, I have held strictly to the belief that the 2nd Amendment should not be altered or changed in any way. I was even endorsed by the National Rifle Association during some of my political campaigns, even though I didn’t solicit their support.

There is one nagging problem that bugs me about the unrestricted ability to own guns of any capacity or power. Even in my staunchest conservative days, I never had any desire to own an assault rifle.
However, as I watched our flag being lowered to half-mast in honor of the recent victims of the Aurora, Colo., shootings at a movie theater, I began to examine my own beliefs in more detail.

First, let me say that I see no shame in changing your mind, about almost anything. That is why I would never sign a “No Tax Pledge” when I was in politics. It wasn’t that I was in support of additional taxes; it was that new and better information or changing situations might make my belief change down the road.

Would it have been possible to kill 12 people and injure 59 others if James Holmes had not been armed with an AK type assault rifle? This weapon is capable of firing 100 rounds of ammunition in 30 seconds. Unless you have seen one fired, you can’t imagine the amount of power such a gun has.

While I believe in the wisdom of our founding fathers to give us a blueprint for the future, did we really expect them to foresee the changing technology that has led us to weapons unimaginable in their eyes?

In the late 1700’s, as the Constitution and the Bill of Rights were being drafted, a gun was an essential part of a man’s life. He depended on it for food. He used it to kill animals for their fur so he could be warm. He used it to protect his family from hostile Indians and other threats. Even the events leading to the formation of this very country made it necessary to bear arms against the British.

I know, as well as anyone, the history of this part of our heritage. However, the wrong person breaking into my house will face the brunt of more firepower than he is likely to want to face.
In the case of hard times, I could still put food on the table with my guns if it became necessary. My right to bear arms is intact with an assortment of weapons all more powerful than anything the founding fathers encountered.

What do I really need an assault rifle for?

I know, I know. “Guns don’t kill people, people do.” “If we outlaw guns, then only the outlaws will have guns.” Catchy phrases combined with millions of dollars in contributions from the gun lobby have made politicians afraid to search for sensible solutions offering protection while at the same time preserving our constitutional rights.

As recently as 2010, the Supreme Court ruled that the 2nd Amendment protects the rights of a citizen to own firearms and to use them for traditional lawful purposes. At the same time, it listed many restrictions and prohibitions currently in effect as being compatible with the 2nd Amendment.

In 1994, Congress passed a law commonly known as the “Federal Assault Weapons Ban.” It prohibited the manufacture of semi-automatic rifles, also known as assault rifles, for use by individuals.

Ten years later the law expired under its own sunset provision. Though some extension of this bill or passage of a similar law has been attempted many times in the past eight years, it has not come to the floor for a vote a single time.

When it is no longer safe to attend a movie without being mowed down by automatic weapons recently purchased by someone visiting a psychiatrist for possible mental illness, it is time to reexamine the beliefs we are holding so dear.

As for me, I am content that my ownership of the guns I have and the protections they give me fulfills all the guarantees that our founding fathers envisioned.

Our leaders of today must summon the same courage our leaders did in drafting the 2nd Amendment. They must find compromise that allows for a realistic solution to a dangerous and emotion filled argument.

I can’t figure out how assault weapons have a place in our society. The failure of our political leaders to even attempt a dialogue about this issue is just another example of the partisan gridlock that is paralyzing our nation.

Dan Ponder can be reached at