The New York Times Is Right About Assault Weapons

FILE - In this July 20, 2012, file photo, a row of different AR-15 style rifles are displayed for sale at the Firing-Line ind
FILE - In this July 20, 2012, file photo, a row of different AR-15 style rifles are displayed for sale at the Firing-Line indoor range and gun shop in Aurora, Colo. After a steady string of mass shootings and a revival of the political fight over gun control, Americans are slightly more likely than they were two years ago, in 2013, to say gun laws should be made stricter, a new Associated Press-GfK poll found. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon, File)

In just three mass shootings -- Aurora, Sandy Hook and San Bernardino -- the final toll is 147 killed and wounded. Think about that number: 147. That's three busloads, two completely-full Amtrak passenger cars. The New York Times, in a nearly unprecedented front-page editorial, calls it a "moral outrage and national disgrace." The purpose of this column is to explain why we agree and why the editorial board's call for a ban on civilian ownership of assault weapons deserves to be supported in the strongest possible terms.

The gun industry has been promoting assault rifles by advancing a big, fat lie; namely, that assault rifles are just another type of 'sporting' weapon, no more dangerous than the old Remington or Winchester that Grandpa and then Dad used to lug out to the woods. Most sporting rifles load ammunition by the manual use of a bolt or lever, which considerably slows the speed at which the gun can fire multiple rounds. Semi-automatic sporting rifles like the Remington 742 increase the speed at which the gun can shoot more than one round, but the standard semi-auto hunting rifle still only holds 4 or 5 rounds.

What makes the AR so different, so lethal, and so non-sporting is not the fact that it looks like a military gun (which it is); not the fact that it might be fitted with a laser which makes it extremely accurate, particularly in indoor, low light; not the fact that the stock can be folded so that the gun can be easily carried or even concealed; not even the fact that the front barrel lug can also be fitted with a bayonet, just in case a little extra oomph is needed to finish the job.

What makes the AR an assault rifle and not a sporting rifle is one thing and one thing only, namely, that it fires ammunition specifically designed to kill or maim military combatants (who happen to be humans, by the way) and can easily fire 50 or 60 high-powered rounds in 30 seconds or less. This is not to say that mass shootings involving scores of victims can only be accomplished with an AR; Seung-Hui Cho killed and wounded 56 people at Virginia Tech in 2007 using a Glock 19. But Cho's attacks were spread over more than three hours; Adam Lanza killed 26 with an AR in five minutes or less. Better coordination and communication might have saved many lives at Virginia Tech; in San Bernardino the carnage was over almost as soon as it began.

What the Times calls a moral outrage and national disgrace is more than that; the ability of private citizens to get their hands on these highly-lethal weapons fitted out with high-capacity magazines is a risk to the nation's health. When two cases of Ebola occurred in the same hospital where a patient stricken with the virus had previously died, it wouldn't have taken more than one or two more confirmed cases and the city of Dallas would have ceased to exist. But the risk was recognized by the CDC and the threat was quickly brought to an end.

We are suggesting that the same situation now exists as regards the ownership and use of AR-15s. How many more senseless slaughters are we going to endure while politicians dither around and pretend they are truly concerned about Constitutional rights? And if anyone wants to believe that banning assault rifles would be an infringement on the sacred 2nd Amendment, the recent decision by the 2nd Circuit upholding Connecticut's assault rifle ban lays that NRA-concocted nonsense to rest.

The Constitution wisely gives government the right to institute comprehensive public health measures when the community's health is at risk. If 147 dead and injured human beings in just three assaults with AR rifles doesn't constitute a risk, then it's time to save the taxpayers some money and close down the CDC.