An Open Letter To Our Community and Our Country
After months of engagement, research and collaboration, we share this Open Letter with you, with the goal of shifting the narrative on guns, so we can keep our kids from being shot to death.
WE ARE a group of informed and passionate citizens living in central Virginia with a desire to bring together both sides of a divisive debate: gun freedoms and regulation.
Our communities are struggling to find a common place to begin the conversation around gun freedoms, violence and regulations. Assuredly, we all do come together with the understanding that our children being killed is bad. But how do we start a non-political conversation that looks at solutions which satisfy all the parties who come to the debate from a variety of diverse perspectives? This open letter is an attempt to provide a neutral space to begin the conversation to move toward some measure of common ground. We want to focus on two deeply entrenched concepts at the heart of this debate: the phrase “gun control” and the symbolic status that weapons achieve. Typically, gun control is interpreted as a progressive diversion from the intent of our founding principles of defense. And the use of “type of weapon” as a category, is an unfortunate classifier for determining the lethality of given weapons systems. These two factors, among other things, have led to confusion, anger, protests, and poor legislation. There are many reasons we find ourselves irresolute. Deeply felt freedoms, innate fears, and profit motives fuel the discourse with, until now, little hope for settlement. This letter will serve as our effort to bring these two disparate sides of the debate closer to a middle ground with a defined common denominator.
How did we get here?
This debate is often grounded in the tenets of the Federal Bill of Rights and specifically the language in the current iteration of what is known as the “Second Amendment.” Very little in our country’s history is more lauded, debated or misunderstood. It is easy to prescribe intent, i.e., what our founding fathers meant when they drafted this bill of rights and specifically what they meant when they codified that intent with language relative to “the right to keep and bear arms.” However, it is equally easy to manipulate the language to support different perspectives of all sides joining in this debate. The Bill of Rights was written in a time where its structure was considered practical, legal, and moral. What is practical, legal and moral has evolved significantly since its writing.
Legal scholars often disagree about how the second amendment should be applied in today’s world paradigm. In 2008, the Supreme Court ruled that the right belongs to individuals in their homes for self-defense while also ruling that the right is not unlimited and does not preclude the existence of certain long-standing prohibitions such as those forbidding "the possession of firearms by felons and the mentally ill "or restrictions on "the carrying of dangerous and unusual weapons."
The debate over the meaning of the Second Amendment can provide clarity to opposing perspectives. However, if we focus only on finding a common understanding of the intent of the amendment, we risk losing the opportunity to find solutions that will prevent our children from getting shot.
Interpretation of Weaponry
Much of what divides us is how we interpret the weapon we call a "gun.” A gun is a tool that is designed and utilized to injure or kill the living. This makes it a special human innovation because when it is productive, it is lethal (setting aside exclusively sporting utility, e.g. Olympic Biathlon, as a non-lethal tool of precision). To help bring clarity to today’s embattled debate, this letter seeks to consider “gun lethality” as an alternative measure by which to help categorize weaponry rather than the “type” or “model” of a specific type of firearm. Additionally, we believe that finding a common understanding or definition of gun lethality can lead to a view that different perspectives can align with and from which productive discussions and solutions might arise.
To illustrate how the model or type of gun is a misunderstood measure for determining lethality, consider the following examples:
An AR-15 can shoot as little as 40 to as many as 400 bullets in a minute. This is based on several factors or modifications;
An AK-47 is a banned automatic weapon, unless manufactured to be semi-automatic (SA). An automatic AK-47 or a modified AK-47 are illegal carrying fines and a jail sentence;
An AR-15 modified with a bump stock is legal but can shoot at speeds similar to a fully automatic AK-47.[i]
As we have articulated earlier, we believe that only a dramatic paradigm shift will move each of the “sides” in this debate from their seemingly entrenched positions and we further believe that by changing the narrative about the use, need and general lethality of weapons in our society we can begin to pave the way toward that shift.
For the purposes of this letter and our discussion – and to support our mission of ensuring that our children are not shot to death – our focus here is on guns. We recognize that similar observations can be made about other classifications of weaponry. Yet guns are both readily available to the average citizen and are amazingly effective. As guns have changed and innovated over time (and become an ever increasingly productive, i.e. lethal, weapon), a majority of countries have implemented some level of regulation to limit free access to the most lethal of weapons. The US has not taken that stance despite the many US citizens who do believe in the regulation of free access. The challenge seems to stem from complexity of indices we use to measure lethality, coupled with a general lack of collective understanding of how guns actually work.
It is difficult, if not impossible to determine the lethality of a given gun just by looking at it. Modifications – both legal and illegal – impact their lethality and become an ineffective mechanism on which to formulate regulation. This excerpt from a CBS News piece on the Las Vegas shooting helps explain this complexity. “As of 1986, all gun makers of AR-15s, or similar, can only legally make a fully automatic AR-15 for sale to the police/military… But here's the catch. The [ATF] agency does NOT consider certain modifications, which allow the AR-15 and other weapons to fire multiple rounds automatically, to have turned them into [legal] machine guns… [shooter] had 12 weapons with this [bump stock] feature, most equipped with 60- to 100-round magazines. Gun owners in Nevada, where he lived, can buy a bump stock without a permit, background check or waiting period. The component is widely available on the internet for $90 to $200.”
The CBS News article further explains that there is an arbitrary set of lines drawn to define legality. Consider the following modifications:
MOD: Sear Replacement (multiplier to speed of delivery) – An AK-47 can be made fully automatic by replacing or modifying the sear. The sear holds the hammer in place until the trigger is pulled again. Because of the classification of AK-47, making this type of conversion could land you in jail for 10 years and/or with a $10,000 fine.
MOD: Install a Bump Stock (multiplier to speed of delivery) – Bump stock technology takes advantage of inertia by allowing the shooter to keep his or her finger on the trigger. The stock rebounds after the recoil from the bullet leaving the barrel. The rebound, caused by air pressure from a gap in the stock sends the gun forward into the shooter's stationary finger, which unleashes a volley of shots. The gun keeps firing as long as the trigger is depressed and there is ammo in the magazine, achieving approximate rate of 400 rounds per minute, completely legal at the time of the Las Vegas shooting.
It is worth noting that in the above examples, both the legal and illegal versions are similarly lethal.
There are other illegal and legal modifications like “Pull & Release” and “Crank Fire” that significantly change the lethality of a gun by modifying its firing speed. The legality of these is not based on the changes in lethality. There are many factors that impact gun lethality: Speed, force, rounds per minute, bullet damage (i.e., bullets that are designed to do maximum damage once they hit).
As an example, the Republican Congressional softball league shooting was carried out with a modified, older style rifle called an SKS-SA. This type of gun is a precursor to the AK-47 assault rifle. It only shoots 35-40 rounds a minute, which is notably less than the modified weapons used in the Las Vegas incident referenced above. Research from “theTrace.org shows the SKS does shoot the same large caliber 7.62 bullet as the AK-47, but the SKS delivers it with more force. Steve Scalise was struck by one of these bullets and once the bullet was in his body, it tumbled, doing damage to several organs. As with the gun mechanics, there are varied sizes of and modifications to ammunition that contribute deeply to the damage caused. A point of note is that the SKS-SA rifle does not qualify as an assault weapon because it has a fixed magazine, fixed stock, and lacks a pistol grip. [The shooter’s] gun had been modified to accept a detachable magazine and was equipped with a folding stock, both aftermarket modifications.
These two incidents show that guns can be modified to increase their supply and speed, and that large caliber ammunition can do significant damage with a single bullet. This letter is not designed to offer an in-depth analysis on the documentation of relevant incidents and the science of damage inflicted in each. We do believe that there are three contributing factors that affect the lethality of a given weapon: speed of delivery, volume of supply and damage per unit. These factors, when combined together, create a measurable metric, for example, we have termed “kills per minute” (KPM) that could serve as a reliable index for lethality. As we explore this concept further, it may help to create a few hypothetical examples of weapons measured by a KPM Index. As an example, a KPM Index may produce the following examples:
a knife may have an index value of 1 KPM;
a colt revolver may have an index value of 8 KPM;
a nuclear bomb may have an index value of 40,000 KPM.
Once a clear measurement, like KPM index, has been defined (which we are decidedly not doing in this letter), it can be used to evaluate real-life scenarios and determine what level of gun lethality is needed. For example:
How many KPM are reasonable to protect your home? 2?
Would you need to kill more than two people per minute to protect your home?
How many KPM are reasonable to hunt deer? 2?
Do hunters need to kill more than two deer a minute?
How many KPM are reasonable for a concealed carry permit? 3?
If you conceal carry in public, what KPM is needed?
How many KPM are reasonable for a regulated SWAT team? 10?
On duty law enforcement would likely need more KPM capability.
How many KPM are reasonable for a person in the infantry? n?
The military would likely want to stay at a “state of the art” maximum to compete.
A significant portion of our population participates in a lifestyle that includes the purchase of guns. Today there is unencumbered expansion of this economy which has led to in excess of 350 million guns owned in the United States. Additionally, recent surveys show that there is 97% support for the adoption of universal background checks. The Solution is Us believes that we are closer than we might think in finding commonality in our perspectives.
By using a KPM index coupled with likely scenarios such as those listed above, we believe it would be less complicated to define a range of acceptable behaviors and define the criteria that would deem them acceptable to all parties and “both sides.” We propose that guns above a certain KPM threshold would need appropriate restrictions versus weapons below that threshold. Additionally, there are avenues within this concept to support hobbyist use of more productive weaponry.
While this letter is not intended to address so many of the topics that are related to gun violence and gun regulation (i.e. stockpiles of legal and illegal guns within the U.S, teenage violence, arming teachers, gun education, etc.) we believe that understanding the metrics of a KPM index ultimately matched to scenarios might become a critical tool in civic planning and preparedness. Comprehension of weapon lethality could potentially help schools and civic organizations better prepare for and deal with adverse scenarios. Most importantly, it provides a platform for discussion between all peoples of our country to govern our society as our founding fathers intended. It is our strong belief that a better measurement tool will improve our ability to evaluate and protect our freedoms and our families.
While we recognize that the weapons highlighted here are typically associated with mass shootings, we are also keenly aware that handguns, in urban environments and particularly in communities of color, figure prominently in gun-related violence. Though we are not specifically addressing handguns in this open letter, we share a primary conviction to shift the narrative toward collaborative, comprehensive and constructive conversations related to guns. Our collective mission is to facilitate a community wide dialogue that empowers solutions to keep our kids from being shot to death.
We hope you would like to join us in this conversation. We will continue engaging the community in this dialogue throughout 2019 and are seeking people who have an interest in the subject and who would like to collaborate. If you are interested in being part of this effort, please send us a note.
The Solution Is Us
[i] On December 18, 2018 an executive order was signed that effectively bans the ownership and purchase of the gun modification known as a "bump stock." This order is slated to go into effect in March 2019. This is a positive step, yet bump stocks are only one of many modifications that can be added to rifles or pistols to increase their lethality.