Op-Ed: There is a Straightforward Way to Deal with Mass Shootings by Carl Widell


To prevent mass murders, the United States needs to follow the lead of all other advanced industrial nations; while preserving the rights of hunters, we need to enact common sense laws limiting the sale of combat weapons. David Montgomery’s article on February 23rd, by straying into armchair psychoanalysis, irrelevant constitutional arguments and uninformed enforcement arguments confuse the debate and offers no solutions.

“Compared to 22 other high-income nations, the United States’ gun-related murder rate is 25 times higher,” states Carey Templeton, Associated Press. Gun deaths in the US are 50 times higher than in Britain, ten times higher than Australia, five times higher than France, and six times higher than Sweden. Australia, which has a hunting culture similar to our own, once had a gun death rate similar to ours. In 1996, it enacted strict laws forbidding the sale of automatic combat weapons. Australia’s gun death rate is now ten times lower than the United States. Maryland has enacted similar common-sense gun laws which limit the purchase of combat weapons but allow hunters to enjoy their sport. We need to expand these laws to the entire nation.

David Montgomery wanders off into armchair psychoanalysis and tries to link the mental disfunction of the killer at Stonemason Douglas High School with liberal philosophy, a common tactic of the National Rifle Association. This is ridiculous. The motives of Mr. Cruz are not and will not be known for some time. They are quite different from the motives of the murderers in San Bernardino, Las Vegas, and Orlando. The truth is that our mental health professionals are not at a point where they can reliably predict who will become a mass murderer and who will not. Tying prevention of mass murders to mental health prediction will not prevent more school children from dying.

Common sense gun laws are not a Constitutional issue, as Mr. Montgomery implies. Yes, Americans have the right to bear arms, but the Supreme Court has repeatedly upheld laws which limit this right. Thompson submachine guns, as used by Al Capone, were outlawed in 1934, and the law outlawing them was upheld by the Supreme Court in the United States v. Miller in 1939. Maryland’s own gun laws were challenged and upheld by the Supreme Court last November. Common sense laws limiting the purchase of combat weapons are not a Constitutional issue.

Montgomery asserts that better enforcement would lower gun deaths. He is correct on this point, yet he seems unaware that the National Rifle Association, whose views he echoes, has worked quietly to limit enforcement of existing gun laws. The NRA originally opposed national background checks, opposed adding terrorists to the National Criminal Background Check System and has consistently advocated limiting funding to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives which enforces the gun laws. Better enforcement of laws like Maryland’s gun laws would help reduce mass murder, but in Florida, the 19-year-old Cruz was legally able to purchase an AR-15 with no checks at all. In Florida, better enforcement will not stop the killing of school children.

Preventing mass murders from combat weapons is not a mystery. All other industrialized nations have lowered their murder rates by enacting common sense laws limiting the purchase of these weapons. These rifles belong in combat, not in our schools.

Carl Widell is a local businessman. His daughters, Svetlana and Katya, graduated from St. Michaels High School. As a lieutenant, Mr. Widell led Marines in combat who carried the military equivalent of the AR-15 combat rifle.

Letters to Editor

  1. Bravo. Unfortunately the NRA has no use for these kind of facts except to twist them into self-serving fake news. I hope the Talbot Spy will do more vetting of what it publishes, so we get more articles like this with solid reporting and less from David Montgomery.

    • Richard Libby says:

      I’m with you Sandy! The Talbot Spy should indeed vet and sensor what it publishes. I mean really, who wants to hear an opposing viewpoint, especially when it does not coincide with your world view. Who wants that? Yes, then I’m sure you’ll agree the Talbot Spy should take some lessons from the Berliner Zeitung or Pravda.

  2. John Thomas Smith says:

    I heartily concur with Mr. Widell on both policy and constitutional grounds, and on his view as to the shoddiness of David Montgomery’s piece.

    • David Jeffery says:

      Wherever the motivations of shooters:
      Be it mental illness, rejection by peers, relegious zealotry, influence of violent video games, lack of family training and caring, genetic disability, promotion by firearms manufacturers and dealers, black market sellers, propaganda of “rights” lobbyists… And on and on and on and on…
      Whatever the motivating factors, the ease of securing high capacity military style weapons provides the essential instruments to accomplish mass murder as now practiced in the USA.

  3. BRAVO Carl! It is quite amusing to see the NRA supported Senators like James Lankford of Oklahoma “twist themselves into a pretzel” tying to justify that the populace should have AR-15’s. This past week he stated on MSNBC that law abiding citizens needed the AR-15 for hunting – the person interviewing him failed to ask “and what animals or rodents do you need the AR-15 for hunting? Weapons of war like the AR-15 have no place in the hands of the average citizen or mentally disturbed young men in our society (we have plenty of them, unfortunately) – and the 2nd Amendment (crafted when we had single muzzle loaded rifles) DOES NOT guarantee that weapons like the AR-15 are covered by the 2nd Amendment. The NRA and their zealots are wrong on this issue – how many Supreme Court Decisions do we need to address this issue? We could have AR-15’s available in controlled “target ranges” to provide access – but not ownership. How can the NRA and the senators and congressmen receiving $$M of support from the NRA continue to “stick their heads in the sand” and ignore the reality of how thousands of our children are killed with these weapons. Surely the US could follow other countries like Australia (and almost every other advanced democracy) to stop the sale and distribution of these weapons – and to have a robust “buy-back” program and much tighter licensing and restrictions on the existing weapons. It may take decades – probably beyond our lifetimes for many “adults qualified for Social Security benefits” like Carl and myself. It looks like millions of our citizens (and high school students) are willing to enforce “NEVER AGAIN” at the ballot box this November and in 2020. I sense the dawn of a “new day” when we will have massive support at the ballot box to move beyond the scourge of weapons like the AR-15. Many other changes are needed to “flag” dangerous students like Nicholas Cruz and get them the mental health services they need.

    Sincerely > > Will Workman, St. Michaels – Maryland

  4. David Lloyd says:

    Excellent — and, unlike Mr. Montgomery’s columns, to the point! Doesn’t try to drown us in words that sound just like the NRA. Makes clear the problem is too easy access to too many guns!!

  5. Deirdre LaMotte says:

    Thank you for this fact-based piece. The NRA has led the false arguments regarding guns for decades. They have keenly tapped into an effective“patriotism meets frontiersmen meets paranoia” that blends perfectly with certain cultures in this country.

    Now, however,citizens are realizing the dangerous power this gun manufacturers lobby holds and the price our nation has paid. No more. Every person in Congress should have their NRA donations published for all to see. Shame them. Regarding your Marine service, my family have had Marine officers in every generation since 1811. I know they, esp. my late father, would be appalled at the availability of guns of war.

    Semper fi

  6. The AR15 is not a combat weapon. It is a semi-automatic. This description is used by the anti-gun lobby to scare the public. The issue with these shooting is the mental health crisis in this Country. Sane people do not walk into a school and shoot innocent kids. The psycho-tropic drugs the Doctors are pouring into our young people in many instances because the parents cannot discipline or handle their normal boys. The whole issue of mental illness needs to be revamped and dealt with instead of sweeping it under the rug. This should have happened after New Town.

  7. Excellent article, very well articulated and right on the point.

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