On Tuesday morning, a 19-year-old sophomore math major opened fire on the campus of the University of Texas at Austin, sending the school into a paralyzing lockdown before ultimately taking his own life.
While fortunately no one else was injured in the rampage, the shooting is merely the latest episode in a disturbing escalation of gun violence on college campuses nationwide.
What is far more disturbing, however, is that the weapon of choice for Tuesday's shooter was an AK-47 assault rifle. Now this is a weapon that has entered the popular lexicon due to its prominence in the arsenals of such benign groups as the Taliban, al-Qaeda, Hamas, various Columbian and Mexican drug cartels, and the Soviet Red Army. Its ruggedness, reliability and substantial firepower have made it a popular choice among terrorists and rebel organizations for much of the past 60 years. So how on earth did one of these incredibly deadly weapons fall into the hands of a college student at the University of Texas?
The answer to that is actually quite simple, for the AK-47 assault rifle is legal and readily available in the state of Texas. In fact, anyone over the age of 18 can purchase one, so long as they have no felony record or history of domestic violence. Nor are these statutes unique to the Lone Star State, as numerous other states across the country have similarly lax laws regarding the AK-47 and other automatic and semi-automatic weapons.
The gunmen at Virginia Tech in 2007 and at Northern Illinois in 2008 both utilized these types of weapons in carrying out their brutal massacres. And though it is clear that these guns contribute far more to pain and suffering than to the greater good, they still remain legal in this country. But why is this the case? Why can any ordinary 18-year-old walk into a pawnshop and purchase the exact same weapon that is being used by the Taliban to kill American soldiers in Afghanistan? Why do Americans feel the need to purchase a gun whose only outstanding quality is that it can kill more people in a shorter period of time than a conventional non-automatic firearm?
Gun rights advocates like to cite the Second Amendment in the United States Constitution as evidence in support of their crusade against gun control. The Amendment contains the line, "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," which has somehow been interpreted by these Americans as a ringing endorsement of their right to possess an assault weapon or a semi-automatic handgun. Leaving aside the fact that the words "well-regulated" are in the first line, it seems rather doubtful that the Founding Fathers had AK-47's in mind when they sat down to pen the Constitution.
Another argument put forth by gun rights supporters is that firearms are necessary to protect one's home and family. While this argument has its merits, does anyone really think they need more than an ordinary, non-automatic rifle or handgun to defend their home? Seriously, unless the IRA or Hezbollah make frequent visits to your neighborhood, it seems highly unlikely that you would ever need to break out your trusty assault rifle.
So please, let's restore a little common sense and sanity to government and get rid of these dangerous and deadly automatic and semi-automatic weapons. Let's keep them out of our gun stores, off our streets and as far away as possible from our high schools and universities. America has seen more than its fair share of school shootings. It's time to start taking some concrete steps to ensure that these horrifying tragedies never again take place, and denying would-be gunmen the weapons that only facilitate their rampages is as good a place to start as any. Only then can we begin to realize President Franklin D. Roosevelt's dream of an America that guaranteed "freedom from fear" to all its citizens.
Ryan Williams is a sophomore. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.