Wissot: Turn them into plowshares and pruning hooks

The message from the Lord of Jerusalem to the nations of the world commanded them to “beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks.”

I was thinking about that passage from the Old Testament in Isaiah 2:3-4 in relationship to the epidemic of gun violence tormenting the nation. It seemed to me if we could think of a way to do with AR-15-type assault rifles what the nations of the world were told to do with their swords and spears, we might reduce the number of deaths caused by what currently resembles a rebirth of the gangster-era machine gun style executions.

Then like a thunderbolt from the gods on high a possible solution came to me: Create national cemeteries for these weapons with marked graves for each gun interred. Modeled after cemeteries reserved for military veterans, these burial sites would provide a final resting place for weapons that were created for use in combat but have become murder machines in the hands of lunatics in the civilian population.

The creation of national gun cemeteries would have to be done in conjunction with outlawing the manufacture of the AR-15 and rapid-fire rifles modified to simulate their deadly destructiveness. That could be accomplished by re-instituting the federal assault weapon ban passed by Congress in 1994, which expired and was not renewed in 2004. The resurrected ban would limit the manufacture and sale of assault weapons to the military and law enforcement.

As for the almost 20 million AR-15-style rifles currently and legally in circulation, two choices could be made available to their owners. One choice would involve a buyback program that would compensate the owners who voluntarily hand their weapons over to the government. Australia’s National Firearms Act in 1996 resulted in the government buying 650,000 different types of firearms from gun owners.

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A second choice would be to allow owners to retain their weapons after they were rendered permanently inoperable. As emasculated relics of a time when rapid-fire rifles could be purchased as easily as chewing gum, civilians would be free to proudly showcase them as souvenirs in their homes.

Laws prohibiting the future ownership of these weapons would have to include stiff penalties imposed on manufacturers who sold these banned guns to civilians and to civilians who purchased them. For manufacturers, it would mean the imposition of hefty fines and loss of gun manufacturing licenses. Civilians caught purchasing an assault weapon would be punished like someone arrested for buying cocaine, heroin or illegally made fentanyl.

The only people in this country who have a need to use weapons designed for combat are people whose choice of employment involves the killing of people firing the same or comparable weapons at them. Putting assault weapons in the hands of civilians makes as much sense as allowing them to own weapons intended for biological and nuclear warfare.

Antonin Scalia, the late Supreme Court Justice who wrote the majority opinion in the landmark District of Columbia v. Heller case, which extended the rights of gun owners beyond the circumscribed purpose of membership in a militia, made it quite clear that the right to bear arms didn’t mean “the right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner whatsoever and for whatever purpose.”

For the extreme anti-gun control crowd, my proposal will fall on deaf ears. They will point out that banning assault weapons will not prevent sociopaths from killing innocent people in public places.

They’re right. The criminally insane can use many other readily available guns if they are hell-bent on harming people who haven’t harmed them. The key difference will be that they won’t be able to murder as many people in a matter of seconds and law enforcement will be better equipped to take down an active shooter using a gun less lethal than an AR-15 or a modified equivalent.

More than half of all gun-related deaths annually are suicides. A significant percentage are related to domestic violence.

As the gun worshippers will also correctly argue, banning assault weapons will do nothing to prevent people from using other guns to kill themselves or from domestic partners solving their disputes with bullets. But a national ban on the manufacture and purchase of assault weapons is necessary for the same reason an international effort to prevent the proliferation and spread of nuclear armaments is necessary. Certain instruments of instantaneous mass deaths are deemed so inhumane and harmful to public safety that civilized societies find condoning their use to be immoral.

A case can certainly be made that even with the enactment of a national assault rifle ban, criminals will still be able to obtain these weapons on the black market. That’s definitely true. There’s a price for everything and for the right price, assault rifles will be sold to buyers who will put them to illegal use. But that’s true for whatever we try to prohibit. The fact that criminals can evade the laws enacted to prevent them from making those purchases isn’t a reason to eliminate the laws simply because they can be violated.

Desiring perfection shouldn’t be the enemy of trying to do good. Not being able to prevent the next mass shooting from happening isn’t a reason for not seeking to reduce the number of future shootings and lower the number of future deaths.

Jay Wissot is a resident of Denver and Vail. Email him at

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