Assault rifle

I had an odd feeling when I walked into the local Cabela’s.

It’s a big, beautiful store, designed to appeal to campers, hunters and others who enjoy spending time in the great outdoors. I’d been there before and felt comfortable, if a little out of place.

But that was before June 12, when a lone gunman forced his way into a gay bar in Orlando and shot 102 people, killing 49. He was able to pick off so many because he was armed not only with a semiautomatic pistol but with a SIG Sauer MCX assault rifle capable of firing 30 rounds as fast as he could pull the trigger.

Though the shooter didn’t purchase his assault rifle at Cabela’s, he could have. Mixed in with the store’s tents, fishing poles and other outdoor gear are rifles and shotguns designed for shooting game both big and small. And mixed in with those are weapons designed for one purpose only: to kill as many people as possible in as little time as possible.

Those weapons include the MCX, which Cabela’s sells for $1,679.99 when stores can keep it in stock. It’s currently out of stock at Columbus’s Cabela’s, which is hardly surprising.

After all, not only does the rifle get high marks from enthusiasts, but on June 12, it proved its effectiveness by being used in the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history. You can’t buy publicity like that.

Maybe now you understand why I felt a little odd walking into the local Cabela’s.

The Orlando attack came at a time when mass shootings have become almost routine in America. However, it differed from its predecessors in several ways and, as a result, inspired some non-routine responses.

Because the attack took place in a gay bar, it added new urgency to June’s Gay Pride celebrations in Columbus and around the country. And because the shooter was a Muslim who pledged allegiance to the Islamic State, it set off a new round of anti-Islamic rhetoric, including a self-serving tweet from presumptive presidential nominee Donald Trump.

Finally, due to the sheer number of fatalities, the attack inspired unusual levels of activism from congressional Democrats: a filibuster in the Senate and a sit-in in the House of Representatives. Both actions were undertaken in support of two measures that would expand the use of background checks and prevent suspected terrorists from buying guns.

But in the end, the result was the same as always: no progress. On June 20, the measures, along with two competing pro-gun measures, failed to pass the Senate. (A subsequent attempt to pass a compromise measure appears unlikely to succeed.) And on June 22, the House went on break without even considering either bill.

The day after the Senate vote, I called the local offices of the Ohio Coalition Against Gun Violence to see if the group could suggest a strategy for fighting the epidemic of mass shootings that wouldn’t be doomed to instant failure. In particular, I asked executive director Jennifer Thorne whether anyone had called for a boycott of Cabela’s and other chains that market assault weapons.

 “I’m sure that over the entire history of the movement, that’s happened,” Thorne replied. But she added that the coalition takes a more general approach with a program called Divest From Guns, which encourages people to boycott not only gun retailers but businesses that support the NRA.

Thorne said the coalition also urges supporters to communicate their feelings about gun violence to their elected officials—and to keep those officials’ positions on the issue in mind on Election Day.

Lastly, Thorne said, the coalition realizes it must fight the “culture of fear” the gun lobby promotes to inspire citizens to buy more and deadlier guns. “So part of our job is to push back and flip the script on that culture of fear and work toward a culture of peace and respect for everybody.”

I came away from the conversation with faith in the coalition’s determination but little confidence that its approach would bear fruit anytime soon. It takes time to change a culture, and politicians have shown that their stance on gun control depends more on polls and campaign donations than on rational arguments.

Not that rationality hasn’t been known to prevail on the issue, but progress has mostly been short-lived:

▪ In 1994, Congress passed and President Bill Clinton signed a federal ban on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines—but Congress allowed the ban to expire 10 years later.

▪ And in December 2012, following the horrific shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School, Dick’s Sporting Goods announced it would no longer sell “modern sporting rifles” (AKA civilian-oriented assault rifles). But the next year it launched Field & Stream, a companion chain that put those same weapons back on the shelf.

Perhaps the only reason for hope is that Walmart, the country’s largest gun retailer, announced last year that it would stop selling assault-style rifles and high-capacity magazines. That would be better news if would-be mass assassins didn’t have the option of going to the hundreds of other chains and privately owned stores where such weapons are freely available.

Back at Cabela’s, I surveyed the wide array of guns with horror but soon gravitated toward the archery section, having been a fan of the sport since childhood. I wanted a new quiver, but I noticed that the first one I picked up was inscribed with the name of the store: “Cabela’s.” That settled it. I turned around and walked out.

In light of the increasing gun violence that plagues our country, the government should be doing something to keep guns out of the wrong hands—and the deadliest guns out of everyone’s hands. Since it’s doing nothing, I’ve decided to respond in the only way I can. I won’t shop at Cabela’s, or Dick’s, or Field & Stream, or any other store that stands to profit from mass murder.

Sadly, I realize my stand will inconvenience me far more than it inconveniences these giant chains. But I can live with that.







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