There are failures and accidents, of course, but for the most part, modern machines do what they are designed to. For example, cars transport people. That’s what they’re specifically made for. There are breakdowns and collisions and other events that prevent them from doing so at certain moments, but they mostly work and mostly carry on the function of transport. And there are certainly unintended consequences of them fulfilling their mission, like collisions, and pollution and climate change, which weren’t their purposefully designed function, but which happen anyway. There are costs that come with those unintended consequences, like pollution control equipment, or the high costs of electric-only cars, or auto collision insurance.
On balance, most people accept these unintended consequences and costs as a part of their individual decision to use a car. A society has to account for the cumulative negative effects of individual decisions like these and pay to mitigate or eliminate them, like building safety barriers or parking, or requiring auto registration and insurance. Economists call these costs externalities.
Now let’s look at guns, specifically the type of rifles used by most mass shooters these days, something akin to the ubiquitous AR-15. What are they expressly designed to do? They’re designed to kill people. In the case of AR-15s and their kind, they’re designed to kill a lot of people really fast and really accurately. Killing people isn’t incidental to its function, or an accident; it’s the intended purpose.
These so-called assault rifles are in a different league than handguns when it comes to bodily damage. That’s what they’re designed for, to rip bodies apart. I once spoke with a former colleague of mine, a trauma surgeon of long experience who has consulted with the U.S. Department of Defense on assault rifle wounds. She said, once entering the body, the rounds from assault rifles like the AR-15 completely obliterate internal organs and turn flesh into something like an oozing liquid. Field medic log entries of wounds created by these rifles are like descriptions of scenes from a horror film:
“Chest wound from right to left, destroyed the thoracic cavity.”
“Stomach wound, which caused the abdominal cavity to explode.”
These wounds create injuries that are not always possible to recover from or degrade the victim’s quality of life to an unbearable level, even if a major artery or organ are not directly hit.
Because of my work, I have personally seen fresh handgun wounds many times, but I’ve never seen anything close to the kind of carnage visited on human bodies by assault rifles. To even imagine what the scene at Uvalde looked like, or Sandy Hook, or any of the other mass shooting locations, makes me physically ill. If we must allow personal civilian ownership of firearms in this society, can we at least remove these particular machines, which are purposefully designed and used to completely destroy human bodies?
Can we at least agree on that small concession to sanity?