By Tom Demerly for tomdemerly.com
I own an AR-15 semi-automatic sporting rifle, and I am not a threat to society.
I am not a kook, ultra-right winger, angry American or a gun nut. My AR-15 is a semi-automatic sporting rifle. It is not an assault rifle designed exclusively for killing. The “AR” in AR-15 stands for “Armalite Rifle”, not “assault rifle”. I did not buy it to overthrow the government or threaten people with. I’ve owned it for 30 years, fired it one time to be sure it worked accurately, removed the bolt and locked it in a safe, installed a trigger lock and haven’t touched it until I shot the photo you see here.
I am mentally stable, I am not a member of the NRA or any other three-lettered organization. I don’t shoot person-shaped targets on weekends or go to gun shows. I vote Democrat, own three books by Hillary Clinton and saw her speak in person. I voted for former President Obama and saw him in person after Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and nineteen other people were shot in Tucson, Arizona in 2011. I heard the shooting and the sirens from my house in Tucson. I love cats, am mostly vegetarian, don’t hunt, do recycle and I’m a survivor of gun violence.
I’ve tried to save a person’s life who had a gunshot wound to the chest, and watched them die right before my eyes. I come from a family of gun owners and I served in the U.S. Army and the Michigan National Guard. I spent day after day learning firearms safety, and years practicing it without a single accident. I own an AR-15 sporting rifle because it is the safest, most practical rifle for me because of years of training, qualification, re-training and proficiency in owning and operating it safely.
In short, I don’t fit the recent popular media stereotype of an AR-15 owner.
Not one person I know who owns an AR-15 does.
The people who own AR-15 sporting rifles in the United States, all 5 to 10 million of them, are straight, gay, white, black, trans, lesbian, male, female, Asian, Arab, Mexican American, Jews, Buddhists, Muslims, Catholics, Protestants, atheists, conservative, liberal, uneducated, educated, old, young, rich, poor and every combination of those demographic variables and more.
The people I know personally who own an AR-15 are artists, teachers, design students, retirees, university professors, scientists, pilots and housewives. We don’t fit the singular, ugly, lone wolf shooter stereotype conjured by reactionary, emotional responses that are fueled by fear, ignorance and prejudice in mainstream and social media.
Some of us, including me, are gun safety advocates and have taken and taught classes in civilian gun ownership safety.
Know that if I believed banning AR-15s today would stop one single mass shooting fatality, I would be willing to do it. But understand that banning a single model of rifle because of sensation and misunderstanding is to treat the symptom, and not the cause of mass shootings.
Of the 5 to 10 million AR-15s owned in the U.S., thirteen have been used in mass shootings. That is thirteen too many, and now is the time to stop assigning blame and stereotypes in solving the mass shooting crisis and actually act to solve the crisis.
Blaming the 5 to 10 million strong group of AR-15 owners based on a miniscule, fringe ultra-minority of deranged mass shooters is a distraction from solving the real causes of mass shootings. It is time to produce a solution now to stop mass shootings the same way America secured air travel only weeks after 9/11.
Last Tuesday, February 20, 2018 at a student safety community forum put on by the SAFE Substance Abuse Coalition at the University of Michigan-Dearborn campus I heard U.S. State Representative Debbie Dingell (D-12th District) express valid concerns about stereotyping and stigmatizing mentally ill people as being complicit when discussing mass shootings. Her concerns are well conceived. Statistics prove over and over that very few people who suffer from mental disease ever pose any threat to others.
But Representative Dingell did not voice similar concern for stereotyping and stigmatizing AR-15 owners. And lately, AR-15 owners have taken a statistically unsupportable beating in the media and popular opinion. That has slowed down progress toward a solution to the crisis of mass shootings, because lawful AR-15 owners, all 5 to 10 million of them, are not the perpetrators, instigators or facilitators of mass shootings.
When gun critics and especially critics of AR-15 owners make generalizations about people like me for owning an AR-15, they should know that millions of AR-15 owners in the United States don’t fit their stereotypes of lone-wolf, fringe of society, quietly boiling and potentially dangerous persons.
This same group of broad stroke finger pointers who believe all AR-15 owners are bad ought to consider that short-sighted, narrow minded fear mongering has a name; profiling. And it is the very definition of prejudice, that ugly tendency to lob a large number of individuals into one narrow group based on a little knowledge and a lot of fear.
Stereotypes of gun owners, and lately AR-15 owners, are as ill-informed, judgmental and counterproductive to solving the very real problem of gun violence as the equally ill-informed stereotypes of poor people, single mothers, people on welfare, racial stereotypes, prejudice against immigrants and other broad, short sighted strokes of reactionary opinion.
“Picking sides” and profiling gun owners while trying to solve the national crisis of mass shootings is counter to the universal goal of stopping the next calamity. It slows the process, obscures understanding, polarizes opinion and builds speed bumps on the way to a real solution. And we need a real solution to the mass shooting crisis today.
I’m an AR-15 owner, and I am working now to help prevent the next mass shooting by meeting with local law enforcement, lawmakers and proposing solutions to educators. I am not using ill-informed, prejudicial opinions on the way to a solution. This national crisis of mass shootings is too urgent and too important for misinformation and prejudice.
Author Tom Demerly has written for Outside, Business Insider, The Dearborn Press & Guide and many other print and internet media publications. He is a former scout/observer in a U.S. Army National Guard Long Range Surveillance Team and was the honor graduate from his U.S. Army Infantry School class at Ft. Benning, Georgia. He has visited all seven continents and covered news stories around the world for his current job as U.S. correspondent for the world’s foremost defense and aviation blog, TheAviationist.com published in Rome, Italy.
 “The National Shooting Sports Foundation estimates there are roughly 5 million to 10 million AR-15 rifles owned in the United States, a small share of the roughly 300 million firearms owned by Americans.” John W. Schoen, CNBC, Monday, June 13, 2016.
 William Cummings and Bart Jansen, USA TODAY, February 15, 2018.
Here is a list of mass shootings in the U.S. that featured AR-15-style rifles during the last 35 years, courtesy of the Stanford Geospatial Center and Stanford Libraries and USA TODAY research:
- 24, 1984: Tyrone Mitchell, 28, used an AR-15, a Stoeger 12-gauge shotgun and a Winchester 12-gauge shotgun to kill two and wound 12 at 49th Street Elementary School in Los Angeles before killing himself.
- 7, 2007: Tyler Peterson, 20, used an AR-15 to kill six and injure one at an apartment in Crandon, Wis., before killing himself.
- June 20, 2012: James Eagan Holmes, 24, used an AR-15-style .223-caliber Smith and Wesson rifle with a 100-round magazine, a 12-gauge Remington shotgun and two .40-caliber Glock semi-automatic pistols to kill 12 and injure 58 at a movie theater in Aurora, Colo.
- 14, 2012: Adam Lanza, 20, used an AR-15-style rifle, a .223-caliber Bushmaster, to kill 27 people — his mother, 20 students and six teachers — in Newtown, Conn., before killing himself.
- June 7, 2013: John Zawahri, 23, used an AR-15-style .223-caliber rifle and a .44-caliber Remington revolver to kill five and injure three at a home in Santa Monica, Calif., before he was killed.
- March 19, 2015: Justin Fowler, 24, used an AR-15 to kill one and injure two on a street in Little Water, N.M., before he was killed.
- May 31, 2015: Jeffrey Scott Pitts, 36, used an AR-15 and .45-caliber handgun to kill two and injure two at a store in Conyers, Ga., before he was killed.
- 31, 2015: Noah Jacob Harpham, 33, used an AR-15, a .357-caliber revolver and a 9mm semi-automatic pistol to kill three on a street in Colorado Springs, Colo., before he was killed.
- 2, 2015: Syed Rizwyan Farook and Tashfeen Malik, 28 and 27, used two AR-15-style, .223-caliber Remington rifles and two 9 mm handguns to kill 14 and injure 21 at his workplace in San Bernardino, Calif., before they were killed.
- June 12, 2016: Omar Mateen, 29, used an AR-15 style rifle (a Sig Sauer MCX), and a 9mm Glock semi-automatic pistol to kill 49 people and injure 50 at an Orlando nightclub before he was killed.
- 1, 2017: Stephen Paddock, 64, used a stockpile of guns including an AR-15 to kill 58 people and injure hundreds at a music festival in Las Vegas before he killed himself.
- 5, 2017: Devin Kelley, 26, used an AR-15 style Ruger rifle to kill 26 people at a church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, before he was killed.
- 14, 2018: Police say Nikolas Cruz, 19, used an AR-15-style rifle to kill at least 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla.