When general and admirals speak, veterans like me tend to listen. That’s why I perked up at a recent letter from the political gun-control group Giffords Veterans Coalition signed by 13 retired officers. That letter advised Congress that passing background checks that ban private gun sales is a moral imperative. They contend this infringement on constitutional rights is necessary to protect American safety.
There are a few things the military just won’t tolerate. Lack of discipline. Disrespect. Getting out of step. I should know—I spent 25 years instilling those values into my Marines. On this, though, I can’t salute.
These military officers claim the moral high ground in the gun debate. Their service is admirable, but they hardly speak for all of us. I’ve been to war, and I won’t forget those who prey on disarmed societies.
I saw first-hand the aftermath of Haitian coup leader Lt. Gen. Raoul Cedras, who was responsible for murdering more than 3,000 people following his overthrow of a democratically elected president. I vividly remember a Shia elder in southern Iraq telling me about Saddam Hussein’s brutality. The dictator’s thugs dragged this man’s three sons in front of him and executed them, just to keep them under his thumb. I’ve seen Afghan villagers living in fear of al-Qaeda, and so much more.
Law-abiding Americans must be skeptical when we’re told to abandon our rights. We wouldn’t tolerate military dictations on how to practice our religion. Historically, the American public has gotten outraged after the government used war as an excuse to censor the media.
We should all remember that our government once used the military to force Japanese-Americans to go into internment camps and that our Supreme Court said that was okay. This should also be true of the uniquely American right to keep and bear arms.
These generals suggest that some high-profile tragedies should be a rationale for us to pass restrictive gun laws against the law-abiding. But the laws they propose wouldn’t have stopped these murderers. Enforcing existing laws would have, if the will existed to enforce them.
The murderers at a Las Vegas country music festival and the Borderline Bar and Grill in Thousand Oaks, Calif., passed the same background checks these letter writers want Congress to expand. In Parkland, concerned citizens reported the murderer to the FBI, but it was never followed up. Police were called to the murder’s home 39 times. He allegedly threatened his mother and brother with a gun. Students warned school officials. The laws were there. No one stepped in.
In Sutherland Springs, the military failed six times to report the murderer as a prohibited individual. The Department of Defense was required to report him to the FBI. The Air Force didn’t tell the FBI of his domestic violence court-martial conviction, involuntarily commitment to a mental health facility, and dishonorable discharge—all grounds for barring someone from possessing a gun. The murderer lied on his background check form four different times. No one knew better, because he wasn’t reported.
It wasn’t the military that fixed this. It wasn’t Giffords Veteran Coalition. It was the National Shooting Sports Foundation, the firearms industry trade association, that worked with Congress and got the Fix NICS Act signed into law by President Trump. Now, DoD and all federal agencies are required by law to report prohibited individuals and states are provided resources to submit all criminal and adjudicated disqualifying mental health records to the FBI.
Let’s be honest about the other claims. The authors maintain nearly all gun owners support blanket background checks. But the NSSF presented the full facts to gun owners. Retailers at gun shows already perform these checks as required by law, and Internet sales require a face-to-face transaction with a federally licensed firearms dealer with a background check. Faced with the complete facts, more than half of Americans polled saw new laws as unnecessary.
The reality is most criminals admit they get the guns they used in crimes through two primary means: theft and the black market.
Let’s be clear about the language the officers use in this letter. They tell us this legislation is just a first step. They want more, including outright bans on entire classes of firearms and magazines.
Retired Army Lt. Gen. Mark Hertling even took a CNN reporter to a range to demonstrate the lethality of modern sporting rifles. He said they were weapons of war. The cringe-worthy performance, and utterances of “full semi-automatic,” revealed his agenda.
There’s no such thing as “full semi-automatic.” The truth is these rifles have been commercially available since the 1960s. The truth is the majority of criminal misuse of firearms involves stolen and black-market handguns. The truth is gun control groups will use these generals claim the moral high ground to eliminate Second Amendment rights.
These officers don’t speak for all veterans, and certainly not for those of us who treasure our rights. We spent too much time and have spilled blood to simply wash them away.
Senior enlisted advisors, the salty enlisted types like me, have a special role with commanders. We offer quiet and sage counsel, the benefit of our years of experience. Generals, you’re out of step with our freedom.