I was a seventeen-year old military recruit when I was issued my first rifle. That marked the beginning of what would amount to nearly forty years of carrying firearms professionally.
Twenty-three of those were in the military, including nearly twenty years with the SAS, followed by almost seventeen years of commercial security work.
With the exception of my earliest military days—when an NCO was constantly looking over my shoulder—I was always responsible for the safety of my own weapons. From SAS operations to commercial security assignments, I carried whatever firearms the tasks dictated. Sometimes that meant carrying three at once – an assault rifle, a submachine gun and a pistol.
I’ve carried guns overtly and covertly, all with a round in the chamber. I’m a trained sniper and was a sniper commander. I’m trained in close protection and hostage rescue including assaulting buildings, trains, aircraft and ships. I’m trained in covert surveillance and combat field tracking; skills I deployed extensively on operations, and which tremendously enhanced my ability to be aware of my surroundings. I’ve also instructed others around the world in all of these disciplines.
As a private security advisor, I worked in places like Iraq and Afghanistan where I carried concealed weapons including a pistol and assault rifle (short) under my clothing. I slept with a pistol under my pillow and the assault rifle laying alongside me. I was armed 24/7 because it was necessary, especially when I was operating alone and outside of the security bubble of a military type base.
I always viewed my weapon as an extension of my arm. It’s a mindset. Because in order to protect myself and others in an environment that was hostile or threatening, my weapon had to be with me (round in the chamber) at all times.
You’re probably thinking, “What a bloater!” Sadly, bloating is necessary when
wading into America’s gun debate. A lot of people have a lot of opinions on how to tackle the epidemic of mass school shootings in America, and most of those views are steeped in cultural bias, social network propaganda and the babblings of blowhards on cable news outlets. My opinions are not based on propaganda and cultural preferences. They’re informed by decades of personal experience handling firearms in mainly hostile situations.
Why do I care? Because I live in America and I have a child who goes to school here. I’m having my say because if American gun laws don’t change—and radically so—my child’s life and the lives of millions of other children will continue to be in danger.
In my informed opinion, the only way to STOP mass school shootings in America is to ban the sale of assault rifles. It is the ONLY answer. Because as long as members of the public can get their hands on assault rifles, schools will always be vulnerable to mass shootings.
Cue the outcry from so-called gun rights advocates. Those opposed to banning assault rifles usually fall back on that tired meme “guns don’t kill people, people kill people!” then pivot the conversation to mental illness. President Trump made that exact turn when tweeting about the mass school shooting in Parkland, Florida.
Mental illness is undoubtedly a factor in many school shootings. And America’s broken healthcare system allows alarming numbers of mentally ill individuals to go untreated. But improving services for the mentally ill will NOT stop mass shootings. Britain has many mentally ill individuals who can’t get the proper treatment and support. But mass school shootings aren’t a problem anymore in Britain because assault rifles aren’t sold to the public. In America, a mentally ill person can easily get their hands on an assault rifle – either by purchasing one themselves or helping themselves to one purchased by a family member, friend or someone else in the community.
Cue the second – and in my view –more dangerous pivot by gun control advocates. Instead of banning assault rifles, they argue, we should arm teachers. Unbelievable as that may sound, half a dozen states already allow it. President Trump thinks it’s a great idea and said he’d support using federal funds to offer “rigorous firearms training” to qualified school employees.
This is a boneheaded idea and there’s ample evidence to prove it. Like the teacher in Utah who accidentally shot herself in a faculty bathroom, despite having completed a training course for carrying a concealed weapon. Or the teacher in Pennsylvania who left a loaded pistol in a bathroom used by children between the ages of 6 and 8.
Teachers can’t be trusted to carry guns in schools responsibly because a lot of firearms training is little more than a tick in the box. That applies to both professional security and civilian training. Ever wonder why most members of the military and the police are not allowed to wander around with a weapon that has a round seated in the chamber? It’s because their superiors are worried they’ll have a negligent discharge—“fire accidentally”—if they get tired or distracted.
I’ve witnessed a number of negligent discharges in conflict zones, some of them while I was embedded with the US military. Some of these incidents were so shocking, it was hard to believe that the individuals responsible had any weapons training at all. But they did have training. Military training.
Training didn’t stop police on Capitol Hill from leaving their weapons behind in bathroom stalls. Or a sheriff in Michigan from leaving his gun in a school locker room. So much for the weapon being an extension of one’s arm. And these are just two examples. The list goes on and on…
Guns, and especially assault rifles, are dangerous because they’re designed to kill people. Lots of people. Many professionals cannot be trusted to use them safely without supervision. That’s why arming teachers is not the answer. They’re far more likely to have a negligent discharge or leave their weapon in a public space, or worse – turn their weapon on a student whom they feel threatened by – than actually use a firearm to protect students.
But the mindset in America is so skewed toward believing that guns make people safe that this horrible idea has found traction from the highest levels of government to the person on the street. Including my neighbours.
Some of the people who live on my block own assault rifles. When I ask them why, they tell me they want to protect their families. But when I ask them where they keep their weapons, they all tell me they’re locked away in a gun safe.
To me that’s about as useful as storing a fire extinguisher under lock and key. If a fire starts in your home, you need to grab that extinguisher immediately to have any chance of putting out the flames. The same is true if you’re attacked by an armed intruder. If your firearm is locked away, you can’t access it quickly, which severely lowers your odds of successfully defending yourself and your family.
My neighbours, like most civilians in America who own assault rifles and other firearms, aren’t really protecting themselves and their families. They’re just playing at it.
I’ve spoken to many Americans of all ages and backgrounds since the mass school shooting in Parkland. The vast majority agree that America must ban assault rifles to prevent further carnage. They also agree that as a country, they’ve been far too lazy when it comes to questioning, let alone challenging the status quo when it comes to safety in general.
For example, many Americans pull their cars into their driveways nose first, which means they have to back out onto the road. This causes accidents every single day. When I ask people why no one does anything about this – like pressure lawmakers to pass legislation making it illegal to back out onto a road— no one has an answer. Except one honest neighbour who confessed, “it’s probably down to laziness because it’s just easier to pull into our driveways nose first.”
Fortunately, some of my neighbours have taken my advice and now park their cars in their driveways with the nose facing the road, so they don’t have to back out onto it. If that small change can happen on my street, imagine what impact it would have if Americans started questioning en masse whether assault rifle ownership really makes anyone safe?
At least American children are getting impatient with the status quo. Fed up with mass shootings spawning the same predictable, cable news brawls pitting conservatives against liberals, American school kids are now organizing to make their voices heard. They’ve been forced to advocate for themselves and their safety because their government – and the voters responsible for holding that government to account—have utterly failed to protect the nation’s kids.
Every child on the planet deserves to go to school and focus all of their energy and attention on learning. Instead, American children are forced to endure lockdown drills to prepare for mass shootings. What kind of country has the United States become that the traumatized children of Parkland feel compelled to orchestrate nationwide walkouts and marches to press lawmakers to ban assault rifles?
That’s why I’m adding my voice to the chorus of voices calling for an assault rifle ban. Sadly, given the NRA’s financial hold over political elites, I’m not terribly hopeful that things will change in the near future. But that’s no excuse for holding my tongue. I live in dread of the next mass shooting…and the next one after that…and the next one…and the next one…
The NRA may have deep pockets to buy politicians, but you can’t put a price on a child’s life. That’s why all the brave children walking out of classrooms and marching on Washington to demand change have my backing and unyielding respect. We should all listen to them, because these amazing kids are leading America toward a safer, better future.
WHY AMERICA MUST BAN ASSAULT RIFLES
By: Bob Shepherd
Bestselling author Bob Shepherd is a security advisor and 20-year veteran of Britain’s elite Special Air Service. With almost 20-years of private security work to his credit, he has successfully negotiated some of the most dangerous places on earth as both an SAS soldier and private citizen. Combined, Bob has spent almost 40 years operating in conflict areas. Bob is a regular media commentator on security issues and has appeared on CNN International, BBC, SKY News, Al Jazeera English, BBC Radio and various newspapers and magazines. He also shares his insights on security politics through his blog;