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When I was in Afghanistan, we traveled outside our compound only when accompanied by a driver and a shooter (who rode, ironically, shotgun). At that time in Afghanistan, American women were more likely to be kidnaped than killed, so they were safer when ensconced in an armored vehicle and protected by an unarmed driver and a man who carried an AR15 and an automatic handgun or two.

The thought was that should we be attacked, and should, heaven forbid, the driver and shooter be wounded or killed, we could pick up their guns and defend ourselves. For that reason, all company employees had firearms training.

I had never shot a gun and never had desired to shoot a gun, even when my apartment in Kansas City was burgled. My boyfriend at the time tried to convince me that owning a gun would be prudent. I scoffed. I suspected that if I owned a gun, the only person who would be shot was me.

Regardless, I found myself at a shooting range, learning the ins and outs of shooting a firearm.  I found I had been correct in my earlier estimation: guns and I would not mix.

I began with an AK47 and an AR15. The person with the least experience, I was in the booth farthest to the left. I had my own personal attendant, who showed me the parts of the gun and how to aim and shoot. My heart was pounding, because I was scared, but I shot the thing. The target was however many yards in front of me, and my bullet holes ended up on the ceiling.  Everyone, and I mean everyone, to my right stepped out of his or her booth and moved one booth farther away. 

My attendant said something encouraging, but he and I knew that the best I could hope for if I had to pick up that kind of gun would be to scare somebody to death by waving it around in the air and yelling a lot.

Next, I moved to semi-automatic handguns. Those bullets went into the target, but nowhere near where I thought I had been aiming. Worse, my hands were so sweaty from nerves that I could not release a clip or get a new one in. By this time, I had started shaking so badly that I looked like Clarice in “Silence of the Lambs” when she finds herself alone in a house with the killer – wobbling around and shaking so much that the target would probably be safe.

It took a good half hour after we left for my heart rate to go back to normal.

That night, David, the head of security in Kabul, came over to me and said, “It isn’t likely that you will be in a situation when people are hurt. But if you are, I think you would try to help. I know it’s against your nature, but if you’re in a situation when people are hurt – an explosion or something – I want you to walk away. What are you going to do if someone is hurt in an explosion or something?”

I answered dutifully.  “Walk away.”

“Good girl,” he said.

That’s one of my experiences with guns. 

Last weekend showed what assault weapons can do – as if we didn’t already know. One of my friends tries to clarify the term “assault weapons,” as if a different definition means that someone cannot kill nine people in under a minute or 22 people in six minutes – and that doesn’t count those wounded. In 1994, Congress banned the use of what I call assault weapons, and the ban expired in 2004. It has not been reinstated. 

Although for a variety of reasons, statistics do not show a definitive number that we can rely on, we can say that since 2004, public mass shootings have risen, and have risen sharply over the past five years ( Though I know that many people will disagree with me, I believe that nobody needs to own what we call an “assault weapon.” It is time for Congress to do what Presidents Ford, Carter, and Reagan all urged (, and legislate a ban on those weapons. 


Contributing Columnist

Deborah Mitchell is a local attorney.

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