Involuntary martyrs for the 2nd Amendment


Samuel C. Damren

 “A lie may achieve victory when truth is afraid of its own strength.  But there comes a time when truth refuses to die and takes up a sword.  From that day forward, the lie is doomed.”

These are the words of Albert Camus written in the French Resistance Journal “Combat.”  Camus is best remembered as a novelist, author and winner of the Nobel Prize in literature in 1957. But his world view was forged as a member of the underground fighting the Nazis from within France during four years of occupation. He wrote anonymously in “Combat” during that time. The Nazi penalty for writing articles in the journal was execution.

As a new free government formed in France in late 1944, the French people turned to judge Vichy collaborators and enablers. Camus offered unvarnished sentiments directed at many who regarded themselves as only spectators to the Nazi occupation.  “During these four dreadful years, all Frenchmen were witness to a crime not foreseen by any law: the crime of not doing enough.”

I don't know if the time has come in America’s gun debate when truth will refuse to die.  But I do know that NRA political support for civilian ownership of assault weapons is predicated on a lie.

Assault weapons are manufactured for one purpose, to kill multiple enemy soldiers in a spray of accurate but overwhelming firepower. They are well designed to that task.  The pistol grip allows the shooter to shift from target to target in the chaotic circumstance of a firefight. The gun is light, and fires high velocity rounds capable of disabling a target even if vital organs are not impacted. The semi-automatic mode is preferred for accuracy, but in military stock can be fully automatic.

There is no place in civil society for civilian ownership of these weapons of war.

Do you need an assault rifle for personal protection when you go to the grocery store, the gas station, work, church, concerts, sporting events? How many people do you see carrying assault weapons in those venues? What would you do if you did? And don’t even suggest that you would do anything other than clear out as fast as you could. You don’t know who the person carrying the assault weapon is, whether he is a “good guy” or a “bad guy.”  But you do know that the weapon has one purpose.

After the Sandy Hook massacre in Connecticut five years ago, I wrote an Op Ed for The Legal News. Siding with law enforcement authorities, I lent my public support as a former prosecutor for an assault weapons ban. I heaped ridicule on the NRA suggestion of arming principals with guns to prevent further school shootings. All those comments ring true today after the Marjory Stoneman Douglas School shooting as they did then.  Let’s review those points.
First, schools are big. Armed principals or guards can’t be everywhere. An attack in classrooms takes only minutes to carry out with a semi-automatic assault rifle.

Second, don’t tell me that schoolteachers or even armed guards are fit to the task of winning a firefight with a shooter armed with an assault weapon. They aren’t. At a minimum, the “good” guys would have to be armed with assault weapons of their own to even stand a chance.

Third, if teachers and guards were to carry assault weapons in schools, they should not have their assault rifles slung over their shoulders. The time it takes to unsling an assault weapon when an active shooter bursts round a corner can be critical. To be effective in defending school children, teachers and guards must hold their assault rifles in ready at all times.

And as I think these factors through again, to make schools a hardened target, schools must be designed and operated like prisons and forts. They must be constructed with secure cell blocks or firing positions inside the schools and incorporate lock downs where no one is permitted to traverse from one secure section or classroom to another without being under armed supervision.

The truth is that the only sure way to stop a shooter armed with an assault rifle is to stop assault rifles from getting into civilian hands by banning them all together. The reality endorsed by the NRA where everyone is “free” to defend themselves with an assault rifle from other freedom loving Americans similarly armed, but with different agendas, is a perversion of the Second Amendment. The victims of assault weapons, whether they be churchgoers, school kids, concertgoers or others, did not volunteer to be martyrs for this twisted version of the Second Amendment. But they, not the NRA, are the ones who took the risk and paid the price with their lives of supporting this sickening world view.

Maybe today is the day when the truth on this issue will refuse to die and assault weapons will be banned from civilian ownership. That being said, it is certain that during the last five “dreadful years” of assault weapon violence by domestic terrorists in America, we have also witnessed a separate crime: “the crime of not doing enough.”


Samuel C. Damren is a Detroit lawyer.  He was an assistant Wayne County Prosecutor from 1975-78, and an assistant United States Attorney for the Eastern District of Michigan from 1978-81.