As a conservative, Republican gun owner, I think we need better gun regulations

 As a conservative, Republican gun owner, I think we need better gun regulations
© Getty Images

Just a month following the worst mass shooting in United States history, a depraved gunman burst through the doors of a small church in rural Sutherland Springs, Texas, and with cold-blooded precision, slaughtered 26 innocent souls. The carnage left in his wake was astonishing to digest, as the church routinely captured video of its services; last Sunday’s having just been released.

The Texas church gunman, an Air Force veteran separated from the service via a Bad Conduct Discharge (BCD), exhibited astonishing indifference as he casually walked the aisles, executing congregants who cowered under pews, even taking the time to single out crying children and dispatching many of his victims with a rifle round to the head.

His weapon of choice was a Ruger AR-556 MPR (Multi-Purpose Rifle), a most deadly effective “weapon of war” that can be chambered to fire rounds typically utilized by the military, and classified as 5.56 NATO and .223 Remington.

In possession of two additional handguns, and a 15, 30-round magazines for his semi-automatic rifle, the murderer emptied all 450 rounds of rifle ammunition into the church and its congregants. They never had a chance.

As I sat on the New York City set of CNN last Sunday afternoon, I numbly took in the horrifying news and updates in real time with the host of CNN Newsroom, Ana Cabrera. As the casualty count steadily climbed with updated news dispatches, I couldn’t help but be mentally and emotionally transported back those thirty-five days to Las Vegas, Nevada, and that other mind-numbingly horrific slaughter of innocents. It was there, on location in Las Vegas, that I spent some four days for CNN, in my role as a law enforcement analyst.

The shooter in the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino had selected a multitude of semi-automatic rifles for his deadly mission. He outfitted a number of them with bump fire stocks.

This aftermarket gimmick — a workaround designed to circumvent the federal ban on automatic weapons sales — aided the murderer in rapidly increasing his casualty count, which currently stands at 58 dead and over 500 wounded.

That’s roughly equivalent of the casualty count resulting from America’s bloodiest engagement in the Iraq War, the Battle of Fallujah in 2004. In just under ten minutes, the Las Vegas killer was nearly able to replicate the 82 servicemen killed and 600 wounded during the nearly two-month long engagement in Fallujah.

Allow that to sink in for just a minute.

My job as a television analyst is to provide the X’s and O’s related to law enforcement matters. Analysts are often asked to attempt to provide context, and the make sense of the often seemingly senseless. Following both of the incomprehensibly senseless tragedies, I gamely attempted to provide that clarity and explanation. The “tactical response” piece from law enforcement’s perspective was simple. I’ve led the FBI’s New York Office SWAT Team and been assigned to the FBI’s elite counterterror unit, the Hostage Rescue Team. I understand the X’s and O’s well enough.

However, making sense of this senselessness, well, that’s what I’m currently struggling with.

Over the course of the past week, I made a number of appearances on CNN, and attempted to explain causality in these two recent massacres. With numerous hosts, we fleshed out mental health issues, glitches and loopholes in current firearms laws, and pondered whether law enforcement — or anyone else for that matter — had missed any obvious signs.

And then, I began to explore a different route in my post-shooting calculus and analysis on-air. I openly questioned the recent proliferation of these incidents. And whether politically motivated, or perpetrated by an evil person or a sociopath seeking to ratchet up a body count, or in the case of Las Vegas, a still unidentified motivation, the concordant thread seemed to be an “assault rifle” in the hands of someone who shouldn’t be in possession of one.

The “assault rifle” can be defined differently by various jurisdictions, but it generally means: semi-automatic rifle with a pistol grip, detachable magazines, shrouded barrel, and flash suppressor. In the hands of the “triggered,” aggrieved, evil, politically motivated (terrorist), or mentally unbalanced human being, the “assault rifle” becomes a “weapon of war.”

Monday evening, the day following the Texas massacre, my father-in-law, a voracious consumer of FOX News, called to tell me he had just seen a clip segment of me on “Hannity.” Apparently, one of Sean Hannity’s producers had culled the internet for clips of what they determined to be the unhinged calling for gun control for a segment entitled “The Left and Members of the Media Call for Gun Control after Deadly Texas Church Shooting.”

The selectively edited clip, airing on his show at the 37:40 mark, contained video of me on CNN’s New Day that morning, speaking with host Christopher Cuomo about what needed to happen in order to prevent more “senseless tragedies” in the future.

I described the conditions of gridlock and special interest group interference that stymie any efforts to honestly review the conditions of our Second Amendment rights and legislative action that may or may not have changed anything in any particular “mass shooting” —generally defined as four or more casualties. I lamented the fact that rigid ideological adherence was making it impossible to break free from the bondage of insanity — doing the same thing over and over again and yet, expecting a different set of results.

The next day, folks weighed in on social media as to what my actual position on gun control might be. And I decided to make it clear:

I am a registered Republican.

My views generally hew to the conservative side.

I am a West Point graduate and an U.S. Army veteran.

I am a retired FBI Special Agent and credentialed as an FBI Firearms Instructor.

I am a gun owner.

As a retired law enforcement officer, via H.R. 218, I have a concealed weapons carry permit.

And finally, I am a staunch supporter of the Second Amendment.

All the above makes me an unlikely adherent to what Hannity often refers to as the “unhinged Left” or “gun-grabber” attempting to shamelessly politicize the Texas church shooting.

So what exactly do I  and numerous current and retired law enforcement colleagues —want to see in the wake of Texas?

It’s fairly simple actually and shouldn’t mean we’re advocating for “gun control”— which some on the Right view as the first steps in the government’s slippery slope advancement to disarming America.

1. We desperately need sensible measures to limit the availability of assault rifles to those who shouldn’t own them. And after we sew up the holes that sometimes allow someone like the Texas shooter to access a weapon of war, let’s ask ourselves this question: Why does any civilian need to own an assault rifle?

For hunting? Baloney. There are far better rifles for that pursuit.

Target practice/Gun enthusiast? Hogwash. Join the Military or the FBI, serve our great nation, as many of us have. You can get your fill of the thrill of automatic weapons fire and high capacity magazines. And then those weapons get returned to an arms room, until needed for war or law enforcement or training. They’re safe there, and it’s damned difficult to fathom how they’d find their way into the wrong hands.

Home defense? Sorry, but a good shotgun meets that need much better, unless you’re expecting an invasion along the shores of Long Island by a battalion of enemy combatants anytime soon.

2. And how about all states require that lost or stolen firearms be reported to the authorities. Only twelve states currently require a lost or stolen firearm to be reported. Researchers estimate that more than half a million firearms are lost or stolen from private residences every year. This is unconscionable. Is it really unreasonable to require responsible gun owners to report that one of their weapons might have fallen into the wrong hands?

3. Tell me again why we don’t have a federal ban on bump fire stocks? In the wake of the Las Vegas massacre, everyone seemed in concert with the notion of banning this circumvention of federal law. How silly: you can own one, but it is illegal to use one. Yet, in spite of the immediate aftermath apparent solidarity, the venerable NRA has just come out against new legislation restricting the sales of same.


4. And finally, make it a requirement that firearms procured through straw purchases be registered. Maybe you are ineligible to own a firearm because you’re a felon, or have been committed to a sanitarium, but your buddy is eligible to purchase one. He buys the gun, registers it and then sells it to you. And he never breaks the law? Isn’t this yet another frustrating means for firearms to fall into the wrong hands?

So, there you have it. That’s what I’m for. And many who are similarly aligned with me from the ranks of law enforcement, the Military, and the GOP, feel the same. Call me/us part of the “unhinged Left” all you’d like. Mutter that we’re advocating for gun control and depriving you of your Second Amendment rights.

And then, explain to me why any of the four suggested improvements to our current laws that I have listed above are nonsensical.

I’ll wait.

James A. Gagliano is a CNN law enforcement analyst and retired FBI supervisory special agent. He also serves as an adjunct assistant professor at St. John's University and is a leadership consultant at the Thayer Leader Development Group (TLDG) at his alma mater, the United States Military Academy at West Point. Follow him on Twitter @JamesAGagliano.