Amid a nationwide conversation about gun safety and widespread calls to ban assault rifles, some Republican lawmakers are arguing that the high-powered weapons are necessary — to kill wild hogs, prairie dogs and “other types of varmints.”
Calls for gun reform have reached a crescendo in recent weeks, escalated by last month’s mass shooting at a Uvalde, Texas, elementary school, in which a gunman killed 19 students and two teachers, and another recent shooting at Tops Supermarket in Buffalo, New York, in which 10 people were killed and three others wounded.
But many Republicans have remained unfazed, arguing that banning assault weapons — which are uniquely lethal because of their rapid rate of fire — isn’t the answer.
“If you talk to the people that own it, killing feral pigs in the, whatever, the middle of Louisiana. They’ll wonder: ‘Why would you take it away from me?'” Republican Sen. Bill Cassidy said in an interview published last week by Vice News, when asked specifically about the AR-15.
Cassidy, who is among the top 10 NRA-funded lawmakers, continued: “I’m law abiding, I’ve never done anything, I use it to kill feral pigs. The action of a criminal deprives me of my right.”
Sen. John Thune, the Senate minority whip who hails from South Dakota, offered a similar take to CNN on Tuesday: “In my state, they use them to shoot prairie dogs and, you know, other types of varmints. And so I think there are legitimate reasons why people would want to have them.”
Republican Rep. Ken Buck, of Colorado, echoed their sentiments in a House Judiciary Committee hearing on gun violence last week, when he called “blaming the gun” for mass shootings “small minded.”
“An AR-15 is a gun of choice for killing raccoons before they get to our chickens,” Buck said. “It is the gun of choice for killing a fox, it is a gun that you control predators on your ranch, on your farm, on your property.”
Critics on Twitter pointed out the weakness of those arguments, with one hunter arguing that anyone who needs an assault rifle to kill a chicken is a “wussie.”
Another social media user used Buck’s comments to jab at Republican Sen. Ted Cruz’s call for strengthening doors and adding security at schools in the wake of the Uvalde shooting.
“Maybe the chicken coop should be hardened, with a secure locked access door, and an armed police officer,” the person wrote on Twitter.
Far from being a weapon designed to shoot small animals, the AR-15 — which was used in both the Uvalde and Buffalo shootings — was initially developed to be used as a military weapon.
But as NPR reported in a 2018 story, the gun became popularized when it began to be sold, and marketed, to civilians. The US National Shooting Sports Foundation, for instance, began adopting the term “modern sporting rifles” to describe the weapons in 2009, softening their description despite them being no less lethal than a military-grade weapon.
The sale of the weapons was restricted under the Federal Assault Weapons Ban which remained in place from 1994 to 2004, when it expired.
No attempts to revive the ban — which a study by Northwestern Medicine has shown could have prevented mass shootings had it remained in place — have so far succeeded, though President Joe Biden has recently called on Congress to ban the weapons once more.
To express your opinion on gun reform proposals to your own representatives in Congress, you can look them up and contact them here: congress.gov/members