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Wisconsin case about murder, not political football

By Dave Workman


SAF logoLet's get something straight right up front: Chasing down unarmed people and shooting them in the back probably does not meet the legal standard of self-defense in any jurisdiction of the United States.

That said, whether the slaying of six Wisconsin deer hunters and the wounding of two others on Nov. 21 was precipitated by shots fired at accused killer Chai Soua Vang, or whether he initiated the Sunday massacre unprovoked is up for the prosecutors, defense counsel and a jury to sort out.

Meanwhile, some in the media and a couple of national gun control organizations would be well advised to refrain from turning this ugly incident into a game of political football. Alas, it did not take long – some might even observe the victims weren't even cold yet – before the hysterics began. Asking whether gun control zealots "have no shame" is wasted breath.

The Violence Policy Center, hardly a bastion of credibility on firearms issues, rushed to alarm the public that the SKS rifle allegedly used by Vang can "expel projectiles at velocities that are capable of penetrating the type of soft body armor typically worn by…law enforcement officers."

Of course that's true. Every bullet commonly used in centerfire hunting rifles of all calibers can do that, and the VPC knows it. Soft body armor is primarily designed to stop handgun bullets. This is why gun rights organizations traditionally oppose legislation to ban so-called "armor-piercing bullets." Such legislation, if enacted, would ban ammunition for every hunting rifle on the planet, which, of course, would delight the extremists at the VPC.

Besides, this case had nothing to do with the police, and none of the victims was wearing soft body armor. The argument has no relevance.

The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence also danced through the blood, declaring that SKS rifles "should be banned for civilian use." Twisting remarks attributed to Lawrence Keane, senior vice president and general counsel for the National Shooting Sports Foundation, on the pages of the New York Times, the Brady Bunch contended the SKS is not suitable for deer hunting because it fires an "underpowered" cartridge. Keane subsequently told me the comments he made to a Times reporter were taken somewhat out of context, and I believe him. Larry Keane never employed Jayson Blair.

Ironically, perhaps laughably if it were not associated with such a tragic event, the gun control crowd can't keep its rhetoric straight. An editorial writer at The Capital Times in Madison went on a rant about the SKS, not because it is "underpowered," but because it is "a high-powered semiautomatic…carbine." The writer also erroneously sneered that "Semiautomatic weapons are increasingly popular among hunters of a not particularly sporting ilk."

Since neither the gun control fanatics, nor a journalist who should have checked before writing, seem to know what they're talking about, here are some facts.

The 7.62x39mm is ballistically similar to the .30-30 Winchester, a cartridge that has been used successfully in the Wisconsin deer woods for more than a century. On the power scale, it's something of a weak sister to the more popular .308 Winchester, .30-06 Springfield or .300 Winchester Magnum.

SKS rifles are popular among thousands of responsible upper Midwest sportsmen and women, including – by his own admission to the Eau Clair Leader-Telegram – some hunting partners of Sawyer County Sheriff James Meier. Long before the SKS came along, Remington, Winchester and other gun makers marketed semi-auto hunting rifles early in the last century. That "ilk" of ethical hunters spans generations.

That the victims of this crime "had access to guns and knew how to use them" as an editorial whined, is also irrelevant. When the shooting started, it appears only one of the victims was actually armed. Besides, these people used their firearms for hunting. They had no idea they were walking into a deadly confrontation.

Keep this in perspective: The Wisconsin case is about six alleged homicides and two attempted murders. It is not about gun politics, and it should not be shamelessly exploited toward that agenda. Let's focus on prosecuting one individual for a horrible crime, not penalizing a million gun owners for the rifles they own.

Dave Workman is a nationally-recognized firearms writer and senior editor of Gun Week, a newspaper owned by the Second Amendment Foundation.

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