Young Army officer veteran making himself the ‘poster child’ for gun-control

Army veteran Nate Bethea

In the aftermath of the Orlando terrorist attack, it has become “hip” to hate on the gun culture. From made-up words like “assault weapon”, to a reporter claiming he got “short-term PTSD” from firing an AR-15, there seems to be no shortage of people who have picked up a firearm one time (we hope) and declared themselves “experts”.

On the other side of the gun control coin, you have your select group of individuals who actually do know quite a bit about firearms. From time in the police force to a stint of military service, you’re bound to find someone in even one of the most overwhelmingly pro-gun demographics that feels the citizenry shouldn’t be allowed to own a semi-automatic variant of their current or former duty weapon.

Former US Army Infantry officer Nate Bethea is one such man.

In his New York Times op-ed article titled I Used an Assault Rifle in the Army. I Don’t Think Civilians Should Own Them, Bethea began his titular argument talking about his experience as a US Army officer. Starting from his humble beginnings in the ROTC program in Indiana, he immediately likened his M16/M4 series rifle to the AR-15 and Sig Sauer MCX, claiming that while  “it has been years since I held one…regardless of the model -an M16, an M4 or a civilian variant like the AR-15 or Sig Sauer MCX- I’m confident I could disassemble it blindfolded.”

Immediately, my years of firearms experience -both in fielding, selling, training and maintaining- kicked in my cynicism after reading his comment. With the Sig Sauer MCX being a piston weapons system practically built from the ground up instead of the direct-impingement system of the M4 series of weapons, the internals are very different. I smirked as I imagined Bethea clumsily fumbling around blindfolded, like a teenager trying to unhook his first bra as he navigated the extra rods and springs associated with piston rifles.

However, giving the man the benefit of the doubt, I read on.

Talking abut his post-commission deployment to Afghanistan and subsequent return, he brought up several scenarios in which he was confronted with stressful situations and immediately reached for his imaginary M4- or at the very least, wished he had one. From waking in the middle of the night, to getting into a fender-bender or seeing a teenage kid dressed in black running close behind him, he expressed in detail the effects that combat had had on him and projected those effects into an opinion.

His opinion? You don’t need a semiautomatic rifle like an AR-15, which he repeatedly (and erroneously) referred to as an “assault rifle”.

These weapons are intended for the battlefield, he opined sententiously. “I don’t want an assault rifle, because I don’t want to think of my home country as a battlefield. I don’t want civilians to own assault rifles, because I think the risks outweigh the rewards. If people really do believe that they need them, maybe it’s because they see a battlefield where others don’t.”

As a former infantryman-turned-writer myself, I can appreciate the service of Bethea. I’m sure he earned his Combat Infantry Badge and did his duty the same as any other grunt on the field who was sent off to war. If anything, I respect his opinion to the extent that of all people, he has most certainly earned his right to give it. To quote Voltaire, “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it .”

While I may defend his right to say what he put to print, I feel I also have an obligation to set the record straight on a few things that he said.

First off, stop calling it an “Assault Rifle”. With the exception of the small handful of aging automatic weapons in civilian circulation since restrictions were put into place around 1986, you’re unlikely to ever get your hands on an “Assault Rifle” unless you have a ton of cash (we sourced one at $19,000) and a ton of time to fill out ATF paperwork and wait for permission from the Feds.

What Bethea is referring to is the semi-automatic AR-15 (which stands for Armalite model 15), a rifle that fires an intermediate cartridge considered too weak for ethical deer hunting in many states and will only fire one round per squeeze of the trigger.

Essentially, many of us who grew up in the dark times of the 90’s Assault Weapons Ban will remember firing vintage-looking sporting rifles that had many of the same features of AR-15s, such as the Mini 14, which was exempt from the ban:

Yet these two rifles, short of the mechanism in which they operate, are practically cousins. They fire the same round, have the same capabilities and even found their ways into the patrol cars of law enforcement communities around the USA.

So if neither are assault rifles, which is an assault weapon? Again, none of them- or at least not in the way one would think. The term “assault weapon” generally applies to cosmetic features that make a weapon look “scary”.

Lastly, while I can understand Bethea has disdain for such firearms, banning isn’t the answer. The 90’s Assault Weapons Ban had little to no effect on crime and even gave us Columbine massacre, despite the fact that the perpetrators broke every conceivable gun control law in the books.

Our Second Amendment is more than just the right to own rifles for sport or home defense. The Second Amendment affords us the ability to use contemporary weapons against a tyrannical government, provided that the will of the people is not met and all options have been exhausted.

The concept in theory may be old, but the practice of the amendment is as recent as 1946, when dissatisfied veterans who returned to a corrupt government in Athens, Tennessee overthrew the government in order to restore fair elections. Those men understood their oath to support and defend the Constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic- and they were willing to die by the hands of their fellow Americans ( who had admittedly lost their way) in order to restore the rights of those oppressed in the very country that stood as a beacon for freedom. They took up personal arms, they raided National Guard armories and they used explosives until the corrupt officials surrendered in the early hours of the following morning. When the job was done, they cleaned all the weapons they stole and returned them to the armory before sunrise.

These men didn’t need to fight the corrupt political machine in their community. They didn’t need free speech or elections and they didn’t need to rebel. But rebel they did- and they made a righteous stand that enriched this country, despite earlier demonization during WWII concerning the concept of armed revolt by veterans through an op-ed in -you guessed it- The New York Times.

So, in that respect – maybe Bethea is right. I don’t need an AR-15.  But the last time I checked, it was called The Bill of Rights, not the “Bill of Needs”.

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  • Andy Wolf

    Andy Wolf is an Appalachian native who spent much of his youth and young adulthood overseas in search of combat, riches, and adventure- accruing decades of experience in military, corporate, first responder, journalistic and advisory roles. He resides in North Carolina's Blue Ridge Mountains with his K9 companion, Kiki.

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