Las Vegas Sun

August 14, 2018

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Sun editorial:

Time to draw a line between needs of military and needs of civilians

Tracer ammunition was developed so soldiers could more effectively kill enemy combatants at night and over long distances. It was later was found useful in air warfare, where it helped pilots see the trajectories of the bullets fired from their planes.

So what need would there be for civilians to have tracer bullets?

There isn’t one, which is why some Americans may have been surprised by last week’s news that Stephen Paddock legally bought hundreds of rounds of tracer ammo before the Oct. 1 mass shooting on the Strip.

Authorities said Paddock purchased the ammunition from Douglas Haig, an Arizona aerospace engineer who reported that he sold ammo as a hobby. Although Haig was charged with manufacturing armor-piercing bullets, which are banned, the tracer rounds he sold to Paddock were legal.

This is yet another example of why the U.S. needs to beef up its gun safety laws.

Tracer bullets are sold for fun, and it’s easy to see why a responsible gun owner might buy them. They contain a pyrotechnic compound at their base that ignites when a round is fired, then glows as the slug speeds through the air. Shooting tracer ammunition at dusk or in the dark is like combining a light show with target practice.

But it’s equally easy to see how the stuff can be devastatingly dangerous in the wrong hands. There’s a reason it’s been used in the military since before World War I: It gives shooters a huge advantage by allowing them to see where their bullets are flying and therefore train their fire on their targets.

Combined with high-capacity magazines and bump stock devices like Paddock used to fire his semiautomatic rifles virtually like fully automatic machine guns, tracer rounds make weapons even more deadly.

They’re banned in California, and they need to be prohibited everywhere. The same goes for bump stocks and high-capacity magazines.

Many gun enthusiasts will disagree and may argue legitimately that responsible gun owners should be able to purchase the special ammo.

But for gun owners, accessories like tracer bullets and bump stocks raise a fundamental question: Is your right to have fun worth the damage being done by your toys?

Granted, blasting an old washing machine with 100 rapid-fire glowing bullets without reloading might be a hoot, but what about the potential cost to public safety?

And please, don’t start with the argument that items like these have a legitimate value, like the one about bump stocks being developed to allow disabled individuals to fire semiautomatics. There are other ways for those individuals to protect themselves, and besides, bump stocks are marketed to recreational nondisabled shooters — not as a medical device like a prosthetic or a mobility scooter.

And surely no one but the most extreme Second Amendment zealot would argue that the purchase of bump stocks and tracer bullets should be protected by the Constitution. The Founding Fathers were wise to give Americans the right to protect themselves against government overreach by arming themselves, but that was back in the days of single-shot muskets. Today, should that mean that Americans should be able to purchase their own tanks? Their own high-altitude bombers? Their own nuclear weapons?

Of course, that would be insane.

And on a much lower level, so is civilian purchase of tracer bullets. The military needs them; civilians do not.

Although it’s highly unlikely that any action to curtail the National Rifle Association and gun manufacturers will happen at the federal and congressional level in the near future, Nevada lawmakers need to be ready with a package of gun-safety legislation during the 2019 session.

It’s time to follow California and stop the sale of tracer ammo in Nevada.