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  • Writer's pictureMario Nicolais

Everyone should read the Washington Post story on damage caused by AR-15 style weapons

On Thursday, the front page of The Washington Post website featured the most graphic, disturbing article I have ever read. It is a story every American should read.

Terror on Repeat” is a collection of photos, videos and personal accounts, many previously unpublished, collected by journalists and documenting the devastation caused by mass shootings involving AR-15-style weapons in America. It is a part of a larger series examining the weapon and its impact on our country.

Be forewarned, the editorial note that proceeds the article and cautions “extremely disturbing” and “upsetting” content does not — cannot — adequately prepare anyone for what follows. It is a lengthy article full of chilling videos, horrific pictures and heartrending quotations. 

I could not read it all in one sitting. By the time I made it through the first section, I was actively weeping and felt nauseated. 

Prior stories in the series contained graphic images. I cited “The Blast Effect,” an article detailing the damage bullets fired from an AR-15 do to the human body, in a column I wrote last April when a ban on such weapons died in the Colorado legislature. But it was not remotely the same. 

The first photo is of an AR-15 lying on concrete splattered with blood and framed by two blood-soaked pink sandals on either side. Pictures that follow document the devastation caused by these weapons. Pews and walls riddled with bullet holes and stained with blood. Metal doors pierced by the same, demonstrating how little protection they actually offer. Floors covered in pools of blood so thick that it cracked when it dried.

And those are just the photos.

Videos include children wailing for help or fleeing with their hands raised as police attempt to locate an active shooter. In one, Jason Aldean — he of the “Try That in a Small Town” controversy — seems confused by the rapid-fire ping-ping-ping sound coming from an AR-15-style rifle equipped with a bump stock. It took Aldean a few seconds to realize what was happening before he ran for cover backstage as his crowd screamed in terror.

I will not try to describe the personal accounts and quotes. They speak for themselves.

It is no wonder that the executive editor of The Washington Post felt compelled to publish a separate, linked column explaining the decision to publish this specific story. Eventually, her staff “decided that there is public value in illuminating the profound and repeated devastation left by tragedies that are often covered as isolated news events but rarely considered as part of a broader pattern of violence.”

They could not be more right.

Our country’s ADD approach to consuming news stories causes us to jump from one tragedy to another. In the wake of the Uvalde school shooting last year, I wrote a column that made this point. I detailed how easily gun control supporters were distracted from efforts to enact meaningful reforms.

Just a few weeks ago, I cross-examined U.S. Rep. Ken Buck, R-Windsor, in court. As he attempted to compare the violence that halted proceedings to another stoppage of House business, he cited a sit-in by Democratic members of the chamber after a mass shooting. But the congressman who once posed with an AR-15 painted to look like the American flag couldn’t remember which one. 

That is how commonplace mass killings have become — a sitting member of Congress could not remember that the incident that caused the sit-in left 49 people dead and 53 injured in an Orlando nightclub. The weapons of choice included an AR-style rifle.

To be fair to the congressman, I suffered similar lapses even while writing this column. As I sat at breakfast talking about it with my wife, she reminded me that the Boulder King Soopers killer had pleaded not guilty just a few days earlier in the week. What weapon did he use? An AR-556 pistol outfitted to perform like a rifle.

As we had that conversation, we were sitting at a restaurant across the street from another mass murder site. The positive in that case? The killer did not use an AR-style weapon and “only” killed five people across the metro area over a period of hours. A similar killing spree last month in Maine led to 18 deaths, many from use of a military-style rifle.

Of course, I was talking to a teacher who once had to lock herself into her classroom as a gunman roamed outside her school (and I frantically followed events unfolding on social media). She once ran with me through a Las Vegas casino when we thought we were under fire.

Is there any wonder it is hard to keep track of the death and destruction?

The Washington Post article should be updated and republished on every front page across America every time another mass shooting occurs. We should all be horrified and nauseated until this national tragedy is finally addressed and these weapons of death are no longer accessible to cause such terror.

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