Op-Ed: The Painful Truth Behind Washington Posts AR-15 Series

On Monday morning, The Washington Post published a series of 3D animations to show “how bullets from an AR-15 blow the body apart.”

Within a few hours, a 28-year-old shooter armed with two assault rifles and a handgun fatally shot six people at a Nashville-area private Christian school.

As a result of that massacre—the 129th mass shooting in the United States in 2023—the Post’s exposé has been receiving sustained attention. One person described it as “the most powerful piece of journalism you’ll read this week.” Another described it as “one of the most important pieces of journalism ever written.”

This newspaper demonstrated the lethal wounds caused by AR-15s, which are rarely seen by the public. “The trajectory of two different hypothetical gunshots to the chest—one from an AR-15 and another from a typical handgun—to explain the greater severity of the damage caused by the AR-15.”

As part of the investigation, a team of visual reporters created 3D models to depict how bullets fired by “many mass killers’ weapon of choice” obliterated the bodies of two young victims.

The Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre in Newtown, Connecticut, on December 14, 2012, killed 26 people, including Noah Ponzer. The 6-year-old was shot three times.

“Noah’s wounds were not survivable,” the Post reported, citing 2019 court testimony from Wayne Carver, who was the state’s chief medical examiner at the time.

Peter Wang was shot and killed along with 17 others at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, on February 14, 2018. The 15-year-old was shot 13 times.

As the Post reported: “The combined energy of those bullets created exit wounds so ‘gaping’ that the autopsy described his head as ‘deformed.’ Blood and brain splatter was found on his upper body and the walls. That degree of destruction, according to medical experts, is possible only with a high-velocity weapon.”

“This is the trauma witnessed by first responders—but rarely, if ever, seen by the public or the policymakers who write gun laws,” the newspaper noted.

Guns outnumber people in the United States. In light of the National Rifle Association-backed Republicans’ opposition to meaningful gun safety laws—bolstered by the Supreme Court’s reactionary majority—it is relatively easy for people to purchase firearms in many states.

Several states now allow most adults to carry handguns without permits, including Tennessee.

Thousands of mass shootings have occurred since Noah, and more than two dozen others died at Sandy Hook, including last year’s massacre at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas. According to research, states with weaker gun control laws and high gun ownership rates have more mass shootings.

Additionally, gun regulations supported by the public, including bans on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, have been shown to reduce the number and severity of fatal mass shootings.

In the United States, guns have recently become the leading cause of death among children and teens, overtaking vehicle accidents. Approximately 26,000 kids could still be alive today if the U.S. had the same gun mortality rate as Canada, according to a study published last year.

Rather than polarizing debates about firearms, gun enthusiasts say now is the time for mourning, not politics.

Our nation is tired of commemorating gun violence in America with words and prayers alone.

Similarly, gun policy is complex and politically vexing, and we will not make everyone safe. It is plausible, however, that with a few pragmatic limits on firearms and those who can get them, we might be able to reduce gun deaths by a third, or 15,000, per year.

Unfortunately, we’re paralyzed in ways that threaten the well-being and democracy of our country.

Don’t bother us with pious calls to avoid politics. It would be better if we supplement thoughts and prayers with concrete actions based on evidence-gathering, based on hard conversations with people we disagree with, to reduce gun deaths so elementary schools no longer need to be graveyards.

If you’d like to read Washington Post’s American Icon series, click here.


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