The Long Black Train

“There’s a long black train comin down the line
Feedin' off the souls that are lost and cryin'
Rails of sin only evil remains
Watch out brother for that long black train.”

Lately it feels like Josh Turner’s “long black train” has quietly slipped into our mountain valleys. One violent death after another has briskly stepped to the platform of our morning paper. We’re not used to that here. Sure, we’re a mostly keep to kin and kind bunch in Henderson County, but we pride ourselves on sharing our neighbor’s burdens as well as their beer and supper. Perhaps we got so caught up in the yarn ball of our own lives that we didn’t listen as well as we should. Or perhaps, given the reports that three of the four murders involved firearms, maybe there’s just too many guns around.

America is a land of opportunity for guns and bullets. There are approximately 192 million privately owned firearms in the U.S. of which 65 million are handguns. In 1998 alone, licensed firearms dealers sold an estimated 4.4 million guns. Additionally, it is estimated that 1 to 3 million guns change hands in the secondary market each year, and thanks to the gun lobby many of these sales are not regulated. However, there is one class of guns that is regulated—assault weapons.

Bans on assault weapons have been implemented to protect the public and law officer’s health and safety. Fully automatic weapons were restricted by The National Firearms Act of 1934 after they became the weapons of choice for organized crime bosses like Al Capone. By the 1990’s, cultural factors and technological advances had made semi-automatics the hot pick for criminal carnage. In fact assault weapons accounted for more than 17% of fatal shootings of police. It was obvious to almost everyone that these new weapons weren’t for duck hunting unless paté was on the menu.

The Assault Weapons Ban Bill that passed into law on September 13, 1994 and is due to expire this year, required domestic gun manufacturers to stop production of semi-automatic assault weapons and ammunition clips holding more than 10 rounds except for military and police use. Due to the National Rifle Association’s strenuous efforts against the Assault Weapons Ban legislation in 1994, they succeeded in getting pre-1994 semi-automatic assault weapons “grandfathered” in. It was such a “grandfathered” TEC-DC9 semi-automatic pistol that was used in the Columbine School massacre.

Semiautomatic weapons can be every bit as deadly as fully automatic machine guns. While a single shot weapon can also easily kill, it can’t spray the death and destruction that these specially equipped weapons can. Since semi-automatics automatically load the next bullet in the chamber, a user can fire up to thirty bullets in five seconds. Unlike semi-automatic hunting rifles that are designed to be fired from the shoulder, semi-automatic assault weapons with special grips and threaded barrels for silencers are designed to be spray fired from the hip thus maximizing death and injury. Any weapon, whether semi-automatic or fully automatic that delivers this kind of fire power is an assault on the life and liberty of law enforcement officers and the American public. No, these weapons don’t just “look scary” as the NRA contends they are scary and 76% of the public doesn’t want them back on the street. Fifty seven percent of gun owners don’t either. (

With the help of NRA friendly legislators, the firearms industry continues to manufacture dozens of assault weapons practically identical to those banned. With a nip here and a tuck there, Colt modified the banned AR-15 into a new “Sporter” model and Intratec’s TEC-9 became the AB-10. (The “AB” stands for “after-ban.”) The Bushmaster XM15 used in the Washington area gun spree is a copycat of the AR15 assault rifle banned under law. These new “sport” rifles aren’t the rabbit rifles your Grandaddy owned. Interestingly, last July’s issue of, Field and Stream, a magazine popular with hunters, released the results of its readers' poll on the state of hunting in America. When the readers were asked, "Do you consider assault-style rifles to be legitimate sporting guns? 67% responded "no."

What about the NRA’s contention that this legislation has been ineffective in saving lives? One letter writer to the Asheville Citizen Times even wrote, “…This legislation is nearly 10 years old and not one law enforcement official can point to a case where a life has been saved…This law is just hysterical hype over nothing.” In a 2003 report, "On Target: The Impact of the 1994 Federal Assault Weapons Act," based on Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) crime gun trace data obtained under the Freedom of Information Act and analyzed by experts at Crime Gun Solutions LLC, a private firm founded by veterans of ATF, show that the assault weapons banned by name in the Act have decreased by 66 percentage of overall crime gun traces since the statute was enacted in 1994. The study concludes “… that the Federal Assault Weapons Act has contributed to a substantial reduction in the use of assault weapons in crime, despite the industry's efforts to evade the law through the sale of copycat guns.” ( Brady Center for the Prevention of Gun Violence.)

We must oppose the heartless horsemen who roam the corridors of Congress spreading fear and cash. Presidential hopeful John Kerry was correct when he observed, “"There is a gap between America's field and stream gun owners, and the NRA's soldier of fortune leaders." Against the wishes of the law enforcement community, the NRA succeeded in convincing a compliant Congress to destroy gun-buyer background records only 24 hours after the sale. There is both necessity and safety in regulating fully automatic and semi automatic assault weapons. The Assault Weapons Ban has saved lives. Million Moms and North Carolinians Against Gun Violence asks you to contact our Congressmen and Senators to support it’s reauthorization. Million Mom’s invites you to join us Mother’s Day in Washington DC as we use our voices and our votes to protect America’s children from real weapons of mass destruction right here at home.

To my readers: If you ever wonder if I get comments on these columns, I do occasionally. What are your thoughts on the matter?
Email Eva

*The opinions stated in this page are those of Ms. Eva Ritchey and do not necessarily represent the views of CyTech Computers & Internet Solutions, Inc..
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