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Washington State Assault Rifle Ban

Washington State Assault Rifle Ban

By David Yamaguchi
The North American Post

Grizzly bear Photo Jean Beaufort CC0 via Wikimedia Commons

It was with pleasure that I listened to KUOW radio report on Governor Jay Inslee signing Washington State House Bill 1240 into law on April 25th. It bans the sale, manufacture, importing and distribution of assault-style semiautomatic weapons.

While arguments for and against assault rifles have been widely vetted in the media, I have yet to read my perspective expressed. It is that of a former forester who previously carried a 12-gauge shotgun in rural Alaska for self-defense against grizzly bears.

In the spring of 1980, shortly after being admitted as a graduate student to the UW Forestry School (now a part of the School of Environmental & Forest Sciences), I received an offer for a life-changing summer job as a field assistant on two new research studies.

While my main job was to collect tree cores from old-growth trees the length of the Washington Cascades, three of us of us would break away for three weeks in midsummer to join a second team collecting lake-sediment cores in the south-central Brooks Range, Alaska.

The Brooks Range, then and now, is true wilderness. It separates the Alaskan interior from the Arctic Ocean. Flying out in float planes and helicopters from the village of Bettles, the last outpost, no-nonsense Vietnam-veteran pilots would slowly circle our research sites — remote small lakes — before dropping us off for 4-5 days at each.

The circling served two purposes. First, it acquainted us with the lay of the land around what would be our camps. The second was to ensure that grizzly bears were not lurking in the brush before we set down.

Like soldiers, our deplaning instructions were explicit. Our primary task was to load the gun, which pilots required that we unload, and they inspected, before we boarded their planes and choppers.

Our party of four carried a seven-shell shotgun because it was the simplest bear-gun we could carry, yet use effectively as non-hunters. With it, we could certainly hit a bear.

A UW wildlife professor had taught us the method at a shooting range before we left Seattle. We were instructed to quietly wait and watch a bear. Then if he began charging, we were to fire the first shot at 100 yards.

The goal of that first shot was to stun, knock down or roll the bear without fail.

Accordingly, our first shell was buckshot, which would emerge in a spray pattern.

The next shell behind it was a big lead ball that filled the top of each shell. Its goal was to let the now-wounded and angry bear really have it, ideally while he was still dazed on the ground.

As these two shots would be insufficient, we were to let him have the third shot, buckshot again when the even angrier bear got back up and resumed his advance.

The fourth shell was the lead ball again.

Shells 5-7 were all lead balls. At that point, if we were still alive, the bear would be close enough for us not to miss.

“Just stick the (gun) barrel in his mouth,” the old wildlife professor had told us with a smile.

In retrospect, our research parties had set out too lightly armed. We should have carried one such shotgun per person, or minimally two for the four-person team. By practice-shooting spaced cardboard boxes in the evenings, we found that none of us could get the shots off quickly enough, for we had to hand-pump each shell into the chamber after each shot.

Today, the internet tells us that grizzly bears can weigh 900 pounds and run 35 miles an hour at short distances. After each expedition, we felt grateful for not having had to test them.

By contrast, members of the famed 1805-06 Lewis & Clark expedition, did evaluate two Montana grizzly bears with their best-available US Army-issue rifles. After the first encounter, Lewis famously wrote, “these bears being so hard to die rather intimidate us all; I must confess that I do not like the gentlemen and had rather fight two Indians than one bear.”

My bottom line: if a shotgun suffices for grizzly-bear defense in the Alaskan wild, there is little need for assault rifles in everyday American life. Nothing with the size, claws and teeth of a grizzly is likely to enter your home in the night.

My workmates and I survived three such Brooks Range trips just fine. We came home to live long enough to become grizzly ourselves.