Cerabino: Another time to wonder why assault weapons are legal

When three masked intruders broke into the back door of a home in Broken Arrow, Oklahoma, the person living there, Zach Peters, 23, picked up an AR-15 semi-automatic assault rifle and killed them all.

The three would-be burglars turned out to be teenagers without criminal records or firearms, and the shooting was ruled legally justifiable under Oklahoma’s castle doctrine law.

I was reading about that 11-month-old shooting because it’s an exceptionally rare case — and the most recent example I could find — of an AR-15 used as a defensive self-protection weapon.

The AR-15 is much more commonly used as an offensive weapon. And since that March 27 shooting last year in Oklahoma, AR-15s have been in the hands of the shooters in three of the 10 bloodiest mass killings in America:

The October 1 Las Vegas Mandalay Bay slaughter that killed 58 and wounded hundreds; the Sutherland Springs massacre that killed 25 people in a Texas church; and Wednesday afternoon’s Valentine’s Day massacre at a Parkland high school that killed 17 and wounded at least nine others.

That happened just in the past five months.

So if you’re keeping score, that’s 100 offensive deaths vs. three defensive deaths.

It’s important to keep score and ultimately to decide whether the AR-15 is a credible self-defense weapon.

Because if it’s not, then it’s possible to be both a defender of the Second Amendment’s right to own firearms and an advocate for regulating the sales of these military-style assault rifles.

Yes, we might actually get beyond the “thoughts and prayers” phase after a mass shooting and transition to some long-overdue action. Something more lasting than putting the flags at half-staff again.

After all, the controlling U.S. Supreme Court opinion in the Second Amendment is the Heller case in 2008, which found that Americans have a basic right to own a firearm for “traditionally lawful purposes, such as self-defense within the home.”

That’s not a blanket right to any weapon for any reason. The late Justice Antonin Scalia made that clear in his majority opinion.

“Like most rights, the right secured by the Second Amendment is not unlimited.” It is “not a right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner whatsoever and for whatever purpose,” Scalia wrote.

You’d have a better argument at claiming the AR-15 is a protected weapon, if you could show it being used in Scalia’s “self-defense within the home” example. But it turns out handguns are much better than that. Far more common. And safer.

And after combing through the online Nexis database, searching for stories that contained the words “AR-15” and “homeowner” and “self-defense,” it became pretty clear how fruitless this search was.

AR-15s just aren’t self-defense weapons. They’re too big for concealed carry too.

As it turns out, the AR-15 is lousy at just about everything except killing a lot of people in a very short time, which was its original military mission. The main difference between the military M-16 and the AR-15 is that the military weapon has a fully automatic function, which allows multiple bullets to fire with one press of the trigger.

This seems to be a distinction that barely matters, considering the amount of carnage that’s still capable with the civilian version.

The gun manufacturers have tried to recast this weapon as a “sporting rifle” or just “America’s rifle,” in a ham-fisted stab at lethal patriotism.

But if you look at the marketing of these weapons, it becomes clear that the target market is men who imagine themselves as warriors. Guys who dress up like commandos and play war.

The Freedom Group, a gun manufacturer that sells AR-15s, uses ads that show men dressed like special forces troops and brandishing weapons with slogans such as “versatility on the range or during patrol.”

During patrol? What exactly is the objective of these patrols?

Nikolas Cruz, the accused shooter in Wednesday’s slaughter at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, is a troubled 19-year-old who displayed a fascination with violence, white supremacy, and weapons on his social media postings.

He went on patrol at his old high school this week.

And he had the firepower to make it especially lethal — firepower we ought not feel straitjacketed to defend.

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