IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.
Senators Meet For Weekly Policy Luncheons On Capitol Hill
Sen. John Thune speaks to reporters on May 3 in Washington, D.C.Kevin Dietsch / Getty Images, file

Senator defends AR-15 ownership, points to shooting prairie dogs

The question isn’t why anyone would try to hunt small, furry animals with an assault rifle. The better question has to do with protecting human beings.


A few years ago, a relatively unknown person on Twitter suggested he needed assault rifles to kill the 30 to 50 “feral hogs” that run into his yard, endangering his children. A surprisingly robust conversation — and more than a few memes — soon followed.

This came to mind a couple of weeks ago when Vice News’ Elizabeth Landers asked Sen. Bill Cassidy why an American would need an AR-15. “Well, if you talk to the people that own it, killing feral pigs in, you know, whatever, the middle of Louisiana, they wonder why you take it away from them?” the Louisiana Republican responded.

Appearing to paraphrase a hypothetical constituent, Cassidy added, “I’m law-abiding; I’ve never done anything; I use it to kill feral pigs; the action of a criminal deprives me of my right.”

Whether the "right" to an assault rifle actually exists is open to some hearty debate.

This morning, however, the conversation appeared to shift in a different direction, when Republican Sen. John Thune also defended AR-15 ownership by pointing to a far less menacing animal. The South Dakotan told CNN’s Manu Raju:

“They are a sporting rifle. And it’s something that a lot of people for purposes of going out target shooting — in my state they use them to shoot prairie dogs and, you know, other types of varmints. And so I think there are legitimate reasons why people would want to have them.”

The Senate GOP whip went on to argue that he believes the focus should be on keeping such weapons “out of the hands of these young, in this case, male, very deranged, young men.”

For those unfamiliar with prairie dogs, it’s fair to say they’re quite a bit smaller than, say, feral hogs. According to the National Park Service, a prairie dog is about 12 inches long and weighs a couple of pounds. (In South Dakota, prairie dog control has been a real issue for many years.)

Let’s also note for context that while hogs have thick hides, prairie dogs do not — which is to say, no one would need a high-powered, semi-automatic battlefield-style weapon to kill them. An airgun will do the job just fine.

Using an AR-15 to shoot a prairie dog is like using a pile driver to crush a cockroach. The word “overkill” comes to mind.

But as relevant as these details are, the question isn’t why anyone would try to hunt small, furry animals with an assault rifle. Rather, the question is whether Republican policymakers support allowing Americans to buy these weapons that are too often used to shoot human beings.

Democratic Rep. Don Beyer of Virginia added this morning, “If you think shooting ‘varmints’ is more important than preventing mass shootings of children at elementary schools, you’re wrong.”