Rodricks: Why a Baltimore doctor, longtime firearms owner, gave up his assault rifles

In the video he posted on YouTube, Dr. John Flaks holds the AK-47 assault rifle he turned over to Baltimore County police after the Parkland, Fla., high school massacre.
In the video he posted on YouTube, Dr. John Flaks holds the AK-47 assault rifle he turned over to Baltimore County police after the Parkland, Fla., high school massacre. (YouTube)

One of Jacques Brel’s most-translated songs has a line that goes, “If we only have love, we can melt all the guns, and then give the new world to our daughters and sons.” Imagine that. Imagine Americans suddenly rising to that ideal and giving up their guns — specifically, their assault rifles — so that their children and grandchildren might not have to worry about getting shot at school.

Or at a concert. Or at the movies. Or on campus. Or at church.


But having a massive, national meltdown of assault rifles seems about as far-fetched as Donald J. Trump running, unarmed, into a school to confront an active shooter.

For such a meltdown to happen, Americans who possess assault rifles would have to care about something larger than the perverse pleasures derived from owning those weapons in the face of people, like me, who think they should be banned. There’s too much delight in clinging to your guns in spite of any logical argument from people you consider political adversaries.


Since the 2012 massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School reinvigorated the debate around gun ownership, the stances on gun issues of Maryland’s congressional representatives have fallen along familiar party lines.

It’s a manifestation of the super-partisanship and lack of respect for the common good that afflicts the nation.

As John Flaks said the other day: “Politics is like baseball. Everybody’s on a team and you support your team, and oppose the other side, no matter what, and without regard to the issue.”

Flaks is a physician, an anesthesiologist at Medstar Harbor Hospital in Baltimore. He considers himself a “moderate conservative” leaning toward the libertarian. He did not vote for Trump, but has friends who did.

He’s also a longtime firearms owner who believes Americans have a right to bear arms, but not assault rifles. Like a majority of adults surveyed in national polls, he believes assault rifles should be banned. They were designed for maximum killing in military combat; they should not be in private hands.

So, last week, Flaks turned over the two he had at his house, along with six high-capacity magazines, to Baltimore County police.

While the massacre of 14 students and three adults at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., prompted Flaks’ decision, he says he had been thinking about junking the guns for a while.

“Each time we had a [mass] shooting, I said to myself, ‘Get rid of this garbage, get rid of this junk,’ ” he says. “And I wasn’t going to sell them because they could get into the wrong hands.”

He announced and explained his decision on a YouTube video, holding up a Russian-made AK-47 with a 40-round magazine.

“This can inflict a massive amount of damage,” Flaks, sporting a Grateful Dead T-shirt, says in the video. “As quick as you can pull that trigger, you can get off 40 rounds. There’s no reason for this to be in my home. First of all, I don’t hunt. I don’t even eat animals. I’m a vegetarian. Second of all, this is a weapon of war. This is not what you need to protect your home from intruders. A simple shotgun will do.”

Flaks also got rid of a Chinese version of an SKS semi-automatic rifle, with bayonet attached.

With a renewed national focus on school security, The Baltimore Sun Media Group sent more than a dozen reporters to elementary, middle and high schools in the city and surrounding counties Monday to report on whether the systems’ protocols match the reality.

He bought both weapons 25 years ago at a Maryland gun show. He paid $199 for the AK-47, $99 for the SKS. At the time, Flaks had just completed his undergraduate degree and he was employed by a bail bondsman. He had a permit to carry a handgun, and he was knocking around with guys who liked firearms. He was intrigued, he says. But he never fell into the gun culture.

“I used to take [the rifles] to the range. But I bet I haven’t fired either in 20 years. I went to medical school and put them away.”


The rifles came out of the attic for the last time last week.

He wanted them destroyed, gone for good. And he made the video in the hopes that others will join the effort.

“I have friends who say this is a slippery slope,” Flaks says. “But I don’t buy that. I still have handguns, and I don’t plan to get rid of them. ... I have friends who voted for Trump. One of them owns several assault rifles. I think he’s contemplating getting rid of them.”

Flaks says one other thing influenced his decision to finally jettison the weapons of war. A couple of days after the massacre at Stoneman Douglas, he was in Mexico with his brothers for a Dead & Co. concert on the beach along the Riviera Maya.

“Feeling all that peace and love helped sway my opinion,” he says.

Grateful Dead. Jacques Brel. Whatever gets you there, the country will be better off.

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