Yet again a community in America is dealing with the deaths of innocent adults and children due to senseless gun violence after the horrific tragedy in Newtown. Lest we forget the movie theater shooting in Aurora, the Sikh temple shooting in Wisconsin, the mall shooting in Oregon, or the seemingly innumerable shootings that have taken place in recent memory there seems to be a never ending cycle of mourning the victims then shortly thereafter forgetting about whatever happened—and the same thing will happen again this time—or maybe it won’t.
Folks across America are beginning to try to end this pattern by demanding change to our nation’s gun laws. I wrote after the Aurora shooting of my feelings on guns and gun related tragedies, but I think that far too often general thoughts are buried amongst the avalanche of emotion surrounding gun control/gun rights topic (for thoughts on gun culture, try here and here). So, I’d like to propose something very specific—that America must reinstate the assault weapons ban. The Federal Assault Weapons Ban (AWB) was passed in 1994, banning certain types of semi-automatic firearms or “assault weapons.” The law was limited to a ten year period and expired in 2004. There have been multiple attempts to reinstate the law, all being unsuccessful so far.
I know, I know, “guns don’t kill people, people kill people.” But people are using guns to kill those people—and that’s my problem (When steak knives become the leading instrument used in violent deaths, I’ll be the first one to propose new regulations on steak knives). But to be honest, guns do kill people—there are over 500 accidental gun deaths a year. There’s also the argument that more guns would make people safe. There are roughly 300 million guns in America, what will make us safer? 400 hundred million, 500 hundred million? Gun rights activists correlate the lack of gun deaths in Switzerland to the prevalence of guns among the populace. Yet nations such as Britain, Australia, and Japan with very strict gun control laws and very low gun related deaths defy the argument that taking away the guns will make law-abiding citizens less safe. Britain and Australia both enacted tough laws after similar gun massacres so those now calling for more gun control in the wake of this tragedy are not without precedence.
All the young victims in CT were shot with an “assault weapon,” and similar weapons were also used in Aurora and Oregon. The shooter in Wisconsin used extra-capacity magazines for his handgun. Yes, handguns are used to kill people every day, but these assault weapons increase the death toll exponentially. Oddly, the weapons used in Aurora, Oregon, Wisconsin, and CT were all purchased legally yet were not used illegally until they were used in accordance with their designation as “assault weapons.” There is no reason for the public to have access to these dangerous weapons; they represent a serious public health risk. Gun advocates will counter that guns are for protection, sporting, or hunting. OK, let’s go with that. I have no problems with hunting rifles, and I’ll even concede handguns for protection, but it’s the assault weapons that need to go. So, I’d like to propose reinstating the AWB with some modifications.
First, I propose banning so-called assault weapons. As evidenced by the fact that the CT shooter’s gun was “grandfathered” in despite stricter gun laws being enacted, simply restricting future manufacturing or purchasing of these weapons is not enough, rather all of these weapons must be taken out of the public. For such I propose something like the following, returning the gun to the manufacturer in exchange for another gun or allowing these weapons to be permanently stored at gun ranges. The latter would solve the fear of the “government taking all our guns” and still allow them to be used for “sporting.” If such weapons really are just for “sporting,” there should be no complaints about them only being available at a gun range. Privately owned businesses could store the individual’s weapons for them and make them available for use at the range only.
Second, I would propose limiting the sale of high-capacity magazines. As evidenced in Wisconsin and Aurora, such magazines allow an individual to do a large amount of damage without even having to reload. Again, gun advocates claim these are used at firing ranges, fine—then these same folks shouldn’t have any problem keeping them at the range only.
Finally, for those who fear the “slippery slope” that limiting some guns will lead to the eventual illegality of all guns, I propose the law also have an expiration date, such as the initial AWB did in 2004. For the period of time the law would be in enactment, I propose independent studies be implemented to examine the effectiveness of the law. For example, did the ban on assault weapons lead to a decrease in death by assault weapons? At the end of the period, the law would be re-examined, utilizing the studies to determine if the law was effective. Such could be done repeatedly.
This is my proposal, some will think it goes way to far, some will think it doesn’t go far enough, but either way, something has to change. Our nation cannot continue to suffer repeated tragedies and sit idly by—this can and must be a defining moment in the history of our nation. Will we take steps to create a safer society? Or will we simply kick the can down the road and forget all about this horrible tragedy and whether anything could be done to prevent it…until the next tragedy strikes?