Fighting mass murder: Guns Pt. 2
The gun “debate” in the aftermath of the Sandy Hook shootings has devolved into familiar territory. Gun advocates say the people are the problem and guns are no more to blame than cars are in car accidents. Gun control advocates say no one needs an AR-15 and a high capacity magazine to hunt deer.
Gun control proponents are targeting “assault rifles” as part of a new wave of legislation to try to limit gun violence. The problem is that so-called assault rifles aren’t operationally different from hunting rifles. If we ban the one that’s black, metal, with a folding stock and looks more badass, we’re really not solving anything if we’re still selling a wooden-stocked rifle that fires the same round.
Despite the use of AR-15 style rifles in high profile crimes, the majority of gun crime is committed with handguns in this country. And as far as mass shootings go, in 1991, a gunman entered Luby’s Cafeteria in Killeen, Texas, and used two handguns with 10 to 15 round magazines to shoot 50 people, killing 23.
In 2007, a gunman used two handguns with 10 and 15 round magazines to shoot 55 people, killing 32 at Virginia Tech University in Blacksburg, Virginia.
My point is that handguns alone with relatively small magazines can be used to carry out horrific mass shootings. Even if we ban high capacity magazines the truth is swapping a magazine takes just a couple of seconds. And handguns are easier to smuggle into a school, workplace or mall than an AR-15 style rifle.
Any comparison of the United States with gun crime in other countries is apples and oranges. Those other countries don’t have the hurdle of having gun ownership enshrined in their Constitutions and, more importantly, they don’t have the staggering amount of weapons the U.S. has. No country comes close. Don’t feed me Canada or Belgium’s gun murder stats because they were never awash in 9 guns per every 10 people like the U.S. is. And none of them approach the number of handguns the public possesses.
So what can we do on the gun side of the equation? We’re not going to ban guns. A ban would not pass constitutional muster and it simply wouldn’t work. Prohibition was a disaster because the overwhelming majority of Americans disagreed with the policy. Gun ownership has been an American birthright since the nation’s inception so Americans aren’t going to turn in their guns. To try to disarm the public would result in thousands of Ruby Ridges and Wacos every day across the country as determined gun owners would not relinquish their weapons.
A U.S. Marine made that point this week when he sent Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) a letter stating that he wouldn’t register his weapons.
So what Congress will try to do is reinstate the assault weapons ban. But it’s rife with loopholes. Even Diane Feinstein’s proposed new assault weapons ban exempts 900 rifles. And since any new law will grandfather ownership of existing rifles into the mix, millions of the banned rifles will still be in civilian hands.
I don’t have a problem with banning high capacity magazines. Jared Loughner, the shooter in the Gabby Giffords shootings, used a Glock 19 handgun with a 33 round magazine. There’s simply no good reason that makes extended capacity magazines indispensable. But keep in mind that swapping magazines is a very fast operation.
We need to close the gun show loophole. Thirty-three states allow unlicensed sellers to sell guns to people without background checks at gun shows. To purchase modern working firearms from a gun show, buyers should have to provide the same ID and information they would at a retail establishment.
To accommodate the so-called ‘law abiding citizen’ who has purchased guns in the past, we can expand services like Instacheck nationwide to expedite the buying process for responsible owners.
We need to end unregulated private sales. In California, private gun sales must go through a FFL licensed dealer with the same background checks and waiting periods as a retail purchase. Some estimates put private gun sales in America at 40 percent of all gun sales. It defeats the purpose of having purchasing requirements if we simply let people sell guns off Craigslist or through a garage sale to whoever has the cash. In fact, a friend of mine was murdered using a gun from just such a sale. Private sales should have to go through a dealer with records kept nationwide.
There are mechanical gadgets like the Hellfire system, Super Tac or GAT trigger that not only should be banned but retroactively banned. These devices enable semi-automatic rifles to fire at far higher rates than normal. There’s no justifiable reason for them.
The penalties for breaking these laws must be severe. And they need to include the provision that if you violate them, you lose the right to own firearms.
The Supreme Court has ruled that the government can regulate and limit gun ownership, just as the government can limit free speech in some circumstances. Our rights are not absolute. But it’s important that responsible gun owners aren’t treated as criminals.
Despite our efforts, there’s a hard truth about gun violence that we must acknowledge. We can’t prevent every shooting. The guns used in the Clackamas Town Center mall shootings and Sandy Hook shootings were stolen. Having the freedom of owning weapons coupled with an open society makes us vulnerable to gun crime. All we can do is make it more difficult for the wrong people to get weapons, heavily prosecute violators and harden targets.
We have a Congress that voted down a disabilities bill and had to have its arm twisted to vote relief for Hurricane Sandy victims. We have to keep our expectations realistic on what they’re going to do about gun laws. We have to also be realistic about what can be done to solve s uniquely American problem.