There isn’t a single person in this country who is not sickened by the epidemic of mass shootings that have become commonplace to the point of insanity. If you ask an American about a mass shooting the first question they have is “Which one?” It is especially sickening to see people targeted because of their race (and we have seen several instances of African Americans, Latinos, and Asians being specifically singled out) or of innocent children being mass murdered.
So why does this keep happening in America? Is it mental illness, violent video games, movies, TV shows, Rock and Roll music, social media, not enough Jesus in our schools? Every other country in the world has these same issues and they don’t have mass shootings. So, what could be the difference? Could it be easy access to very effective (lethal) firearms, something no other developed country has? The answer is yes.
We also have a lot of traffic fatalities in this country and while the obvious cause is vehicles, we don’t blame cars or suggest banning them. We do mandate that cars have substantial safety designs to protect the passengers and we do mandate training and licensing to operate a vehicle. When it comes to firearms, we already have a lot of regulations restricting certain types of firearms, requiring background checks, minimum age requirements for purchasing, training and licensing requirements for hunting or concealed carry. These don’t apply in all cases but for most Americans they do. Some states and localities have even stricter requirements.
I refuse to believe that nothing can be done to reduce gun violence in America. I also refuse to see schools, shopping centers, churches, etc. turned into armed fortresses or prison camps. Do we really want to live in a country where we see armed guards at every corner, where we have to send kids to school with bullet proof back packs, where everyone feels that they have to carry a gun on their person at all times because at any moment they may need/want to shoot and kill their fellow American?
If easy access to guns is the problem (and it is), then what can be realistically done? Australia, New Zealand, and the U.K. passed outright bans on the vast majority of firearms in civilian hands following mass shootings there and it worked. We could do that here but we won’t. More specifically the issue comes down to Assault Weapons, which are the main weapon of choice for mass murderers. They also happen to be extremely popular with millions of law-abiding people.
Some argue that the Assault Weapons Ban (AWB) that was in effect from 1994 to 2004 reduced mass shootings. The truth is more complicated. The first problem is that looking at mass shootings with an assault weapon during that period does show a slight decline from the period before and the period after, but the numbers are too small to be statistically significant so no causality can be made. Second, the AWB did not actually ban any Assault Weapons, it only banned certain cosmetic features such as bayonet lugs, flash hiders, grenade launchers and folding or collapsible stocks. None of these change the way an Assault Weapon functions or its lethality. During the AWB you could still buy the exact same AR-15 rifle (minus these few cosmetic features) as before, firing the same ammunition from the same 30-round magazine.
The AWB did ban magazines with a capacity of more than 10 rounds but existing higher capacity magazines were grandfathered in, and there were a lot of 30-round AR-15 magazines in circulation already. There were so many that the price of these magazines barely increased after the ban.
I don’t pretend to know what the right path forward may be, but I do feel that a grand bargain could be possible. One that both makes it harder for some people to access firearms and protects and even expands the rights of lawful gun owners. It has happened before with the Firearms Owners' Protection Act of 1986. This law forbade anyone with a misdemeanor domestic violence conviction of owning a firearm (including retroactively) and it ended the registration of new fully automatic weapons (machine guns) sending prices skyrocketing for existing legal ones. It also expanded protections for gun owners transporting firearms across state lines and narrowed the definition of who needed to have a Federal Firearms License to exclude hobbyists.
Gun control advocates have their wish list but so do gun rights activists. Surely a peace can be negotiated that leaves both sides happy and our communities and children safer.
Jorge Amselle has a Juris Masters (JM) degree. He is an educator and published author. He was also on the staff of the National Rifle Association (NRA) for over three years and is a Certified Firearms Instructor. He is a Member and Neutral for Conflict Management Consortium (CMC) where he is a mediator and trainer.