This is not about the Second Amendment. Most Americans will never be convinced that the framers of the Constitution were thinking only about a militia when they wrote that “the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.” So let’s stipulate that Americans have the right individually to bear arms.
On the other side, there is also no argument about whether the government may specify some kinds of weapons which Americans are not allowed to bear. Nobody is allowed to stockpile H-bombs in their garage. Surface-to-air missiles and poison gas are also illegal.
After the so-called St. Valentine’s Day massacre in 1929, in which sub-machine guns were used by some gangsters to kill other gangsters in Chicago, the federal government imposed strict restrictions on such guns in the National Firearms Act of 1934. Since then, fully automatic machine guns, standard issue for military purposes, have been hedged with considerable restrictions for private citizens, making them essentially illegal to buy and own. Nobody complains about that restriction on gun rights of American citizens, including the National Rifle Association. There is no conceivable non-military purpose for machine guns in a civilized society.
So we can also stipulate that the government has the right and responsibility to regulate the ownership of weapons which can kill many people quickly. The question is, exactly which weapons should be regulated?
That brings me to assault weapons, guns which are semi-automatic, meaning that after firing a round, they automatically eject the cartridge casing and load the next round. The shooter only needs to pull the trigger to shoot again, allowing for very rapid fire, about one bullet every 2 seconds. When a high capacity magazine is employed, which carries to the gun 20, 50, or even 100 bullets, a shooter with minimal training could easily fire 20 to 30 rounds per minute for several minutes.
For what civilian purpose is such a weapon appropriate?
People and organizations like the NRA who oppose restrictions on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines argue that Americans need such weapons for self-defense. Criminals have powerful guns, so we law-abiding citizens need the same kind of guns to defend ourselves from attack. How many news stories have you read about a victim of a home invasion or mugging or school shooting who successfully defended themselves with an assault weapon? Imagine the situation: a homeowner hears a strange noise downstairs and gets their assault weapon out of the locked cabinet where it is stored and then shoots the intruders. When these guns are used against people, the purpose is overwhelmingly offensive, not defensive.
Would banning assault weapons and large magazines make a difference? When Jared Loughner attacked Rep. Gabby Giffords in Tucson, killing 6 people and wounding 13 others, he was stopped when he had to reload his 9-millimeter semi-automatic pistol. A similar situation occurred in a Maryland school shooting. Baltimore County Police Chief Jim Johnson wants to ban high capacity magazines, because a teacher was able to tackle a student who was reloading a double-barreled shotgun in that incident. Police believe that Adam Lanza fired at least 30 shots at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT, before having to reload.
Our security experts, the police forces across the country, are overwhelmingly in favor of banning assault weapons. Why don’t we do it? It is estimated that the NRA and other lobbyists against restrictions on guns spend thousands of times more money than those who want to limit guns. That is one reason, but not the only reason.
American culture, especially male culture, reveres guns. An American household is six times as likely as a Canadian household to own handguns. We kill more than 4 times as many people with firearms as all the other 30 highly industrialized countries put together.
The response of gun lovers to the massacre of children at the Sandy Hook Elementary School has been to buy and advocate for more guns. The NRA’s leader, Wayne LaPierre, suggested that armed guards be stationed at every school in the country. The same legislators who are cutting funds for education across the country are being exhorted by one of their biggest funding sources to appropriate money for 100,000 armed guards standing watch at our schools.
Meanwhile gun owners are on a gun buying spree, focused on assault weapons. Guns costing nearly $1000 are being purchased by men who worry that the reaction to Sandy Hook might be a revival of the ban on assault weapons which Congress refused to renew in 2004.
What does it mean to possess a weapon which can kill a crowd of people in seconds? I don’t know the answer. I have never owned a gun and don’t want one. I don’t think it defines my masculinity to be able to spray bullets all around me.
I would like to feel safer. But carrying a gun around won’t do that. Seeing men all around me carrying guns, or knowing that men at McDonalds, at the library, or at my school are carrying concealed weapons doesn’t make me feel safer.
Let’s ban assault weapons and high capacity magazines now.
published by the Jacksonville Journal-Courier, December 25, 2012