The shooting in Orlando is now the worst civilian perpetrated mass shooting in American history. With each new senseless tragedy, we find ourselves debating gun control again.
First, understand there is no winning when it comes to guns. There will always be a way to get around restrictions because there are so many guns in circulation, including millions of semi-automatics legally owned by law-abiding citizens. Background checks, weapons bans, mental health registries, may help sometimes but will not prevent ALL criminals and terrorists from doing what they set out to do. Mass shootings have been a reality since the 1960s and even before.
As we see the casualties mount with each new shooting, the one question gun advocates and gun opponents should both be asking, is: is there a way to save even one life, without threatening each person's ability to defend their own?
The answer lies in examining the country's most contentious debate: a federal ban on "assault weapons." Since 2004, when the country's ban on certain assault weapons expired, politicians and gun opponents have been fighting for its reinstatement.
On the opposing end, the NRA, led by Wayne LaPierre fears that a ban on "assault weapons," namely semi-automatic guns will lead to a ban on handguns, then shotguns and revolvers and ultimately all guns. This is a parade of horribles argument fueled by a fear over the loss of Second Amendment rights.
Let's assuage those fears. In 2008, in District of Columbia v. Heller, the Supreme Court ruled that the Second Amendment guarantees an individual right to keep and bear arms, for self-defense and the defense of the country. The Second Amendment originally arose out of antifederalist concerns that citizens wouldn't be able to defend themselves if a tyrant came to power. So, considering it is settled law, that citizens can own guns, a ban on all weapons would violate constitutional rights and be easily challenged by a powerhouse like the NRA.
SCOTUS also says the Second Amendment is not absolute, saying, "The Court's opinion should not be taken to cast doubt on longstanding prohibitions on the possession of firearms by felons and the mentally ill...or laws imposing conditions and qualifications on the commercial sale of arms." The latter may support bans on the commercial sale of certain types of firearms.
The last federal assault weapons ban passed in 1994, after five children were killed in a school shooting. The law did not ban all guns; in fact nearly 700 guns were still legal. It banned semi-automatic guns with two or more militaristic features. Some called these cosmetic criterion useless because gun manufacturers merely tweaked their designs to get around the restrictions. The ban also made high-capacity magazines, capable of holding more than ten rounds, illegal. The ban on high-capacity magazines is the critical point for me. Why? Because history demonstrates that the best chance we have at saving lives while preserving Second Amendment rights lies with banning high-capacity magazines. Some states already have.
Many will say, myself included, that no one needs more than ten rounds in a magazine to defend their home or to hunt. It is easy to reload. High-capacity magazines should only be employed by the military or law enforcement. Our country already bans civilian use of fully automatic weapons, aka machine guns, which can fire up to one thousand consecutive rounds following one pull of the trigger. In contrast, semi-automatic weapons require pulling the trigger every time you want to fire a bullet. They fire up to a bullet per second. With a 30-round magazine that means it may take only 30 seconds to fire 30 shots. However, with a ten round magazine, it takes ten seconds to fire ten bullets but then, wait for it... there is a pause. Time is wasted to reload. Time that equates with a chance to save a life. Can shooters bring more than one ten-round magazine? Sure, the Virginia Tech shooter did. But, it's the time to reload that is critical. In Colorado, the Aurora movie theater shooter legally purchased a 100-round magazine. The shooting lasted just two minutes yet twelve people were killed and seventy-two injured, including many who are now paralyzed. Police responded within 90 seconds. If the shooter had to reload, lives may have been saved. Never underestimate what can happen in seconds; someone could run to safety, someone could tackle the shooter or police could fire a fatal shot. Reloading constitutes a life saving distraction. But don't take my word for it. Let's look at the historical facts.
Opponents of reinstating the assault weapons ban point to a government study that the ban had little to no effect on crime because semi-automatic weapons accounted for about two percent of all crimes. But what if we isolate mass shootings? Did the ban make a difference? And if so, how? Here's what I found. Assault weapons, including semi-automatic guns, were the weapons of choice in the majority of mass shootings. From 1994-2004 when the ban was in effect there were about 40 mass shootings. From 2004-2016, there were about 45 mass shootings. The amount of mass shootings stayed relatively the same in both decades. More handguns were used during the ban since semi-autos were harder to acquire. However, if you look at the number of casualties you will see a drastic difference. During the ban, about 160 people were killed but in the last decade since the ban expired, more than 400 people have been killed. Almost the same number of mass shootings but close to one-third less casualties when some semi-auto guns and all high-capacity magazines were banned. For this reason, if you look at the list of the 26 worst mass shootings in U.S. history you will see only two took place during the ban. One involved a domestic incident where the shooter had his gun since the 1980s and the other was Columbine, where the shooters got a gun from a gun show that didn't require background checks. So, if you are a gun advocate then I ask you this: if you can hunt, if you can defend your home, if you can carry your semi-autos and as many ten round magazines as you want, are you willing to spare those few seconds that could save lives? The seconds it takes a mass shooter to reload a new magazine?
If your answer is still no then consider this chilling fact. Newtown shooter Adam Lanza got his guns and ammunition from his mother. Background checks and bans wouldn't have stopped him from bringing guns into a school. When he brought his three semi-automatic weapons into that elementary school he also brought 22 high-capacity magazines. Each one was capable of firing 30 rounds. He brought more than 500 rounds of ammunition. Most of those elementary school children were shot multiple times. If you could've saved one of them, would you have?