In the wake of the Dayton and El Paso shootings, polling has shown that Americans might be reaching a tipping point in the gun control debate. According to a poll of 6,800 Americans, 69% are in favour of strong to moderate restrictions on firearms. Have we reached a tipping point? Pew Research Center shows that the number of mass shootings has increased in the last couple of decades, there has been little push for gun control legislation on the federal level to address the issue. The toll has risen to 255 mass shootings this year, which would mean there have been more mass shootings than days in the year. But pressure is mounting. According to the New York Times, there have been eight shootings so far with five or more fatalities in the United States in 2019, with a total of over 60 victims. The Parkland shooting last year took the lives and futures of 17 high school students which sparked outrage across the country. With gun control rallies being held in all fifty states, a popular surge in support is being signaled for the issue with tens of thousands in attendance across the country. These initiatives have even been whispered to be somewhat popular with the NRA community. However, there is another proposal that is also gaining steam in the debate, particularly on the left, that is an Assault Rifle Ban.
What is an assault rifle?
This question can be answered in a legal sense by looking at the last major piece of gun control legislation that passed in the U.S., the Public Safety and Recreational Firearms Use Protection Act of 1994 (or simply the Federal Assault Weapons Ban). During the Clinton Administration this law banned all weapons that were semi-auto rifles, pistols, and shotguns. The law targeted firearms that looked “tactical,” like those with pistols grips, mounts for accessories like a bayonets or flash suppressors, and detachable magazines. The ban expired in 2004, but many gun control advocates are proposing a similar law on firearms today.
A company known as Armalite developed the AR-15 (hence the AR) for the US military at the height of the Cold War in the late 1950’s. In recent years the AR-15 has become the most popular assault rifle in the US on the civilian market. This is partially due to the high firepower and reliability of the gun in combination with its relative affordability (which can be as low as $500). This explains how the term assault rifle became practically synonymous with the AR-15 in the modern American gun control debate.
What is a semi-auto firearm?
Simply put, semi-auto firearms are guns that fire a bullet as fast as the shooter can pull the trigger. This type of gun does not need to be manually reloaded by pumping a slide or pulling back a hammer. Semi-auto weapons are desired for their quick firing rates and usually have a higher ammunition capacity. An assault rifle is one kind of semi-auto firearm, one that has a more powerful kind of ammunition combined with a larger magazine to hold more bullets compared to most other semi-auto firearms like shotguns or handguns.
When it comes to legislation pertaining to gun policy, the two sides of the debate can quickly spiral out of control. The vendetta is civil liberty v.s. public safety. Conservatives view gun control as a restriction of their freedom and right to protection. Liberals, on the other hand, see gun control as a necessary measure for ensuring public safety. Those on the right frequently point out that over 60% of gun deaths in this country are from suicides, according to the CDC. Conservatives separate mass shootings from guns and see the issue as a cultural one and not rooted in the use of guns. On the left, a group called March for Our Lives, led by the Parkland school shooting survivors, released a gun control policy that many on the left see as taking appropriate action. Some of the points are contained in the following liberal viewpoint section.
- The establishment of a national gun registry and raising the minimum age to buy rifles from 18 to 21.
- Banning assault rifles and high capacity magazines, as well as limiting the number of weapons an individual can buy at one time.
- Liberals also suggest various programs to remove guns such as buyback programs, gun violence prevention programs that involve the nation’s youth, and programs that administer licenses to gun owners after official review or a waiting period.
- To many conservatives and NRA members, absolutely any regulation on firearms is a slippery slope to the abuse of government power over individual freedoms, and the only way to combat these mass shootings is to make it where more good people are armed to combat the bad ones.
- Conservatives say that America’s problem is not with guns, but with the lack of spiritual and mental connection to their fellow man.
- Things like the abundance of cell phones and violent video games have also been given as explanations for mass shootings by those on the right.
- While the poor mental health conditions of many of the shooters are sighted by conservatives as the main factor in these shootings, there does not seem to be any mental healthcare initiative by congress or the President’s administration to address this concern.
Unless the congress is prepared to pass a similar law such as the 1994 ban, banning only assault rifles may not have much effect on the overall gun violence epidemic. According to gun violence data from the FBI, most cases of gun violence in the US are committed with semi-auto handguns. Despite the public’s view of AR-15’s being the weapon of choice for mass shootings, which they generally are, not all of these massacres were carried out with assault rifles. For instance, the shootings at Virginia Tech in 2007 and the most infamous mass shooting of all, the Columbine massacre in 1999, the shooters did not use any assault rifles, but instead primarily used shotguns and high capacity magazine handguns. Banning assault rifles is only a small part of the America’s pervasive violence problem.
So, what is the alternative? We can look at what has worked in the past for our country, as well as what has worked in other countries and then synthesize them to work for Americans today. Possibly even gun rights organizations, like the NRA, could offer constructive solutions and resources to the issue. The simple fact of the matter is, we are not the only country with mental health issues or things like violent video games, but we are the only one with this level of gun violence. If our leaders are not offering cogent solutions to this issue, it is time to step aside for the people who are.
Below are links to Change.Org petition to support gun control as well as a Moveon.org petition of the same issue, followed by a contact form from the NRA on how to contact your representative about opposing gun control.
https://www.change.org/p/congress-pass-common-sense-gun-control – Pass Common Sense Gun Control. Change.org
https://petitions.moveon.org/sign/gun-control-now-1 – Gun Control. Now. MoveOn Petitions
https://www.nraila.org/articles/20190813/tell-your-us-senators-and-representative-to-oppose-gun-control – Tell Your U.S. Senators and Representative to Oppose Gun Control. NRA-ILA Petition
- What the data says about gun deaths in the U.S. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2019/08/16/what-the-data-says-about-gun-deaths-in-the-u-s/
- Walsh, K. (n.d.). Poll: Majority Favor Gun Control. Retrieved from https://www.usnews.com/news/national-news/articles/2019-08-19/poll-majority-favor-gun-control
- Public Safety and Recreational Firearms Use Protection Act, H.R.3355, 103rd Congress (1993–1994)
- Schuppe, J. (2018, May 16). America’s rifle: Why so many people love the AR-15. Retrieved from https://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/america-s-rifle-why-so-many-people-love-ar-15-n831171
- Williams, Reed; Morrison, Shawna (April 26, 2007). “Police: No motive found”. The Roanoke Times.
- Shepard. (n.d.) Weapons. Retrieved August 19, 2019, from https://www.acolumbinesite.com/weapon.php
- Be Informed: gun control. Retrieved August 19, 2019, from https://www.justfacts.com/guncontrol.asp#ownership
- Hassan, A. (2019, August 21). Parkland Shooting Survivors Release Ambitious Gun Control Plan. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2019/08/21/us/march-for-our-lives-gun-control.html