Mass killings across America have prompted calls for the banning of assault weapons designed to cause multiple casualties. This issue once again is in the spotlight after a gunman opened fire with what officials said was an AR-15-style rifle at a popular shopping center in the Dallas suburb of Allen, Texas, last Saturday, where he killed eight people and wounded at least seven others,
including at least one child, before a police officer fatally shot him.
Let us not forget the incredibly tragic murders that took place in Uvalde, Texas, last year, where 19 children died in a mass school shooting as officers stood by. Numerous other cases of mass shootings exist and each one is a standalone argument as to why mass-casualty weapons should not be available for purchase by the public.
US President Joe Biden renewed his call Sunday for Congress to ban semi-automatic rifles as he called out Republican inaction. “Once again I ask Congress to send me a bill banning assault weapons and high-capacity magazines. Enacting universal background checks. Requiring safe storage. Ending immunity for gun manufacturers,” Biden said in a statement. “I will sign it immediately. We need nothing less to keep our streets safe.”
Biden also pointed to the staggering number of mass shootings this year, already nearly 200, and the more than 14,000 firearm deaths, noting that the leading cause of death for American children is gun violence. “Too many families have empty chairs at their dinner tables,” he said. “Republican members of Congress cannot continue to meet this epidemic with a shrug. Tweeted thoughts and prayers are not enough.”
It is inconceivable, especially after so many tragedies, that people with malicious intent are still able to buy such a weapon and then proceed to destroy so many innocent lives. It is time, once and for all, to ban all assault weapons and deprive these sadists from having the ability to acquire any means of hurting or killing others.
And there is progress.
In April, a ban on dozens of semi-automatic rifles cleared the Washington state legislature, according to one report. The law would cover more than 50 gun models, including AR-15s, AK-47s and similar-style rifles, which fire one bullet per trigger pull and automatically reload for a subsequent shot. The bill bans their future sale, distribution, manufacture and importation, although some exemptions are included for sales to law enforcement agencies and the military in Washington. According to the same report, “nine states including California, New York and Massachusetts, along with the District of Columbia, have already passed similar bans.”
But are such bans enough? Would banning the sale of such weapons truly deter or deprive potential attackers from obtaining and using them to kill many people at once?
John J. Donohue, a professor at Stanford Law School and a research associate at the National Bureau of Economic Research, writing in The Atlantic, believes it is not enough and will not prevent mass killings. He notes that mass shootings are not only a serious and worsening problem that cause significant harm to the public, but they are also a national disgrace that exposes the failure of the American political system to adopt popular public-policy strategies that could effectively reduce the frequency and impact of such events. One of the measures that could help in this regard is the federal assault-weapons ban, which was previously in place for a decade, but was allowed to lapse in 2004. However, the gun lobby is opposing all meaningful gun-safety laws across the United States, banking on Republican-appointed Supreme Court justices to safeguard the right to sell deadly weapons to as many Americans as possible.
Donohue also notes that the notion that harsher punishment is a preferable alternative to gun control and can deter potential mass shooters is illogical, given the already severe penalties such offenders face, coupled with their high mortality rates on the scene due to police intervention or suicide. For instance, the 18-year-old Buffalo shooter, who used the same semiautomatic rifle as the Sandy Hook shooter to kill ten people last May, was aware that he would receive an inevitable life sentence if he survived the attack.
The gun lobby’s proposed solution to the proliferation of assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, which involves promoting more gun sales and carrying, is counterintuitive and serves its self-interest. However, this policy is likely to backfire as it will lead to increased gun violence, resulting from more gun thefts, road-rage incidents, and reduced police effectiveness. Available empirical evidence supports this assertion.
Donahue further argues that after the Parkland, Florida, high-school shooting in February 2018 that claimed 17 lives, then-President Donald Trump initially expressed support for gun control and claimed that he was not intimidated by the NRA. However, when NRA head Wayne LaPierre urged him to abandon the push for universal background checks, which had the support of 90 percent of Republican midterm voters, Trump complied.
Any solution that excludes a federal ban on assault weapons, coupled with restrictions on high-capacity magazines, will be insufficient. While state-level bans on these weapons have had some impact, perpetrators have easily bypassed them by purchasing firearms from neighboring states with looser regulations.
Similarly, simply closing the gaping loopholes in the federal background-check system would help but is not enough.
A significant overhaul and strengthening of the screening process is needed.
In contrast to the American system, European governments and sensible individuals would undoubtedly recognize that individuals like the Parkland, Uvalde, and Sandy Hook shooters, who were respectively 19, 18, and 20 years old, should never have been granted access to firearms, let alone assault rifles. Their dangerous tendencies were so apparent that even a typical European-style screening process would have barred their gun ownership.
Perhaps this is what we need. A European-style screening process that would weed out the killers from the innocents and prevent mass-casualty events. There is no foolproof answer and in a country of nearly 350 million, it is difficult to control and prevent the proliferation of assault weapons. But more can be done. For the sake of our children, we must find a better way to prevent such horrific murders. Let’s begin by banning all guns.
Mr. Lansvin is a strategic advisor on a range of issues for various NGOs and governments around the globe.
The views expressed herein are the sole responsibility of the author
and do not necessarily reflect those of this website or its editors.