How many dead children does it take to finally move to restrict access to high-powered weapons of war?
Lawmakers in Texas provided us with an answer this week, as a bipartisan panel of state lawmakers voted to advance a bill raising the minimum age to purchase assault weapons, the New York Times reported.
“It was the most emotional vote I’ve ever taken, and I started crying after I made it,” said Republican state Rep. Sam Harless, a “yes” vote from the Houston area, said according to the Times. “That means my heart told me I made the right vote.”
It shouldn’t have taken nearly this long for the gun-loving Lone Star to take an action that is supported by a majority of Americans. But as the Times reports, the slaughter at a suburban shopping mall was the tipping point.
Three children were among the eight people who were gunned down at a shopping center in Allen, Texas on May 6 by a shooter armed with an AR-15 style weapon. He was killed by police, according to published reports. Seven more people were wounded.
The shooting came in the middle of a bloody year for Texas, where Republicans, led by Gov. Greg Abbott, have put up a seemingly immovable wall of opposition to any effort to stem the bloodshed. The state’s chief executive has tried to equivocate the carnage away.
“We’ve seen an increased number of shootings in states with easy gun laws as well as states with very strict gun laws,” Aboott said during an appearance on Fox News Sunday earlier this month, according to CNN.
Speaking to Fox, Abbott argued there’s an increase in “anger and violence” and the root cause is “mental health problems.”
No, governor, there’s a gun problem.
Late last month, five people, in a neighborhood north of Houston, including an 8-year-old boy, were killed by a neighbor armed with an AR-15 style weapon. The shopping mall murders were just about a year after 19 children and two teachers were killed by an 18-year-old gunman armed with … you guessed it … an AR-15 style weapon, the Times reported.
In all, more than 13,900 people have lost their lives to gun violence so far this year, according to ABC News. Of that total, 491 of the dead were teenagers and 85 were children, the network reported.
The AR-15 and its imitators, known for their brutal efficiency, are the weapon of choice in these mass slaughters. The NRA, without a shred of irony, has called it “America’s Rifle,” according to NPR.
In March, the Washington Post, in an animation that should be required viewing for every elected official in the nation, detailed the horrific damage the weapon inflicts on the human body.
“The AR-15 fires bullets at such a high velocity — often in a barrage of 30 or even 100 in rapid succession — that it can eviscerate multiple people in seconds. A single bullet lands with a shock wave intense enough to blow apart a skull and demolish vital organs. The impact is even more acute on the compact body of a small child,” the Post reported.
Confronted with any suggestion that such destructive weapons should be kept out of civilian hands, gun rights absolutists pounce on the “shall not be infringed” verbiage appended to the Second Amendment.
Such arguments are not only nonsense, they are the ultimate in bad faith. No constitutional right is limitless. And as this comprehensive list published by the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives makes clear, states can, and do, move to legally restrict access to weapons all the time.
Not only that, the United States government banned assault weapons for a decade from 1994 to 2004.
Opinions on the ban’s effectiveness have been hotly debated ever since. One 2004 study, conducted by the National Institute of Justice at the U.S. Justice Department, found that the number of gun crimes involving automatic weapons dropped by 17% in six cities that were studied, ABC News reported.
So, yes, it can be done. And it has been done in the past.
But back to Texas, where, as the Times reported, the long-term prospects for the bill raising the purchasing age from 18 to 21 appear remote.
But speaking to the Times, Texas Democrats believe Republicans will have no choice but to bow to the inevitable.
“The change of heart and the change of face on this vote … was not accidental,” said House Democratic Caucus Chairperson Trey Martinez Fischer told the Times. “It is a reflection of the pressure that is building in this building and just hit a tipping point.”
Time and again in the decade since schoolchildren were slaughtered in Newtown, Conn., and in every mass shooting since, gun violence reduction advocates have asked how many of America’s children would have to die before the nation came to its senses.
The answer, sadly, is probably an incalculable number more this year.
But if Texas can start waking up, there may finally be hope. It will not come fast enough to stop more families being robbed of their loved ones. But it may yet come.
And when it finally, finally does, we will ask ourselves, surveying the shattered homes and broken lives, why it took so long in the first place.
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