In the aftermath of the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School people are understandably trying to find ways to prevent any such thing from happening again. Here are some facts to consider when looking at the ideas being put forward:
As of 2007 civilians in the U.S. owned approximately 294 million firearms: 106 million handguns, 105 million rifles, and 83 million shotguns, according to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. That is nearly 1 for every legal resident, making the U.S. the most heavily armed nation in the world.
The issue of controlling access to guns appears to have been settled in fact if not in law. Setting aside legal issues, there is no practical way for the government to find and seize anything resembling a significant number of these weapons.
Further, criminologist David M. Kennedy, developer of the Boston anti-gang violence program which reduced the city’s youth homicide rate by two-thirds, views gun control laws as irrelevant. He believes reducing violence requires intensive and consistent face-to-face action.
MONITORING GUN SALES:
Current federal law requires criminal background checks for guns sold through licensed firearm dealers, which account for 60 percent of all U.S. gun sales. However, individuals not “engaged in the business” of selling firearms may sell guns without a license and without processing any paperwork; this is widely referred to as the “gun show exemption,” although it applies to all sales by individuals. Changing this law would make it more difficult to legally procure a weapon and would increase the ability of the National Instant Criminal Background Check System to prevent criminals and people with mental illnesses from buying weapons.
ARMING MORE PEOPLE:
Arming more people has been suggested as a way to prevent incidents like what happened in Newtown. Nearly a third of all U.S. citizens – 96,000,000 people – owned guns as of 2010, according to a University of Chicago Survey, down from 50 percent in 1973. If nearly 100,000,000 civilians owning guns have not prevented mass shootings – and there are no reports of this happening – it is difficult to believe that arming let’s say 30,000,000 more would actually make a difference.
There have also been suggestions that teachers or other school personnel should be armed. However, simply issuing a weapon to a person without proper training will do much more harm than good. It takes extensive training in order to use a firearm correctly in a situation where you or others are being fired at. That training is expensive and given the relative rarity of school shootings would be useless to more than 99 percent of the people who received it.
RESTRICTING ACCESS TO TYPES OF WEAPONS:
In the U.S. it is illegal to purchase automatic weapons without a Class III weapons license. An automatic weapon is one that fires continuously with one pull of the trigger. A semi-automatic gun is one that fires once each time the trigger is pulled. The AR-15 Bushmaster, the type used in the Newtown shootings, is a semi-automatic version of the M-16 used by the military and can fire 45 rounds in a minute. The M-16, when set to fully automatic, can fire 700 to 950 rounds a minute.
One of the reasons many law enforcement associations like the International Association of Chiefs of Police favor a ban on semi-automatic rifles is because it is very easy to make them fully automatic. It is important to keep in mind that had a federal assault rifle ban been in place it would have changed nothing about what happened at Newtown. First, Connecticut has an assault weapons ban, which is modeled after the now-defunct federal law. Under it semi-automatic rifles are restricted only if they include a detachable magazine as well as at least two of five specific features: A pistol grip, a folding or telescoping stock, a bayonet mount, a grenade launcher or a flash suppressor. The AR-15 has a pistol grip but none of the other features and thus does not qualify as an assault weapon. Second, it would have made no difference even if the AR-15 or similar rifles had been banned. Adam Lanza was carrying two semi-automatic pistols which could have been fired nearly quickly as the AR-15: a Glock 10 mm handgun and a Sig Sauer 9 mm. Both weapons typically use magazines which carry 15 bullets, although magazines with larger capacities are available. Lanza used 30-round magazines when firing the AR-15 and as a result some lawmakers have called for banning their sale. Sen. Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J., says he will reintroduce legislation to ban magazines that can hold more than 10 rounds of ammunition. This ban would also have made no difference had it been in place prior to the Newtown murders. Magazines can be changed in seconds. That is why magazines were developed.
The above was wrong. I am grateful to TC/Writer Underground for correcting my sizable error in such a considerate way:
I’m compelled to disagree about a few of your points about assault weapons, and suggest that if an effective assault weapons ban had been in place, Newton might not have happened.
For example, if a law based on California’s current assault weapons laws had been in place (and it’s quite possible a new federal assault weapons ban would be modeled on CA’s), then all guns would have been limited to 10 round magazines.
It’s tempting to say that a few reloads wouldn’t have made a difference, but it’s likely they would have, and it’s also likely the shooter would have carried fewer rounds (his mother likely would not have bought 3x as many 10-round magazines as 30-round mags).
Also, under CA law, the magazine release button (you push the button, the mag drops out) would have been replaced with a “bullet button” — which dramatically slows mag changes. It won’t release the mag unless you jam something pointy in it (like a bullet). That doesn’t sound too difficult, but toss a little adrenaline into the mix and it becomes surprisingly hard to do.
With mag changes coming 3x more often than with 30 round magazines, the time would have added up, and in these cases, seconds and minutes equal lives.
(Keep in mind the shooter suicided when he heard the first responders closing in.)
Also, California requires gun buyers to own a gun safe, and if these weapons had been locked in a safe (and inaccessible to the shooter), this whole nightmare might have been prevented at the start.
Finally, as a competitive shooter, I think it’s naive to suggest the shooter — who was not an expert — would have done as much damage with a pair of semi-auto handguns like a 10mm Glock or a Sig. Shooting a handgun accurately — especially in stressful situations — is damned difficult, and novices tend to quickly develop a flinch that dramatically impairs accuracy.
Cops don’t hate assault rifles because they’re easy to conver to full auto. Though it seems counter-intuitive, if this gun had been full auto, it’s quite possible the shooter would have killed fewer people.
Police don’t like them because — unlike most handguns — the rounds are going fast enough to penetrate body armor, and the guns are also very easy to shoot accurately and quickly.
In other words, I think a weapons ban could have altered the outcome here, and in a best-case scenario, maybe prevented it entirely.
Again, I shoot competitively and I’m not love with all of California’s gun laws, but those involving the AR-15 platform make a fair amount of sense, yet they don’t really impair its sporting use.
As you noted, the genie’s pretty much out of the bottle when it comes to gun ownership in the USA, but I’m not yet willing to throw my hands up when it comes to sensible regulation of a certain class of guns.