In the 10 years that semi-automatic assault rifles were banned in the United States, there were 17 shootings in which four or more people were killed.
The ban expired in 2004 and the National Rifle Association commanded Congress not to renew it, so it wasn’t. NRA chief lobbyist Chris W. Cox assured us at the time, “These guns were rarely used in crime before the ban. They were rarely used in crimes during the ban. And it’s safe to say they will rarely be used in crime after the ban.”
In the decade 2004-14 there were 38 mass shootings, and that was before the San Bernardino, Orlando and Las Vegas massacres in which 121 people died and 569 were wounded.
Since 2005, in the shootings with the highest number of dead and wounded people, civilian versions of high-capacity, rapid-fire assault rifles of the sort banned in 1994-2004 were used.
We know today that there will be more public slaughtering; that anyone in any crowd anywhere is at risk. And we know that a substantial majority of Americans want private ownership of such guns ended.
That would not stop every future madman, but it would stop some of them. Ask the loved ones at the funerals of 58 people in Las Vegas if stopping some would be worth doing. Check with the 489 recovering from wounds.
But don’t bother to ask the NRA, whose absolutist position on gun laws makes it directly complicit in all of that misery. And do not be misled by its cynical ploy of agreeing that bump stocks, the device the Las Vegas shooter used to increase the firing rate of his semi-automatic rifles, should be regulated. That faux concession will not stop future killers from converting semi-automatic weapons to mimic the killing rate of automatic ones so long as they are legal and readily available. Instructions are easily found in print or on the Internet; bump stocks are the fastest, cheapest way to increase the kill rate but not the only way.
The NRA’s “concession” statement carefully called for a Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives review of the regulation of bump stocks, not for Congressional action, so the NRA’s record of blind Second Amendment absolutism is intact.
And that’s a deadly shame.
For almost a century, the NRA has peddled the nonsense, clothed in various slogans, that sometime, somehow, an American government is going to try to take away everyone’s guns, leaving us defenseless against … what, exactly?
It depends upon what excuses are available. In the ’50s and ’60s, it was the “commies” in the government. Later, it was Eastern elitists or rioting blacks in inner cities. In the ’80s, it was phantasmagorical U.S. storm troopers leaping out of black helicopters. Right now the favored rationale is that we must have “good guys with guns” around to protect against all the nut cases. An inconvenient truth: there is no recorded instance of “a good guy with a gun” intervening in any mass shooting.
Banning the manufacture and private possession of firearms designed purely to maximize casualties is no slippery slope in a democracy. It was not one in 1994 and would not have been one after 2004 had the ban been renewed. But Congress lacked the conviction and courage to save hundreds of lives, thousands of broken hearts and tens of thousands of altered lives.
It’s past time to replace manufactured, self-serving fear with common sense and compassion.
Davis Merritt, Wichita journalist and author, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.