In the aftermath of the horrendous mass shooting tragedy at the high school in Parkland, Florida, some Americans — probably mostly Democrats — are hysterically demanding a federal ban on “assault weapons,” i.e., some semi-automatic rifles that resemble fully automatic firearms used by U.S. military forces. That action is foolish for several reasons detailed below.
“Assault weapons” have become popular with American gun owners. Several million of them are now legally possessed by Americans who legally use them for hunting, target shooting and personal defense. Properly licensed hunters in Pennsylvania can legally use them to hunt small game but not big game.
The original “assault weapons” ban was enacted in 1994 by Democrat majorities in the U.S. House and Senate, over strenuous objection of Republican minorities. It prohibited manufacture, transfer or possession of “semi-automatic assault weapons,” which were identified by make/model or a variety of cosmetic features. It also banned transfer and possession of “large capacity ammunition feeding devices,” i.e., magazines capable of holding more than 10 cartridges. Firearms and magazines that were lawfully possessed by Americans on the date of enactment were exempt from the act’s provisions, i.e., “grandfathered.” President Bill Clinton signed the legislation on Sept. 13, 1994, an action about which he subsequently expressed regret.
The reason for his regret was that the ban created a political firestorm. In the national election two months later, Republicans regained 54 seats in the House and eight seats in the Senate, giving them majority control of both chambers. Among the ousted Democrats were Rep. Jack Brooks (D-Texas), then chairman of the Judiciary Committee, who had served for 42 years; Rep. Dan Rostenkowski (D-Illinois), then chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, who had served for 36 years; and Rep. Tom Foley (D-Washington), then Speaker of the House, who had served for 30 years.
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The “assault weapons” ban expired in 2004 in accordance with a “sunset” provision. The U.S. Justice Department funded an evaluation of the ban’s impacts by Christopher S. Koper, an associate professor at George Mason University. Koper’s primary conclusion was that the ban “did not appear to affect gun crime during the time it was in effect” (see https://muse.jhu.edu/chapter/757460).
Many of the people now demanding a ban on “assault weapons” (especially the students who are frequently featured in recent news media coverage) probably are unaware of the previous ban, its ineffectiveness, and its disastrous repercussions for congressional Democrats. They tend to focus on relatively recent mass shootings that involved such weapons: When 12 were killed and 58 wounded in a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado, on July 20, 2012; in Newtown, Connecticut when 26 were killed in an elementary school on Dec. 4, 2012 ; in San Bernadino, California, when 14 were killed at a community center Christmas party on Dec. 2, 2015; when 49 were killed in a Orlando night club on June 12, 2016; in Las Vegas, Nevada, when 58 were killed and hundreds wounded at an outdoor music festival on Oct. 1, 2017 ; in Sutherland Springs, Texas, when 26 were killed in a Baptist church on Nov. 5, 2017.
Those demanding a ban seem oblivious to the fact that in this country individuals can quickly kill or injure many people without “assault weapons.” Have they forgotten April 16, 2007 when a South Korean alien with permanent residency status used semi-auto .22 caliber and 9mm pistols to kill 32 students and faculty members at Virginia Tech University in Blacksburg, Virginia; or April 3, 2009 when a Vietnamese man used semi-auto .40 caliber and 9mm pistols to kill 14 immigrants at a civic center in Binghamton, New York; or Nov. 5, 2009 when a U.S. Army officer with a semi-auto 5.7mm pistol killed 13 and wounded 32 at Fort Hood near Killeen, Texas; or Jan. 8, 2011 when a mentally ill man with a semi-auto 9mm pistol killed six and wounded 13 (including Congresswoman Gabby Giffords) at an outdoor political rally near Tucson, Arizona?
Those demanding a ban on “assault weapons” or even more draconian restrictions on private ownership and use of other semi-auto firearms also must have forgotten the three killed and approximately 280 injured by two naturalized American brothers from Kyrgyzstan who detonated two pressure cooker bombs near the finish line of the Boston Marathon on April 15, 2013; or the 11 injured when a radicalized alien from Somalia with permanent residency status attacked other students with a car and knife at Ohio State University on Nov. 28, 2016; or the eight killed and 11 injured by an alien from Uzbekistan who drove a rented pickup truck at high speed along a crowded bike path in New York City on Oct. 31, 2017. It’s reassuring that we hear no proposals about banning pressure cookers or cars or knives or pickup trucks, presumably because those advocating an “assault weapons” ban realize how absurd such proposals about “killing equipment” would be.
It’s obvious from these historical facts that another ban on “assault weapons” as a strategy for preventing mass killings and other violent crime is unjustifiable, as well as foolhardy for Democrats. I can only hope they come to their senses, stop demanding an “assault weapons” ban, and support legislative action on sensible measures now being discussed.
Phil Edmunds lives in Boalsburg.