The perpetrator of Wednesday's horrific school shooting in Parkland, Fla., purchased his military-style assault weapon legally. So did the man who shot more than 400 people in Las Vegas in October. So did the man who gunned down 49 people at Orlando's Pulse nightclub in 2016. So did the man who gunned down 26 worshipersat a church in Texas in November.
It was first used during the Vietnam War and is semiautomatic — the user needs to pull the trigger to fire each shot. The AR was designed for speedy reloading in combat situations, and it can fire dozens of rounds in seconds. The butt of the rifle, or the stock, has a large internal spring that absorbs the shock of each firing. The low recoil makes it easier to shoot and is more accurate than earlier military weapons. It can also be easily customized by adding scopes, lasers and more.
Gun advocates point out that semiautomatic weapons like the AR-15 should not be classified as “assault weapons” because they are not fully automatic and that the guns have recreational use, such as hunting and target shooting.
Yet gun-control advocates say that distinction is arbitrary and that the weapons are just as dangerous because they are designed to kill a large number of people quickly.
In 1994, the assault-weapons ban signed by President Bill Clinton outlawed the AR-15. But it had a lot of loopholes, and gun manufacturers subverted the law by modifying the weapons. The ban expired in 2004, and sales of the gun increased in the George W. Bush and Barack Obama administrations. The NRA labeled it as “America’s most popular rifle.”
Lawmakers weren’t interested in picking up the effort to ban assault rifles until 2012, when Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) introduced legislation to ban assault weapons following the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., but the effort eventually failed.
Now, gun-violence experts want to see the 1994 ban come back, and lawmakers are calling for new legislation. A new bill introduced by Feinstein and supported by 22 other Democratic representatives would ban selling and manufacturing 205 “military-style assault weapons.” The bill also calls for a ban on high-capacity ammunition magazines.
A 2016 study collected data on every gun massacre — defined as six or more people shot and killed — for the 50 years before 2016. Compared with the 10-year period before the ban, the number of gun massacres during the ban period fell by 37 percent, and the number of people dying from gun massacres fell by 43 percent. But after the ban lapsed in 2004, the numbers shot up again — an astonishing 183 percent increase in massacres and a 239 percent increase in massacre deaths.
“The key provision of the assault weapons bill was a ban on high-capacity magazines capable of holding more than 10 rounds. “We have found that when large capacity mags are regulated, you get drastic drops in both the incidence of gun massacres and the fatality rate of gun massacres,” said Louis Klarevas of the University of Massachusetts at Boston.
Gun rights groups like the National Rifle Association oppose such bans. They point out that most owners of such weapons are law-abiding citizens, and that the millions of the guns and magazines in circulation would make enforcement of any such ban a challenge. They also note, correctly, that the overwhelming majority of gun homicides are committed with handguns, making the impact of an assault weapons ban on the overall crime rate minimal.
Supporters of an assault weapons ban, like Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), say that the goal of the bans is to prevent horrific mass shooting incidents, not stop the run-of-the-mill gun violence that kills dozens of Americans each day.
Feinstein's bill would ban 205 specific “military-style assault weapons” by name, and it more broadly bans firearms containing a detachable magazine and one or more “military characteristics,” including “a pistol grip, a forward grip, a barrel shroud, a threaded barrel or a folding or telescoping stock.” Current owners would be allowed to keep their existing weapons.
Feinstein's bill would also ban high-capacity magazines capable of holding more than 10 rounds of ammunition.
A number of surveys show that bans on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines are popular among the general public. A 2017 Pew Research Center poll found that 68 percent of adults favor banning assault weapons, and 65 percent support a ban on high-capacity magazines.
More strikingly, substantial numbers of gun owners supported the measures as well: 48 percent of gun owners in that poll said they would support a ban on assault style weapons, and 44 percent said they favored a ban on high-capacity magazines. A Quinnipiac poll conducted later in the year showed similar numbers.
While these measures may be popular among the public, Republicans in Congress have effectively stymied the passage of any significant gun control legislation for well over a decade.
In recent years congressional Republicans have been more focused on expanding access to guns, rather than limiting it. In December the House passed a measurethat would allow gun owners with concealed carry permits in one state to carry their weapons in every other state.
The experts polled by the New York Times in 2016 rated that as the least effective measure, by far, for dealing with mass shootings.
-The Washington Post