BY CLAYTON ANDERSON
Published May 30, 2018
In the wake of several mass-shootings that have been carried out with the use of assault weapons such as the AR-15, it is shocking that we have not yet seen significant reform of our gun laws. It is impossible for me to whole-heartedly believe the notion that “guns are not the problem, people are the problem” when Americans have repeatedly been witness to so many mass shootings, whether it be in a school, nightclub, or movie theater setting, that their presence in our society has morphed into a certain normality.
While maintaining our rights given to us as Americans is an indisputable priority, it is worth analyzing how our current, widely accepted limits on the Second Amendment keep us safe.
To begin, the Second Amendment of our Constitution states that "A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” When taking this statement to the most conservative interpretation, our current common-sense gun control laws have already infringed on the “right of the people to keep and bear” certain arms for the purpose of keeping our society safe and somewhat civil.
And these infringements are widely supported. For instance, 90% of Americans support universal background checks when purchasing a gun, and research has shown that implementing these procedures significantly reduces the occurrence of homicides and suicides. In a study of the 1995 Connecticut law requiring the public to obtain permits before purchasing a gun, researchers found that there was a 40% decrease in homicides and a 15% decrease in suicides. Conversely, when Missouri repealed its law requiring the acquisition of a permit before purchasing a firearm in 2007, the state found a 23% increase in gun homicides as well as a 16% increase in suicides. Therefore, this correlation shows that creating slight limits on the Second Amendment has resulted in a safer America.
There are many examples of how the government limits certain rights, and contrary to what many people believe is coup d’état on our individual liberties, I believe that they deliver in protecting us. The First Amendment protects freedom of speech, but that doesn’t mean you can say anything to anyone. We place limits on this right in order to combat threats, child pornography, and blackmail, just to name a few, to account for and control the actions of those who would like to take advantage of our country’s founding principles for their foul deeds.
The same goes for gun rights in America. In response to vicious gang violence, specifically the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre in Chicago which killed 7 gang members, an enormous tax was created to "curtail, if not prohibit” the transaction of machine guns in the National Firearms Act of 1934. As a result of the frequent and often mass killings on the streets of Miami in the early 80s, Congress successfully prohibited the civilian ownership and transfer of machine guns in the Firearm Owners’ Protection Act of 1986.
While it was expected for NRA members to lament the enactment of this law, many NRA lobbyists responded with tones of indifference. Why would such a direct violation of the Second Amendment come with so little pushback? The NRA wanted to distance itself from the weapons that were used in high profile violent activities.
Seeing that the NRA could actually improve its currently diminishing image due to mass shootings, as well as that of the average law-abiding gun owner, wouldn’t it be smart to support a ban on weapons such as the AR-15 that are used in so many mass shootings today?
Banning assault weapons wouldn’t be something new for Americans. We actually had a temporary ban, put in place under Bill Clinton from 1994 to 2004 under the Public Safety and Recreational Firearms Use Protection Act, which stopped 19 military style “copycat” weapons such as AR-15s, TEC-9s, and MAC-10s from being manufactured and sold. It also banned high-capacity ammunition magazines of more than ten rounds.
Though this law attempted to uncover a cause and effect relationship between assault weapons in our society and gun deaths, it produced mixed results, with little evidence found that gun violence was becoming any less lethal as a result of the ban. However, there is potential that a long term restriction on assault-weapons could produce a reduction in shootings.
Keep in mind, this ban was enacted before the modern phenomenon of mass shootings happening every week. Because of the change of frequency in violent acts with assault weapons from the time frame of 1994-2004 to today, it is very possible that a reenactment of this ban could decrease both the occurrence of mass shootings as well as the overall number of gun-related deaths. Studies of this ban have not been conducted since 2004, nor have they been subject to the context of our current situations regarding the domino-like effects one shooting has on another, so it is not valid to deem that an assault weapons ban won’t make our society safer.
The history of gun control in America is long and complicated, and in analyzing it, shows that there is no reason why a ban on assault weapons should be delayed any longer. Yet, a loud minority of Americans still deeply oppose a ban on assault weapons. Why do most of these people support clear violations of the Second Amendment such as background checks and a ban on machine guns, but not a ban on assault weapons?
Part of the problem is a lack of clear definition of what an assault weapon is.
A quick Google search showcases the wide variety of definitions of what an assault weapon is. Many people even claim that there is no such thing as an assault weapon. Because of the confusion of what constitutes an “assault weapon”, this leads to the belief that if there were some kind of a ban, any gun could make that list, resulting in the notion that the government is going to revoke the Second Amendment all together.
While this argument is based purely on suspicion and speculation, their concerns need to be addressed by creating an official, federal definition of what an assault weapon is before creating a ban on assault weapons.
Our current societal situation regarding mass shootings is deplorable at best. It’s time to stop pretending that we don’t have a weapons problem and start looking for plausible solutions that will stop the killing while overstepping as few rights as possible. History has shown that we have benefited the common good by limiting the Second Amendment.
Why can’t we benefit a little more?
Clayton Anderson is currently a junior at a performing arts high school in Texas. He enjoys musical theatre, learning languages, and using his First Amendment to help effect change.