Michael Stafford, 7/27/2012 [Archive]

A Catalyzing Tragedy: Bring Back the Assault Weapons Ban

A Catalyzing Tragedy: Bring Back the Assault Weapons Ban

By Michael Stafford

Public tragedies can serve as a catalyst for societal soul-searching and deep reflection. They often lead to a policy response as leaders craft reforms designed to prevent similar incidents from happening in the future.Except, it seems, when the tragedy involves guns.

That's a shame. The Aurora horror demonstrates that there is an urgent need for a renewed discussion about more stringent gun control laws in our country. Put simply, there is no legitimate hunting, sporting, or self-defense purpose to own either a military-style assault weapon or a high-capacity magazine.

This is a truth our society used to recognize. For a decade, from 1994 until its expiration in 2004, the Federal Assault Weapons Ban (AWB), provided a legal definition of "assault weapon" that included certain specific gun models- such as AK-47's, TEC-9's, and AR-15's- and prohibited their manufacture, sale, or possession (however, guns legally purchased before the ban were exempted).In addition, the AWB also outlawed "large capacity ammunition feeding devices."

In other words, the expired AWB would have banned at least one of the weapons, as well as the magazines, used by the Aurora shooter.

Of course, there is no way to know whether the AWB would have prevented this specific tragedy had it remained in effect.Most likely it would not have. After all, the shooter would still have had access to a variety of other guns. However, making it more difficult for people to acquire these weapons is an accomplishment by itself.Moreover, given the fact that shooters in several incidents have been disarmed while reloading, there is reason to believe that removing high capacity magazines from the market would reduce the number of casualties.

It's also true that events like the Aurora tragedy can happen in nations with very strict gun laws- such as Norway.What differentiates the two is that our mass casualty shootings occur more frequently, and take place in the context of a cacophony of gun violence occurring across our entire society.

Simply put, America is awash in an epidemic of gun violence.We reject the plowshare, and arm ourselves with swords. Indeed, we have almost as many privately owned guns as we do citizens. Tragically, we turn these guns far too often against each other, or even ourselves. As a result, we have more gun deaths per capita than any of our industrial democracy peers.

These facts, and our long-standing failure to take action to address them, are a sobering rebuke.

Common-sense gun control measures are blocked, however, by the powerful voice of the gun lobby. The National Rifle Association (NRA) has convinced many people that gun control proposals, however limited and reasonable, are simply the first steps down a slippery slope leading inevitably to the confiscation of most privately owned arms.

For example, Wayne LaPierre, the CEO and Executive Vice President of the NRA, has publically warned that President Obama intends to "erase the Second Amendment from the Bill of Rights and exorcise it from the U.S. Constitution" and, in league with George Soros, turn "Americans' guns into international soup cans and park benches."

LaPierre's various statements suggesting that a conspiracy exists to disarm American citizens as a precursor to eliminating civil liberties and tearing up the Constitution help create and nurture a climate of fear, suspicion, and anxiety (some might call it paranoia)- a perpetual state of emotional emergency, a constant crisis. Moreover, guns have become a culture war proxy, standing in for other issues that divide and trouble us. This crowds out the room needed for reasonable debate and renders compromise all but impossible. After all, when dealing with would-be tyrants, any concession is a potential Munich.

However, given our high levels of gun violence, and the repeated mass casualty shootings that are occurring across our nation, the need for a regulatory response should be clear.It's time to break the NRA's stranglehold on the debate. We must re-establish a clear link between gun violence in our society and public policy.Passing an updated version of the AWB, coupled with a vigorous buy-back program targeting existing lawfully-purchased assault weapons already in private hands, are critical first steps.

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©Copyright 2012 Michael Stafford, distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate.

Michael Stafford is a former Republican Party officer and the author of "An Upward Calling." Michael can be reached at anupwardcalling@yahoo.com

This column has been edited by the author. Representations of fact and opinions are solely those of the author.




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