So many of us are downhearted today. Yesterday was not the Fourth of July of our midsummer dreams, nor even the one of our childhoods—for most of us, who remember prior to 2004. That’s when the federal ban on assault weapons was allowed to expire by Congress.
Mass killings with semiautomatic rifles with large magazines entered the public consciousness with the Stockton, California incident in 1989 (35 shot, five children killed) and the Luby’s Cafeteria shooting in Killen, Texas (27 wounded, 23 dead) in 1991. These and other incidents led to the 1994 Federal assault weapons banned, referred to above.
Since the end of the ban, the number of mass killings has increased, most researchers agree, although whether or not the ban resulted in a lower rate of homicides by guns seems to depend on whether you include all homicides committed with any type of gun. It may be true that most guns used in homicides would not be included in the ban, though this probably is not the key question in the fear and disgust most of us feel today.
Why are we so afraid?
A maniac with a handgun can confront a crowd at a grocery store, a school, or a holiday parade, and he (virtually always a “he”) will have to aim for each shot, can shoot only one bullet at a time for most models, and must reload after each clip of 5-10 bullets. That gives time for people to get the hell out of the way.
A maniac with an AR-15, arguably the mass killer’s gun of choice, can shoot 30-100 shots without reloading and how fast is limited to how fast the shooter can pull the trigger. It is possible to achieve a “spray” of bullets that will pierce anyone in its path. (AR-15s are semiautomatic and thus its trigger speed is limited; an M-16, often carried by armed forces, is fully automatic.)
Why do I have to know this?
Because I must be prepared to run if I find myself confronting one of these maniacs. The only problem is, I can’t really run, due to disabilities. With even a repeating revolver, I might be lucky enough to hobble quickly away to hide somewhere. With an AR-15, I would have little to no chance.
Neither would your child. Or your elderly mother. Or a very pregnant woman. Or any person with mobility impairments.
This terror we feel from witnessing these incidents and putting ourselves in the place of those who lose loved ones, seems to be what the shooters want.
They are domestic terrorists. Why are they not treated as that?
Because we can’t distinguish them from a law-abiding citizen with an AR-15, and there are plenty of those.
There is much talk of mental illness, but we aren’t even close to being able to identify and treat the mentally I’ll among us, much less being able to separate the homicidal from the peaceful, though we know most mentally I’ll people are not violent. Although other countries have mentally ill people, domestic violence that often leads to shootings, and even hate-filled extremists, our gun violence rate is 26 times higher than other high-income countries.1
The difference is easy access to guns.
It’s indisputable. U.S. States with higher rates of gun ownership and weak laws (such as no registration, open carry, etc.,) have higher rates of mass shootings.2
According to Everytown for Gun Safety, since 2009, there have been 278 mass shootings in the United States, resulting in 1569 people shot and killed and 1000 people shot and wounded. (This total doesn’t include recent incidents.)
Not so many as it seems, you might think. True. More than 99 percent of all gun homicides are not mass killings. (Mass killings are generally defined as more than four deaths.) Most involve an irate employee, a pissed-off, controlling ex-husband, or someone else set out on revenge. Some include perfect strangers involved in road rage incidents. Or the horrible “prank” of shooting at the homeless.
So why are we so terrified? Most of us think we can avoid such incidents by not working in a sour environment, choosing the right partner, and controlling our own anger on the road. Or we just don’t think someone we know will pull the trigger.
One thing seems obvious to me: It’s not the people. Americans are no more violent, most likely, than people elsewhere, although I suppose it can be argued that we still have a “cowboy” and “Wild West” mentality. But most killers aren’t cowboys and one place you don’t see this many killings is in the former Wild West—Arizona, New Mexico, Montana, Wyoming, the Dakotas, etc. Why? Maybe people there grow up with respect for guns and what they can do. But I suspect it’s simply because there are fewer people on those states.
It’s the guns. We have to ban the semiautomatic rifles like the AR-15 has been used in almost all recent incidents. The gun of choice of suicidal and homicidal young men 18-25 who want to take other people out with them.
We have to work harder at it. Because we don’t have to live like this. Because our children really, really deserve not to grow up accepting this as their reality. Because shoppers, celebrant, teachers, and students, damn it, deserve a chance.
And while we’re at it, we have to get some sense about guns in general. Most homicides in America don’t require an AR-15. Neither do most suicides by gun. We need fewer guns, period. We don’t need to carry them into public spaces like restaurants and movie theatres.
The Supreme Court, by the way, is wrong. If they’re truly going to apply the “originalist” argument to all decisions, they should have started not with abortion (which most certainly was legal in most of the original thirteen copies up to the point of quickening, i.e., the third trimester, as Roe decided) but with their bullshit decision that New York’s law banning guns in public places offended the Second Amendment. And what were the Founders thinking of when they proposed that amendment? Not AR-15s. Not even rifles or repeating revolvers.
You know the answer. With what did they fight the Revolution. With muskets. Which shot balls, not bullets. Which were notoriously inaccurate. Which took many seconds to load, giving the target time to run and hide.
I am perfectly okay with every home in America (except mine) having a musket for home defense. Although I do have a prime place for one over the fireplace. Like my ggggrandfather, William Parker, who fought in the Revolution, though he was a Quaker, and never killed another human for the rest of his life.
All the footnotes and other statistics used above come from the website
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