Current Gun Proposals: the Good and the Bad
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By Amy Purpura | West Virginia Watchdog
On January 16, a little over a month after the tragic Sandy Hook shootings, President Obama and the White House unveiled their proposal for gun control after a month of debates with other policymakers. One of the most controversial measures included in this proposal is a ban on the manufacture and sale of “assault weapons” or certain types of semi-automatic rifles, along with a ten round limit on magazines. In addition, the White House would like to ban armor-piercing ammunition that is dangerous to law enforcement when criminals use it.
However, for enactment, this proposal must be approved by both Congressional Houses, yet it has seen little movement forward with many Senators and Representatives opposed to the severity of this gun control proposal. There is good reason for this delay since nearly all of the evidence demonstrates that these new stringent proposals would have made little, if any, difference in Sandy Hook and other mass shootings.
As the first measure, the ban on assault weapons is misleading because the definition of an “assault weapon” is largely based on the appearance of a firearm. Some regular hunting rifles and “assault weapons” like the AR-15 are semi-automatic weapons, meaning they release one round with each pull of the trigger, then eject the empty shell, and reload the next round without the need for additional manual operation.
In order to differentiate the AR-15 from sporting rifles, the Executive’s proposed ban works along the same lines as the expired Assault Weapons Ban of 1994. This previous legislation prohibited firearms that share too many visual features with military-style fully automatic weapons, such as a pistol grip or folding stock. While the mechanical features of these civilian “assault weapons” are identical to hunting rifles, this proposal seizes on misinformation and the visual similarity that these types of civilian firearms share with military firearms.
The additional measure that would limit the capacity of magazines to ten rounds is similarly arbitrary from the standpoint of reducing a gun’s potential lethality. The argument defending the measure is based on the idea that the limitation will force a shooter to reload more often which gives law enforcement or armed good Samaritans the chance to incapacitate the gunman.
However, it’s unclear whether this requirement will actually hinder a gunman’s shooting power because nearly all mass shootings, especially those occurring on school premises, target large groups of unarmed individuals and an experienced gunman will be able to reload quickly regardless of magazine limitations.
The Virginia Tech Review Panel concluded after the horrific shooting that if the 1994 Assault Weapons Ban had been in place with a magazine limit of ten rounds, it “would not have made much difference” in the resulting number of deaths. In the shooting, only two handguns were used with a number of ten round and fifteen round magazines, and the shooter remained unopposed by armed law enforcement for about fifteen minutes while he was attacking multiple rooms of unarmed students and professors.
Similarly, the Department of Justice conducted a study on gun crime where Christopher Koper, a criminology professor, found that “assailants typically fire less than four shots on average, a number well within the 10-round magazine limit” of the proposed ban.
As the final provision, prohibiting armor piercing ammunition appears to be a rational step to protect the lives of law enforcement, but this type of ammunition for handguns has already been prohibited by the federal government since 1986. This legislation targets armor piercing ammunition for handguns as opposed to ammunition for all firearms because criminals mainly use the easily concealed handgun and Kevlar can resist being penetrated by normal handgun ammunition.
However, hunting rifles and shotguns have greater firepower than handguns, and consequently, bullets fired from these guns penetrate Kevlar more easily. Looking at the official White House proposal, it’s unclear how they plan on extending this prohibition to other firearms. If it would involve a test to see which types of bullets from which guns can pierce Kevlar vests, there is a real potential of banning rifles and shotguns due to the greater power of these firearms compared to handguns.
Since this proposal and especially these measures have proven unpopular among the majority of Congress, bipartisan groups of legislators have begun drafting their own bills in each House to make an explicit federal statute criminalizing gun trafficking and strengthening penalties against individuals who make “straw purchases” from gun dealers, where they buy a weapon for an individual who is prohibited from gun ownership. In addition, there is widespread support for strengthening the background check system that is initiated before making gun purchases.
While this type of legislation will not prevent all illegal gun purchases by criminals or subject black market gun purchases to background checks, neither would the White House proposal. However, the target of these penalties is the criminal, not the gun used by the criminal, and this aim is one that should be pursued.
Nothing we can do now will ever bring back the children who were tragically attacked in mid-December, and there is nothing in the White House proposal that could seriously prevent another tragedy from occurring. Banning a weapon for the way it looks is not the answer, nor is turning our schools into a prison-like environment of security, even if it feels right.
What is needed right now is rational individuals to stand up and rationally defend their 2nd Amendment rights in the media because one mass shooting in the news drowns out all of the other stories of heroism, of citizens who protect others with firearms.
Two days after the Sandy Hook shooting, a woman was shot in a restaurant by her ex-boyfriend in San Antonio, and he then went next door to a theater to attack more people. However, an off-duty deputy at the theater pulled out her gun and shot the man four times before he could injure anyone. While this story demonstrates the self-defense capability of firearms, it wasn’t covered in the national media because it conflicts with the negative message that guns only bring death and violence to innocents.
Before the nation turns to limiting the gun rights of people like this off-duty deputy, other measures targeted at criminals must be pursued, like strengthening our background check system. There are many options available for reducing gun violence and keeping dangerous weapons out of the hands of criminals, instead of taking them out of the hands of law-abiding citizens.
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