West: Ineffectual Tugs at Heartstrings
By Ryan West, Guest Columnist
Published on Friday, February 1, 2013
Last week, President Barack Obama unveiled a set of proposals to reduce gun violence after a series of deadly mass shootings. Several key parts of his proposal are designed to restrict or ban so-called “military-style assault weapons,” which are a “category” of weapons that were used by the Sandy Hook Elementary School and Aurora, Colo. movie theater shooters. However, most of the gun-control legislation being introduced at the state and federal levels — in particular, the ban on assault weapons — will not affect the rate of violent crime committed with firearms. Rather, it is a set of “feel-good,” ineffectual and misguided legislation that is unsupported by statistics and history and will not affect the rate of gun violence in the United States.
The recent wave of mass killings in the U.S. is shocking and horrific, but we need to recognize that mass shootings are extremely rare and nearly impossible to prevent. In fact, the total number of deaths in 2011 from mass shootings represents less than 1 percent of the number of people killed with guns in the U.S. that year. Similarly, the FBI reported that rifles of all types, including hunting rifles and .22s, were used in about 2.5 percent of murders in 2011. Since assault rifles constitute about 2.2 percent of all rifles, it is reasonable to assume that murders involving assault rifles are very rare. Banning the sales of assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, as was done from 1994-2004, is likely to prove just as ineffective at reducing gun violence as the last Assault Weapons Ban was. In fact, after the AWB expired, the National Institute of Justice was unable to find any evidence that the AWB led to a reduction in gun violence.
We also need to take a closer look at the language and intent of the new gun-control legislation. Proposed legislation bans features of assault weapons that include telescoping stocks and pistol grips, which can look “scary” and “military-styled” to the uninformed but which have absolutely no effect on the lethality of a firearm. (These features only exist for cosmetic and ergonomic purposes.) Proposed bans on high-capacity magazines, which hold more than 10 rounds, are likewise ineffective at hindering mass shooters — magazines can be reloaded in less than two seconds with minimal practice and there is no way to stop someone from accumulating multiple magazines. The Virginia Tech shooter carried over a dozen 10-round magazines. Even the terms “assault weapons” and “gun violence” are intentionally designed to invoke images of violence. Using these terms would be akin to saying “bat violence” or “hammer violence,” blunt objects that were used in 2011 to kill about 1.5 times more often than rifles, let alone assault rifles. In addition, the term “pro-gun” is often pejoratively used to refer to supporters of gun rights. I own guns, and I have used them in the Marines and as a civilian for self-defense and recreational purposes, but I am no more “pro-gun” than I am “pro-hammer” or “pro-screwdriver” — a gun is simply a tool that I use, not a shrine that I worship. The language and images associated with this legislation are designed to divide and ostracize those who would oppose it.
Finally, we must realize that this legislation is primarily designed to tug at the heartstrings of certain constituents. Sandy Hook shooter Adam Lanza murdered 20 middle-class, suburban, primarily white children — is that not reason enough for new restrictions on guns? While the Sandy Hook shootings certainly were tragic, this incident pales when compared to the 4428 people murdered in 2011 in metropolitan areas with extremely strict gun laws, such as Chicago, New York and Washington, D.C. Rather than attempting to legislate weapons (which, as these cities have demonstrated, is ineffective), we need to address issues like gang violence, socioeconomic and racial inequalities, and the other factors that are the root causes of interpersonal violence.
In 1994, after the first AWB was passed, even supporters of the ban, such as the Washington Post editorial board, admitted that legislation was “mainly symbolic” and merely a “stepping stone to broader gun control.” I hope that my fellow citizens can discard rhetoric and emotional appeals and recognize this new legislation for what it really is — purely symbolic — and instead demand a plan that will actually accomplish something.