Saturday, June 18, 2016

It's the Assault Rifles, Stupid

Let's get real here. A ban on Muslim immigration would not have prevented the Orlando mass shooting, nor would it have prevented the San Bernardino or Fort Hood mass shootings. All three assailants in those heinous acts, while Muslim, were born in the United States and thus would've been unaffected by any ban. Oh and by the way, the mass shootings in Sandy Hook and Aurora, neither of which were committed by Muslims, would still have happened.

There is only one common denominator in all these mass shootings - indeed in virtually all the mass shootings that occur in this country on a regular basis: they were committed by people who were able to legally obtain assault rifles in less time than it takes to get a learner's permit to drive a motor vehicle.

And that is not only unconscionable; it's criminal.

Since the Assault Weapons Ban expired in 2004, mass shootings in the United States have risen significantly. Worse, the number of people killed in these shootings has skyrocketed. According to a piece in Time, between 1994 and 2004, when the ban was in effect, only twice did the number of fatalities reach the double digit mark: in 1998 (13) and in 1999 (44). The average number of fatalities during those years was 9.5. If you subtract from the totals the '99 deaths - that was year of the Columbine massacre  - the average drops to 5.6.

In the 12 years since the ban expired, the number of fatalities has reached the double digit mark 11 times. That's 11 out of 12 years! The average number of fatalities during that span is 32. And keep in mind we're only halfway through 2016 and already 58 people have been gunned down, 49 of them in the most recent shooting in Orlando. It is entirely possible we could be looking at more than a hundred mass shooting fatalities in one year for the first time since the founding of the country.

Now to be fair, not all of these shootings involved an assault rifle. But most of them did. Furthermore, the dramatic increase in the frequency of mass shootings and the number of deaths that have resulted from them can be directly attributed to the ease at which these weapons can be obtained by virtually anybody. The Orlando shooter, despite being on an FBI watch list, was able to legally purchase the assault rifle used in the attack at the Pulse nightclub.

The sad fact is that there are virtually no impediments to obtaining an assault rifle in this country. Anyone, anywhere can walk into a gun store and, within a few minutes, walk out with a weapon capable of killing dozens of people in a matter of seconds. And law enforcement is powerless to stop them. Astonishingly, you can be on a no-fly list, but you can still legally buy a gun. If that isn't the textbook definition of insanity I don't know what is.

There is absolutely no reason for anybody to own an assault rifle in this country. They are totally useless as a means of protecting one's home, and if you need one to shoot a deer, you're a lousy hunter. The fact is unless you're a member of a SWAT team or have been recently deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan, you have no reason to be anywhere near one of these weapons. Indeed the military doesn't even allow its soldiers to take these weapons back to the barracks, such is the respect they have for how deadly they can be.  And if the greatest and most powerful military in the history of the world sees fit to impose such strict gun regulations on soldiers who have been properly trained to use them, how in the world is it possible for an ordinary citizen with virtually no training to get his hands on one?

That was a rhetorical question. We all know the answer. It's the same one mountain climbers give when asked why they climb mountains. Because they're there. Throughout most of its history, America has had a love affair with guns; you could say an obsession. They are part of our collective DNA, for better or worse.  And ever since the Supreme Court handed down its decision in Heller, which drastically changed how the Second Amendment was interpreted, organizations like the NRA have held a vice grip over the Republican Party.

Not only is it all but impossible to pass meaningful gun legislation in Congress, even if by some miracle the assault weapons ban was reinstated, the fact is there are already almost 4 million of these weapons in private circulation. In order for the ban to have any meaningful impact, the government would have to institute a buy-back program similar to the one Australia carried out in 1996. Such a program could well cost billions of dollars. In other words, it would never get off the ground.

So, once more, the nation morns the loss of innocent people whose lives were cut short needlessly. Once more, we toy with the notion that this time it'll be different. This time, our leaders will summon the will and the courage to actually do something to prevent the next slaughter. The Democratic filibuster, led by Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut, was certainly a breath of fresh air. And for their efforts they managed to force a vote on bills aimed at strengthening universal background checks by closing the so-called gun-show loophole, and banning people on terror-watch lists from buying a gun. Sensible and common sense measures to be sure, but because they will not have the requisite votes to pass the 60 vote threshold, they will likely fail. And even if they were to somehow get the votes, they would never pass the Republican-controlled House.

We've seen this nightmare unfold far too often in America. We have seen how a badly worded and poorly understood Amendment has become a political lightning rod for gun advocates and a death sentence for hundreds of innocent souls. They've paid the ultimate price for the cowardice and complicity of this nation's leaders. And their blood is on all of our hands.

If history is indeed the final judge of our actions then it will most certainly find us wanting. The words of Martin Luther King, Jr. here are hauntingly salient: "Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter."

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