Say that the worst mass shooting in modern American history actually brought us together — left and right, gun control advocates and Second Amendment defenders — in a consensus to do something about gun violence in America?
What would that something look like?
A ban on fully automatic weapons? We pretty much do that already, despite the misinformation being spread about the legality of such weapons in Nevada, where a 64-year-old retired accountant slaughtered 58 concertgoers and wounded hundreds more late Sunday.
Under federal law, it is illegal in the United States for everyday citizens to own machine guns manufactured after 1968. Fully automatic weapons produced since that date are for sale only to qualified state and federal agencies.
As for pre-1968 machine guns, they are the most regulated weapon on the market. They can be sold only by dealers with a special license, to purchasers who submit to a rigorous background check and are subjected to an extensive waiting period before delivery.
In other words, someone can’t just wake up cranky and go down to the Walmart or a gun show and buy a machine gun. Even in Nevada, federal law pre-empts state law, so only dealers and purchasers who meet tight federal guidelines can deal in the weapons.
But go ahead and complete the circle and ban them completely. It’s still possible for a skilled gun owner to illegally modify a semi-automatic rifle to act as a fully automatic weapon. (The difference between the two: Fully automatics spray bullets with a single squeeze of the trigger; semi-automatics require the trigger to be pulled each time a shot is fired. All of the so-called military style rifles you see in gun stores are semi-automatics.)
And that’s apparently what the Nevada shooter did to convert two semi-automatic rifles into machine guns. Banning the “bump stock” converter kits Stephen Paddock used is a sensible step, but he still could have wreaked considerable carnage with unmodified rifles.
We could go ahead and ban the AK and AR rifles, whose appearance earn them the assault weapon label. And we did, from 1994 to 2004, without any measurable impact on firearm-related killings. Thirteen years after the assault weapons ban expired, Americans are six times more likely to be stabbed to death and three times more likely to be beaten to death than killed by a rifle of any kind, according to FBI statistics.
Some countries, including Australia and Scotland, have banned all guns that can hold more than one bullet or shell. That would cover nearly every hunting rifle and shotgun, as well as most pistols and revolvers, and cut seriously into the self-defense effectiveness of firearms. I can’t imagine Americans letting go of their favorite deer rifles or pump action shotguns.
Immediately after the Las Vegas shooting, gun control advocates began tweeting out calls for more intense background screening to keep weapons out of the hands of the mentally ill. These may be fine ideas, but they would not have stopped Paddock.
The man who holed up on the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay Casino Hotel on the Las Vegas strip and rained down death on innocent concertgoers would have passed such tougher checks with flying colors. He barely had a traffic violation on his record, no reports of erratic behavior from family and neighbors, and seemed like just another retired guy who liked to gamble. There were no red flags that we know of, or that regulators likely could have spotted.
Additional screening requirements would not have prevented Paddock’s murderous spree.
Even if what happened in Las Vegas moved us to adopt super stringent gun control measures, there are roughly 300 million privately owned guns in the United States. As long as there are that many weapons in circulation, there will be evil people who abuse them.
The only gun control measures that would put an end to gun violence is wiping away the Second Amendment, confiscating all firearms and making it a crime to own one.
Even after Columbine, Sandy Hook, Orlando and now Las Vegas, America is not ready for that, nor will many of the self-righteous Democrats who are excoriating Republicans for not doing “something” about guns put their stamp on such a sweeping measure.
Doing something about mass shootings is a worthy goal, but it’s not so easy to figure out what we can agree to do that would actually work.
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