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      Banning assault weapons is effective — and not all that complicated

      By George J. Mitchell   MARCH 23, 2018

      Mass shootings have become an epidemic. There’s no other way to describe the carnage we regularly face. But where past tragedies have slipped out of the news and no action has been taken, this time we’re seeing leadership and persistence by the brave high school students who survived the shooting in Parkland, Fla. These young men and women have boldly assumed the mantle of moral leadership. Just days after burying their friends and teachers, they are demanding that lawmakers, at the state and national levels, take action to reduce the likelihood of another mass shooting.

      Fortunately, at least one approach has had real results: a federal ban on military-style assault weapons. This strategy worked in the past, when Senator Dianne Feinstein of California championed and gained enactment of a ban in 1994.

      Unfortunately, opponents in and out of the Congress are speaking out against a ban. They advance three arguments: The ban didn’t work; it’s too complicated to put into legislation; and it prevents law-abiding citizens from buying guns.

      They’re wrong on all counts: The ban was effective and, if enacted, will be again; in the realm of public safety, Congress regularly acts on complex matters; and no one has an absolute right to buy any and all guns.

      In evaluating an assault weapons ban, it’s important to keep in mind that the goal was and is to decrease the frequency and deadliness of mass shootings; neither a ban nor any other single action will end such shootings altogether.

      Given the intensity of emotion on the issue, it’s not surprising that both sides point to studies that support their position. But one analysis, by Louis Klarevas, a professor at the University of Massachusetts, is persuasive. He found that mass shootings fell by 37 percent during the ban and then increased by 183 percent after it lapsed. Also, gun deaths from mass shootings fell by 43 percent during the ban, and then increased by 239 percent afterward.

      The 10 deadliest mass shootings in our country’s history all occurred either before or after the ban was in effect. And today, as weapons become more sophisticated and deadly, casualties have increased.

      The second argument is that the circumstances are too complicated to permit the writing of an effective ban; how, opponents ask, will Congress decide which weapons to ban? However, in limiting the emission of toxic chemicals, in evaluating the benefits and dangers of prescription drugs, in making airplanes and automobiles safer, in trying to prevent another financial crisis, Congress has dealt with complexities more daunting than the classification of assault weapons.

      The third argument is that an assault weapons ban will prevent law-abiding citizens from buying some guns. But that already is the law with respect to a wide range of military-style weapons, including fully automatic machine guns. The central question is whether an AR-15 is closer on the spectrum of weapons to a machine gun or to a hunting rifle. The answer is obvious.

      In renewing the ban, in addition to expert knowledge and advice about weapons, what’s also needed in common sense. Common sense tells us that there are significant differences between an AR-15 and a hunting rifle. Common sense tells us that hunters don’t need 30 rounds in a magazine to bring down a deer. Common sense tells us that weapons of war should not be brought into our schools.

      The assault weapons ban reflects these principles in a straightforward and commonsense way, by identifying the characteristics that distinguish assault weapons from other firearms. I do not suggest that it is simple. I do suggest that it has been done and can be done again. This approach worked with the 1994 assault weapons ban. It can work again.

      The young men and women from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School have earned our respect. We must tell them the truth and act on it. Renewing the federal assault weapons ban will reduce the likelihood of another tragedy like the one they went through. Congress should join the students in leading on this critical issue.


      George J. Mitchell served for 15 years as US senator from Maine, the last 6 years as Senate majority leader. He later served as chairman of the Northern Ireland peace talks and as US envoy for Middle East peace. He is currently chairman emeritus of the international law firm DLA Piper.[/indent]


      he Assault Weapons Ban was part of a 1994 anti-crime bill. It went into effect later that year, and lasted until the same time in 2004. Critics often claim that the Assault Weapons Ban didn’t work because of the Columbine shooting. Rather than list one case and claim it invalidates everything, I examined how many shootings took place before the bill went into effect, during the Assault Weapons Ban and after it took place.

      In addition to looking at the national Assault Weapons Ban, several states have similar bans, before, during and after the Assault Weapons Ban. If a shooting took place in that state or city or district during their Assault Weapons Ban, it counts against those gun bans in my analysis.

      Of the 23 shootings with 10 or more deaths, two took place during the National Government’s Assault Weapons Ban: Columbine and the shooting spree by an Atlanta day trader, both in 1999. Connecticut had an Assault Weapons Ban in place during the Sandy Hook Massacre in 2012. The San Bernardino shooters conducted their terror attack on an office party in 2015, long after California passed an Assault Weapons Ban, back in 1989. And Washington, D.C. had an Assault Weapons Ban as the Washington Naval Yard shooter went on his killing rampage in 2013.

      That’s five cases. In the other 18 cases where 10 or more people were killed in rampage shootings, there was no Assault Weapons Ban in that state, city, or across the country.

      These include (1) the Las Vegas hotel and Country Western concert massacre, (2) the Orlando nightclub shooting in 2016, (3) the Virginia Tech shooting in 2007, (4) the Sutherland Springs church shooting in 2017, (5) the 1991 Luby’s Cafeteria shooting in Texas, (6) the San Ysidro McDonald’s massacre of 1984 in California, (7) the University of Texas tower shooting, (8) the Douglas High School killing spree in Florida, (9) the Edmond Post Office shooting in Oklahoma in 1986, (10) the Binghamton shooting in 2009 in New York, (11) the Camden shootings of 1949, (12) the Wilkes-Barre shootings of 1982 in Pennsylvania, (13) the Ft. Hood shooting in Texas in 2009, (14) the Aurora Theater shooting in 2012 in Colorado, (15) the Geneva County massacre in Alabama in 2009, (16) the GMAC shooting in Jacksonville, Florida in 1990, (17) the Red Lake rampage in 2005 in Minnesota, and finally, (18) the Umpqua Community College shooting of 2015 in Oregon. That’s also 371 deaths from these 18 cases of no Assault Weapons Ban, and 82 deaths from the other five cases with an Assault Weapons Ban.

      There’s also a push to have signs posted at schools in the wake of the Florida shooting, announcing that those inside will kill any shooter. But that wouldn’t necessarily deter a killer any more than the threat of death stops an ISIS bomber. That’s because in 18 of the cases, the shooter took his life. The killer’s own death is part of the evil plan.[/indent]



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