In light of the February 14 shootings in Parkland, Florida, the gun debate issue has seen yet another re-awakening. Gun-rights activists love to promote the idea that gun control laws won’t help to prevent mass violence, but only infringe upon the rights of law-abiding citizens. While it’s certainly true that no law is going to completely eradicate the threat of violence, there’s a case to be made for reinstating the decade-long assault weapons ban that expired in 1994. Introduced during the Clinton administration, the ban restricted “manufacture, transport, and possession” of some semi-automatic weapons (for Merriam-Webster’s most up-to-date definition for this type of weapon, click here). It also restricted large-capacity magazines — for these purposes, any magazine capable of holding 10 rounds or more.
As noted in a 2004 University of Pennsylvania study, these types of weapons are used almost exclusively for “criminal applications,” except in military situations. They are of no use when it comes to hunting, and lack the precision of a smaller-capacity gun when it comes to target shooting. So why was the ban allowed to simply expire in the first place, and what harm would come from reinstating it?
The same gun-rights activists will argue that the Second Amendment clearly states that the right to bear arms “shall not be infringed.” The truth is, there are already laws in place that restrict ownership of firearms. People with a medical marijuana license, for example, are forbidden to own guns, despite the fact that they’re not breaking any laws. These regulations haven’t contributed to the destruction of society, any more than the laws that apply to operators of motor vehicles do. They’re a matter of public safety.
Another popular argument stems from the insistence that these weapons aren’t intended as protection from animals, or even from intruders. If we can’t own the same type of weaponry as the government or the military, then we’re sitting ducks when “they” come to take our guns and our rights away. That’s hardly a useful argument, unless one also argues that every citizen should have access to the nuclear launch codes. In this imagined tyrannical future, no ordinary law-abiding citizen would stand a chance in any case.
In short, the assault weapons ban provides no guarantee against the sort of mass carnage that erupted last month in Florida. But it could hardly make things any worse than they are now.