From the Left: Yes

Lance Simmens

AR-15. AK-47. Who would have ever thought that we Americans would find these terms comfortably ensconced in our contemporary lexicon? Yet astoundingly, in a country caught in the throes of deep division—not necessarily east and west, or north and south, but rather urban and rural—who would have thought that a recent Fox News poll would reveal two-thirds of Americans support a ban on assault rifles and semi-automatic weapons?

The same Fox News poll found 46 percent of Republicans and 58 percent of independents in favor of a ban, and 90 percent of Americans in support of requiring strengthened criminal background checks on all gun buyers. Has the National Rifle Association (NRA) completely melted down, lost its clout and become irrelevant? Not really.

Despite these overwhelming statistics, the NRA still controls the levers of power in our political system and, therefore, in spite of the strong sentiments reflected in these numbers, the outlook for significant gun reform legislation remains in legislative purgatory. It will remain there until Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell receives marching orders from the president to move a legislative vehicle, which will only happen when NRA Chief Executive Officer and Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre gives Trump his marching orders to proceed.

Assault weapons are the weapons of choice in most of the deadliest mass shootings over the past decade, according to the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, because an assault rifle is able to hurt and kill twice the number of people compared to an assailant armed with a non-assault rifle or handgun.

As our society is numbed by the increasing incidences of mass slaughter in public places such as schools, concerts, churches, movie theaters, nightclubs and outdoor gatherings (such as the Gilroy Garlic Festival in Gilroy, Calif.), one of the first questions most people ask is whether or not an AR-15 was involved. In most instances, the answer is yes. In an analysis of public mass shootings, the Giffords Law Center reported 85 percent of fatalities in shootings resulting in four or more deaths were caused by assault rifles.

It seems only logical that, given these daunting statistics, a rational person would conclude that outlawing assault rifles and strengthening background checks is a good starting point for addressing the outbreak of mass shootings that are ripping our sense of security apart at the seams. How many people know someone who is actually reluctant to go out in crowds for fear of being trapped should a shooting occur? Sadly, this is becoming more and more a reality today among people who choose not to venture out.

While there appears to be a consensus on strengthening background checks in Congress, the issue of an assault weapons ban, and, in some instances, calls for actual confiscation of assault weapons, is a non-starter despite popular consent. Interestingly enough, from 1994-2004, an assault weapons ban was in effect in America. The Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994 was spearheaded by California Senator Dianne Feinstein. However, it was accompanied by a sunset provision of 10 years, and the NRA was successful in beating back efforts to extend it.

During the decade it was in existence, shooting fatalities were 70 percent less likely to occur compared to periods before and after the ban, according to the Giffords Law Center. So, given this extensive history and surging public support, what is stopping us from enacting a reworked version of the legislation today? You guessed it: the NRA, with the help of an electoral map that disproportionately favors rural votes over urban votes (i.e. Wyoming, with a population of 570,000, and California, with nearly 40 million residents, each have two U.S. senators).

Now, I do not begrudge gun owners the right to own firearms, either for personal safety or for hunting. However, an assault weapon only has one function and that is to kill as many people as possible as quickly as possible. It is designed for military warfare and has no place in either a peaceful society or the hunting grounds. It is a human killing machine.

So, how many killing machines are in the hands of Americans? While estimates vary widely due to interpretations of the term “assault weapon,” Aaron Karp, a senior consultant to the Small Arms Survey, an independent research project based in Geneva, Switzerland, estimates there are between 15-20 million assault-style weapons in America today.

I personally would support confiscation, but the logistics might be insurmountable from a practical perspective. But we must start somewhere, and reinstitution of an assault weapons ban is as good a place to start as any. To all gun enthusiasts: Relax, the second amendment and a weapons ban can exist peacefully side by side, so no one will be coming for your guns.