We would like to congratulate the Virginia General Assembly (and the Democrats in the Virginia General Assembly) for passing sensible gun control bills and not passing bad gun control. (WHSV, 1-13-20).
SENSIBLE GUN CONTROL PUT FORWARD BY THE VIRGINIA GENERAL ASSEMBLY
- The vote to ban guns at the state Capitol.
- Committee members voted on party lines, 9 to 5, to combine Senate Bills 22 and 69, which both would institute a "one gun a month" law for Virginia, limiting citizens to one handgun purchase within any 30-day period.
- Senate Bills 12 and 70, both of which would establish mandatory background checks for any transfer of firearms, including private sales, were combined as well and moved forward out of the committee.
- Also on 9-5 party line votes, the committee reported SB 240, establishing red flag laws, out of the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Each of these bills will move forward to the Virginia Senate for further consideration. (WHSV, 1-13-20)
BAD GUN CONTROL REMOVED FROM CONSIDERATION IN SENATE
The Assembly wisely voted to kill Senate Bill 16 (the bill to expand the definition of assault weapons). This bill would have been more trouble than it was worth. So it was definitely a smart decision.
EQUIVALENT HOUSE BILL, HOWEVER, REMAINS
However, there is no reason to remain complacent. The equivalent House bill, 961, has passed through the House of Delegates Committee on Public Safety with a vote of 12-9. HB 961 would ban the sale of certain semi-automatic firearms, including popular AR-15 style rifles. (ABC 13 News, 2-7-20)
So this is an issue that must be addressed.
WHY AN ASSAULT WEAPONS BAN IS ULTIMATELY INEFFECTIVE
First off, we favor common sense gun control. The move to establish mandatory background checks for private sales is a smart one, since the gun show loophole is a way in which guns can fall into the wrong hands.
However, banning guns, or banning specific types of guns is not always effective.
Let's address the push for an assault weapons ban. Military style assault weapons already are illegal.
Despite that fact, there are many opinions about what an assault weapon actually is, and whether they should or should not be legal. While the term is sometimes conflated with "assault rifle," a legal assault weapon is a semi-automatic firearm with a detachable magazine and pistol grip. It is not an automatic weapon (like what is used in the military). It does not refer to machine guns. A semi-automatic firearm fires one bullet from the chamber at a time (just like with a handgun).
There are many law abiding Virginia citizens who are members of the military who own semi-automatic weapons and they would be totally opposed to an assault weapons ban.
But the fact of the matter is that the hyper focus on mass shootings by the news and the media has brought the issue of assault weapons to the public consciousness. In reaction to these horrible scenes captured in the media, many people are now calling for an assault weapons ban. They believe that this would stop violent crime.
Yet would banning assault weapons really result in less crime? The truth is that America has already been down this road before. Between 1994 and 2004, the assault weapons ban did little to change the statistics on gun violence. In fact, before the ban was activated, rifles with military style features were only responsible for two percent of gun crimes nationwide (New York Times). During the ban, the number of assault weapons recovered by local police lowered to one percent, from the previous two percent. So really, there wasn't much of a difference being made.
Also, the assault weapons "ban" wouldn't be much of a ban at all because there would still be tens of millions of guns and magazines on American streets. Nobody knows the real number for sure. But rifle sales have skyrocketed. Counting rifles made and distributed in the U.S. only (in other words, not counting imports), the number has increased from 1.6 million in 2007 to 4.2 million in 2016. During that time, the AR-15 has been among the most popular rifles sold in the U.S. (National Review). In other words, even if the ban were enacted, a person who wanted to find an AR-15 illegally could do so, along with a large-capacity magazine. So the only thing a weapons ban would really accomplish is preventing access to assault weapons and large-capacity magazines to law-abiding citizens, while criminals would continue to buy these things with impunity.
The other fact is that 'big scary semi-automatic weapons' don't kill the majority of the Americans being killed with guns each year. According to pewresearch, a majority of the 39,773 gun deaths that occurred in 2017 were suicides. 6 out of 10 gun deaths were suicides. There has been a sharp spike in the level of gun deaths in recent years. In 2017, gun deaths were at their highest level since 1968, but once again, this is because of the increased rate of suicides. When looking at gun-related murders alone, the rate in 2017 was far below 1993, when there were 18,253 gun homicides – and when overall violent crime levels in the U.S. were much higher than they are today. (Pew Research) And in 2017, a majority of the gun murders in the United States were caused by handguns. Handguns caused 64% of the gun murders according to the FBI.
What about mass shootings? It is true that the incidents of mass shootings have become more common in the United States in recent years. While the definitions vary depending on the source, according to the FBI, there were 27 active shooter incidents in 2018 and only 1 in 2000 (Pew Research). And according to USA Today, 208 people died in mass shootings in 2017. Yet considering the 10,982 gun murders that occurred in 2017, mass shootings accounted for less than 2% of the overall gun murders. Also, as mentioned above, it would be entirely possible for these shooters to obtain their weapons illegally (given the mass amount of semi-automatic weapons on American streets).
The other fact is that homicides have actually declined over the last two decades (Pew Research Center), but according to a Pew survey conducted after the Sandy Hook shooting, a little over half of Americans wrongly believe that gun crime is higher today than it was 20 years ago. So it is time that people are made aware of the facts.
The reality is that the issue of gun violence will not be tackled by a ban on assault weapons. Just like in the 1990's and early 2000's, this will make little difference.
David M. Kennedy (the director of the Center for Crime Prevention and Control at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice) has made the argument that poverty is a major cause of gun violence. He also says, a closer look at the social networks of neighborhoods most afflicted, often show that only a small number of men drive most of the violence. Identify these men, change their behavior, and it’s possible to have an immediate impact (New York Times).
Another issue is that of the deinstitutionalization of the mentally ill, and the over prescribing of pharmaceutical drugs. In 2012, at least 35 school shootings or school related acts of violence were committed by those taking or withdrawing from a psychiatric drug. (Aljazeera).
In the fight against gun violence, a good place to start would be taking measures to fight poverty, and to bring opportunities for education and employment into impoverished areas. Another measure would be to take a good look at the mental health industry, and to see if America truly is doing what it can to treat the mentally ill. That would be a start. But despite all the fear mongering of the media, the assault weapons 'boogie man' only plays a very small role in the overall violence, and banning these weapons would do little, next to nothing, in solving the problem.
GUN LEGISLATION IN VIRGINIA
Va. Senate committee strikes 'assault weapons' bill, advances other proposed gun laws (WHSV, 1-13-20)
THE DATA ON GUN DEATHS
Five Facts About Crime in the U.S. (Pew Research Center, 10-17-19)
What the data says about gun deaths in the U.S. (Pew Research Center, 8-16-19)
FBI Table on murder by weapon in 2017 (FBI, 2017)
It’s Time for Real Talk about the Assault-Weapons ‘Ban' (National Review, 2-27-18)
The Assault Weapons Myth, (New York Times - 9-12-14)
Assault Weapons Report, (Center for American Progress)
Death Statistics for 2013, (CDC)
MASS SHOOTERS AND PILLS
Guns, Mental Illness and Newtown (The Wall Street Journal, 12-18-12)
The Connecticut massacre and America's estrangement from reality (Aljazeera, 12-17-12)
Another School Shooting, Another Psychiatric Drug? Federal Investigation Long Overdue (Citizens Commission On Human Rights International, 7-20-12)