In the 12 months following the unfathomable Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in 2012, about 1,500 state gun bills were introduced. Of them, 109 became a law.
That all makes perfect sense. Unfortunately, it takes a tragedy of great magnitude to push people to act. But what’s the hardest part to believe? Of those bills, 70 of them loosened gun restriction laws.
Don’t believe me? Believe the New York Times, which did the research and reported on the issue.
If an elementary school shooting can’t tighten gun control laws, what can?
Thursday’s shooting at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, OR that killed 10 people has brought out the familiar post-tragedy cries of greater gun control laws in America. Among the most prominent are the banning of
semiautomatic rifles, heightened background checks and the refusal of gun sales to those with a history of mental illness.
But that got me wondering: How many people actually know what gun control laws are in America?
The gunman, Christopher Mercer, who died in the shooting, used three handguns and one rifle, all purchased legally. He was allegedly targeting Christian students.
Let’s first start with semiautomatic weapons, which are generally defined as a gun, for civilian use, that requires a pull of the trigger for each shot (as opposed to military-style holding down the trigger to unleash the entire magazine.) The manufacture of such weapons for civilian use was outlawed in 1994 by the Federal Assault Weapons Ban, under Bill Clinton, legislation that had a built-in date expiration (or a “sunset”), unless Congress, under George W. Bush, renewed it. They didn’t, it expired in 2004, and efforts to renew it since have been futile.
The ban wouldn’t have included guns that already existed and were in ownership of civilians prior to the law, but had it survived, could very well have had a tangible long-term effect in preventing the widespread distribution of semiautomatic rifles.
After Sandy Hook, President Barack Obama called on Congress to ban them again. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, a Democrat from California, tried to, but failed — and that was with a Democratic majority senate.
America has a gun problem. There’s no doubt. Statistics show that there are 89 guns for every 100 people, meaning almost 9 of every 10 American citizens owns a gun. This is obviously skewed by the number of people who own lots and lots of guns.
According to the Washington Post, there has not been a calendar week in Obama’s second term where there wasn’t a mass shooting, defined as an incident in which four or more people are shot. Even worse, gun production has doubled since Obama took office.
Thankfully, there are seven states that have their own laws banning assault weapons — California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey and New York (woo-hoo!).
But you can’t compare our country’s gun problem to anywhere else. Because we have a shit ton more people than most places. There are 319 million Americans. That’s a lot of people to legislate.
Obama likes to point to the United Kingdom and Australia as examples of nations that passed successful gun control laws following deadly shootings. Those two have a combined population of about 88 million.
Switzerland is another country that has a widespread prevalence of guns — about 45 per 100 people, fourth most in the world — but average around just .25 gun-related homicides per 100,000 people, compared with America’s three per 100,000. However, Switzerland, with a population of about 8 million, has long imbued a culture revolving around gun safety, which starts with their youth. It’s a culture that can never exist in the U.S.
As for background checks, America does them. the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, instituted in 1998, immediately cross-checks purchasers of guns using a vast database network. It disallows anyone from buying a gun who is a convicted felon, drug addict, illegal immigrant, a dishonorably discharged veteran, those who have previously been committed into a mental institution, and those convicted of misdemeanor domestic violence offenses, among others.
As of last year, the NICS processed a total of 202,536,522 transactions since its inception, 1,166,676 of which have been denied — a rate of about .57 percent.
But those background checks only apply if you’re buying a gun from a Federal Firearms Licensee. If you’re buying it from a private seller, or at a gun show, then no background check is required, with a few exceptions. Obama pushed to include background checks for private gun sales in his 2013 proposal, to no avail.
Let’s remember, though. It’s a minuscule minority of gun owners that go crazy and shoot up public places. The rest are responsible, and that’s what most gun owners, influential gun organizations like the National Rifle Association, and Republican lawmakers that represent constituents who live in gun-friendly areas argue in their defense whenever the issue of gun control is brought up.
To limit gun control, they say, is to limit their Constitutional freedom granted by the Second Amendment.
In hindsight, it’s amazing that the 1994 law even passed. Had it stuck, it might have created enough of a hindrance to prevent subsequent tragedies in Newtown, Aurora, Charleston, or even in Roseburg on Thursday.
There are plenty of gun control laws in America.
They’re just not very good.