It's time to ban assault-style weapons
It has been said that it is too early to politicize the recent shooting at a high school in Parkland, Fla., which killed 17 people. To be sensitive to that way of thinking, the following editorial is about the next mass killing.
Which likely is just days away.
According to the Gun Violence Archive, America saw a total of 346 mass shooting incidents in 2017. The archive defines a "mass shooting" as four or more people being shot or killed in the same general time and location. There were 365 days in 2017. That means there was pretty close to one mass shooting per day.
Americans are more likely to die from gun violence than many leading causes of death combined, with some 11,000 people in the United States killed in firearm assaults each year, according to the archive.
So now, hours, or days or (let us pray) a full week before the next mass shooting our editorial board is calling for a ban on assault-style weapons such as the AR-15.
That's the weapon of choice for mass murderers. It's the type of weapon used by Omar Mateen in June 2016 to kill 49 people and injure 50 at an Orlando nightclub; by Stephen Paddock, who killed 58 people and injured hundreds at a music festival in Las Vegas in October 2017; by Devin Kelley, who killed 26 people at a church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, in November 2017; and by Nikolas Cruz at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland.
The first thing we expect to hear is the National Rifle Association — which lobbies for gun manufacturers — screaming about the Second Amendment. But America had an assault weapons ban from 1994 to 2004, and King George didn't retake the colonies, nor did Congress strip people of the right to own handguns and shotguns and rifles.
The second thing we expect to hear is that an assault weapons ban is useless; people will still die. But we don't use the metric of "100 percent success" to define any laws. We have scores and scores of automobile laws but people still die because of cars; just not nearly as many as would die if we didn't have those laws.
The third thing we expect to hear is that mass shootings are an issue of mental health, not illegal use of guns. Such utter nonsense suggests that Americans are simply far more psychotic than people of other nations. A CNN study from last week noted that the United States makes up less than 5 percent of the world's population but holds 31 percent of global mass shooters. Gun homicide rates are about 25 times higher in the United States than in other high-income countries.
Anyone who believes that Americans are more mentally ill than other people holds some extremely anti-American sentiments. Americans aren't more psychotic. We just have more guns.
An assault weapons ban is possible. It could happen at the federal level — and should. But if Washington, D.C., won't lead, it can happen state-by-state.
Connecticut — in the wake of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings in Newtown — enacted some of the toughest gun-violence measures of any state. After they were signed into law, gun-related deaths in Connecticut started to drop, according to the Giffords Law Center to prevent Gun Violence. Deaths from firearms in that state fell from 226 in 2012 to 164 in 2016.
Oregon has been a leader in common-sense laws to reduce illegal gun violence. Background checks for gun sales passed in Oregon in 2015. A bill allowing for court orders to temporarily remove guns from people deemed to be a threat to themselves or others passed in 2017. The so-called "Boyfriend Loophole" to take guns away from harassers passed the House recently and is expected to do so in the Senate.
Do any of these laws make America weaker? Of course not. Do they stop people from hunting or keeping their homes safe? Of course not.
Listen to the emotional testimony of Rep. Rich Vial, who represents Wilsonville, on the Oregon House floor, as he announced he would be a "yes" vote for the Boyfriend Loophole law. It wasn't an anti-gun screed. It wasn't partisan rancor. It was mature, thoughtful, poignant and well-reasoned.
"I want to say that I completely understand the sentiments of my colleagues who feel differently than I do on this topic," said Vial, a Republican and a gun owner. "I remain committed to protecting the rights of responsible citizens to keep and bear arms. And I will continue to fight to protect that right. I want, finally, to make it absolutely clear that my 'yes' vote today in no way reflects disdain for those who disagree with me. Frankly, I pray that all of us can continue to work together for the common good in this body."
That's how we define leadership.
A ban on assault-style weapons is a simple, common-sense start. Such military-grade weaponry needn't be in the hands of any civilians. But it's only a first step.
The next step Congress should take is a buy-back program for assault weapons. One study — based on research done for the 2009 Supreme Court Case Heller v. District of Columbia — suggested that there could be 2.4 million assault-style rifles in the United States as of that year. Let's go with that number. A quick search of gun sales websites suggests that $1,200 is a reasonable price for an AR-15. If the program was wildly successful and rounded up every assault-style weapon, it could cost around $3 billion. Who has that kind of money?
The Pentagon does. The military budget for Fiscal Year 2017 was $606 billion. It could go up to $639 billion this year. A whopping $3 billion to make American streets and schools and malls safer? Chump change. And making America safer is the whole mission of the military.
But would it work?
Remember that first statistic we cited: Some 11,000 people in the United States are killed in firearm assaults each year.
What if we banned assault-style rifle sales and spent $3 billion buying back assault-style rifles? What if the effect saved only half of those killed in 2017? That would be 550 Americans still alive. What if it only saved a quarter of them? That would be 275 Americans still alive. What if it was an abject failure and saved a paltry 10 percent of them? That would be 110 Americans still alive.
Now, what if the dead were your family? Or attended your school?
Lawmakers: Spare us your thoughts and prayers. We need your votes. We need you to spend some money wisely. We need common sense.
This editorial originally appeared in The Beaverton-Tigard Times.