Changes won't stop school shootings, but they'll help
While lawmakers in statehouses and on Capitol Hill struggled last week to move meaningful gun reform through their chambers in the wake of another horrible mass shooting, decisive action came from an unlikely venue.
At least five major retailers, including Oregon-based Bi-Mart, have announced they will no longer sell guns to people under the age of 21.
Dick's Sporting Goods was the first to change its purchase policy, but was quickly followed by Kroger (owner of Fred Meyer), Walmart, Bi-Mart and L.L. Bean.
It's already illegal for retailers and other licensed dealers to sell handguns to people under 21, but the federal minimum age for purchasing long guns, ranging from small rifles to military-style semi-automatic weapons, is 18. According to the Giffords Law Center, which tracks gun laws, only two states, Illinois and Hawaii, have raised the long-gun purchase age to 21.
President Trump briefly floated the idea of restricting the sales of semi-automatic rifles to those 21 and older, but backed down after private talks with representatives of the National Rifle Association.
Corporate executives, by contrast, acted decisively following the Valentine's Day shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, in which a former student killed 17 students and staff with an AR-15 rifle.
Edward Stack, the chief executive at Dick's Sporting Goods, said executives at his company, one of the nation's largest gun retailers, were moved by the student activists in Florida, who are lobbying for raising the minimum age to purchase all firearms.
"When we saw what happened in Parkland, we were so disturbed and upset," Stack told The New York Times. "We love these kids and their rallying cry, 'Enough is enough.' It got to us."
Last Wednesday, Stack announced that his stores would stop stocking assault-style rifles and raise the minimum age for all firearm purchases, regardless of local laws.
"We're going to take a stand and step up and tell people our view and, hopefully, bring people along into the conversation," said Stack, whose grandfather, Dick Stack, founded the company 70 years ago.
Since then, legal scholars have noted that many states, including Oregon, ban discrimination based on age. So, it's possible that someone under the age of 21 could challenge a retailer's practice of limiting long-gun sales that otherwise are legal.
There are two ways to fix that.
First, the Oregon Legislature could pass legislation allowing age restrictions on long guns to match the federal law on handguns, just as it placed age limits on cigarette sales last year.
In the meantime, retailers could follow Dick's lead and remove assault-style guns from their inventories.
To us, limiting the sale of assault-style weapons makes sense.
Oregonians, after all, are all too familiar with the lethal force of the AR-15.
It was the weapon used by the gunman in the 2012 Clackamas Town Center shooting, the 2014 Reynolds High School shooting and was in the arsenal of weapons the shooter brought onto the Umpqua Community College campus in Roseburg in 2015.
According to a study by USA Today, "AR-15 style rifles" were used in more than a dozen mass shootings since 1984, including those in Aurora, Colorado; Newtown, Connecticut; San Bernardino, California; Las Vegas, Nevada; Orlando and Parkland, Florida.
Fans of the AR-15 — and there are an estimated 8 million of the guns in circulation — will note that raising the age of purchase to 21 wouldn't have stopped many of the mass shootings listed above. Several of the shooters, including the one in Roseburg, were older than 21. Others stole or borrowed weapons. And several mass shootings were carried out using handguns.
That misses the point.
No change in law would prevent every mass shooting. We know that. But extending the purchase age requirement to all guns makes sense.
Such a law wouldn't prevent a grandfather from giving his trusty .22 rifle to a grandkid, as it would be legal for minors to own a rifle given to them, or purchased on their behalf, by an adult. But it would require that someone at least 21 is involved in the decision to put a gun in someone's hands.
Most Americans think it's a good idea. A Politico/Morning Consult poll released last week showed 82 percent of those surveyed now support requiring those purchasing assault-style weapons to be at least 21 years old, and 81 percent support requiring purchasers of all firearms to be 21.
In announcing Dick's policy change, Ed Stack said his family and company "appreciate that the vast majority of gun owners in this country are responsible, law-abiding citizens." But, he added, those who support the Second Amendment must help solve the "epidemic" of gun violence.
Following his lead, and limiting gun sales to those 21 and older, is a start.