In the wake of the numerous and tragic shootings of 2012-2013, the public has witnessed an upheaval surrounding our current gun laws, gun violence, mental health and what, if anything, should be done to curb gun killings. All sides have engaged in pitched rhetoric on this issue, and with President Obama putting forth his proposed solution, the debate is likely to continue with a great deal of ferocity.
If we desire to seek solutions in order to prevent another tragedy like the one that recently took place, we must sift through the misunderstandings and misconstrued facts to ascertain what the issues really are, and how to begin discussing them without coming to blows or shots for that matter. Here are the basics about what an assault weapon is, as well as the details of the President’s proposal.
What is an “assault weapon”?
The Assault Weapons Ban (AWB), which Congress passed into law in 1994 and expired in 2004, defines a semi-automatic assault weapon as the following:
- A semiautomatic rifle that has an ability to accept a detachable magazine and has at least 2 of— a folding or telescopic stock; a pistol grip that protrudes conspicuously beneath the action of the weapon; a bayonet mount; a flash suppressor or threaded barrel designed to accommodate a flash suppressor; and a grenade launcher
- A semiautomatic pistol that has an ability to accept a detachable magazine and has at least 2 of— an ammunition magazine that attaches to the pistol outside of the pistol grip; a threaded barrel capable of accepting a barrel extender, flash suppressor, forward hand grip, or silencer; a shroud that is attached to, or partially or completely encircles, the barrel and that permits the shooter to hold the firearm with the non-trigger hand without being burned;a manufactured weight of 50 ounces or more when the pistol is unloaded; and a semiautomatic version of an automatic firearm; and
- A semiautomatic shotgun that has at least 2 of— a folding or telescopic stock; a pistol grip that protrudes conspicuously beneath the action of the weapon; a fixed magazine capacity in excess of 5 rounds; and an ability to accept a detachable magazine.
To sum it up, if you have a firearm with a combination of at least 2 of any of the listed items and a detachable magazine, you have an assault weapon. One particular, seemingly often misunderstood concept is the difference of automatic vs. semiautomatic guns. A semi-automatic weapon fires one round per trigger pull while a fully automatic weapon fires a stream of rounds as long as the trigger is held. Automatic weapons are highly regulated and for most intents and purposes are legally inaccessible to the general public.
The President’s Proposal
This portion of the order would require Congressional approval in order to made into law. (The percentages following each are the likelihood of the item receiving actual approval as stated by the Washington Post):
• Ban on assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines. Odds of passage: Less than 50 percent;
• Requiring universal background checks in gun sales, including those at gun shows. Odds of passage: 75 percent or better;
• Confirming B. Todd Jones as director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. Odds of confirmation: Very good, considering that there are no obvious reasons to hold it up;
• Enhancing school safety, including putting as many as 1,000 trained police officers and school counselors on the job. Odds of passage: Very good;
• Ban possession, transfer, manufacture and import of armor-piercing bullets. Odds of passage: N/A.
The following is a list of actions that need only the President’s signature to take effect:
• Address legal barriers in health care laws that bar some states from making available information about people who are prohibited from having guns;
• Ensure federal agencies share relevant information with background check system;
• Direct attorney general to work with other agencies to review existing laws to make sure they can identify those who shouldn’t have guns;
• Direct Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, other agencies to conduct research into causes, preventing gun violence;
• Clarify that no federal laws prevent health care providers from contacting authorities when patients threaten to use violence;
• Give communities the opportunity to hire up to 1,000 school resource officers and counselors
• Require federal law enforcement to trace all recovered guns;
• Propose regulations to enable law enforcement to run complete background checks before returning seized firearms;
• Direct Justice Department to analyze information on lost, stolen guns; make that information available to law enforcement;
• Training for state and local law enforcement, first responders, school officials on how to handle active-shooter situations;
• Make sure every school has a comprehensive emergency management plan
• Help ensure young people get needed mental health treatment; that health insurance plans cover mental health benefits;
• Encourage development of new technology to make it easier for gun owners to safely use and store their guns;
• Have Consumer Product Safety Commission assess the need for new safety standards for gun locks and gun safes;
• Launch national campaign on responsible gun ownership.
A Final Thought
Armed with equivocal evidence, both sides could argue back and forth all day as to whether gun control measures have or will reduce gun violence; whether the Second Amendment protects large capacity magazines, pistol grips, bayonet mounts; and whether the President’s proposal will prevent the terrible tragedies that have befallen us this last year. But there are some things that, as a civil society on which we can reach a consensus: 1. One needless killing is one too many; 2. No simple gun violence solutions exist; 3. All constitutional rights, including those which the Second Amendment protects, are subject to reasonable regulation; and 4. Perhaps most importantly, that we stop shouting across the aisle long enough to hear ourselves think.
by Daniel Melo