Rethinking the Gun Control Debate

2013-01-05T203040Z_01_CRA115_RTRIDSP_3_USA-GUNS-NEWTOWN

by Devon Dunn

The opinions expressed in this piece are solely the views of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the BU College Democrats at large. 

Columbine. Virginia Tech. Aurora. Newtown.

These names remain forever in the memories of citizens across America. Endless debates over what triggers these tragedies spark up time and time again. Indeed, there is a lot of incriminating evidence on the table. Not only do Americans have more guns than anyone else in the world, with 270 million privately owned firearms, but they also have the highest gun ownership rate per capita in the world, with an average of about 9 guns for every 10 Americans. Meanwhile, the United States boasts one of the highest numbers of gun-related deaths per year, next to Mexico. Clearly, Americans have an issue. Identifying the problem is simple. Forming a plan to solve this problem is the hard part.

Following the recent tragedies, I was entirely in favor of the strictest of gun control, like most gun-ignorant liberals. I have never used a gun. No one in my family has ever owned a gun. I knew nothing about guns, except that a bullet came out and it hurt people.  Despite this, when I read the 1994 Assault Weapons Ban I thought, “Wow, this looks great. We need to reinstate this.” For those of you who are unfamiliar with the legislation, the 1994 Assault Weapons Ban outlawed specific guns, prohibiting semi-automatic rifles with a detachable magazines and two or more of the following features: folding stocks, pistol grips, bayonet mounts, flash suppressors, and grenade launchers. At first glance, this legislation seemed ideal. But then I looked into what these features really do.

The stock on a rifle is the part of the gun that rests on your shoulder to firmly support the device, therefore aiming it easier, and to transmit recoil to the body. All rifles have stocks; a folding or telescopic stock is simply an extension of this feature to improve its function. A pistol grip is generally the part of the gun that is held by the hand for stability. A bayonet mount is where a bayonet can be put for close combat. A flash suppressor reduces the flash of a gun when firing by rapidly cooling the burning gases that exit the muzzle. Contrary to popular belief, its purpose is to prevent the shooter from being blinded at night. A flash suppressor is not to be confused with a sound suppressor, which reduces the amount of noise generated by firing a weapon, but does not silence it. Sound suppressors are currently strictly regulated in the United States. A grenade launcher’s purpose is simply to hold and launch grenades. However, grenades are illegal to civilians in the US.

I hated to admit it, but the more I looked into the banned features, the more cosmetic they seemed. Banning these features did not seem to address the gun’s potential for mass destruction.
But there has got to be another way to do this, right? Well, that is why Congress tried to additionally outlaw specific guns through the ban, such as certain models of AR-15s and AK-47s. However, a few months later, gun manufacturers continued to make these same guns, but changed the names. So, if it is impossible to ban specific guns outright, then why not just ban certain calibers? In that case, manufacturers could easily retool guns to a slightly different caliber.

The only option left is to ban how a gun operates. Automatic guns (aka machine guns) were banned officially in 1986 and are no longer available to civilians. An automatic gun will continue to fire as long as the trigger is depressed. Meanwhile, a semi-automatic weapon will fire with every pull of the trigger, and THIS is where the danger of guns lies. A shooter can fire many rounds in a short amount of time without having to reload.

The problem is, if you ban semi-automatic weapons, you eliminate an entire class of weapons that are used in many people’s daily lives as part of their careers and for sport. For example, ranchers use semi-automatic guns to keeping predators away from their livestock. A minority would stay that it is still worth the cost. But the majority of Americans would not support a ban of this magnitude, and Congress knows this. It is easy to say “I’m going to ban assault weapons,” but it is pretty much impossible to tell your constituents “I am also going to take away your ranch rifles and shotguns too.” It is not just the “gun lobby” that would oppose this. It is the American public. Many Representatives and Senators would not be re-elected if they supported this type of ban.

But fear not, fellow left-wingers! This does not mean that there is nothing we can do. President Obama recently proposed restricting magazine capacity to ten rounds or less. A magazine contains the bullets and must be replaced when all rounds in the magazine are fired. The killer in the Aurora shooting entered the movie theater with a 100 round magazine. A 100 round magazine serves absolutely no civilian purpose. Ten rounds are plenty for defensive purposes. And in regards to mass shooters, changing magazines under pressure, especially for an inexperienced shooter, is not an easy task. Forcing a shooter to repeatedly change magazines provides an edge. It provides time for others to react. It provides time for potential victims to run. It provides time when the shooter is essentially as defenseless as the victims. According to the Sandy Hook medical examiner, each victim was shot multiple times at short range. With close to thirty casualties and assuming the use of a thirty round magazine as per reports, Adam Lanza had to reload at least once.

That changes to five times with a ten round magazine. Five different chances for someone to escape.

In my opinion, limiting magazines is the clearest and most effective way to regulate guns. This is not to say that it will provide an end-all solution to gun violence. As a country we need to instate universal background checks.  Psychological testing and gun education classes before gaining gun access. A national registry. Improved mental health care. It may be a large undertaking, but I think we can all agree that something needs to be done.

(Photo credit: Carlo Allegri/Reuters)

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