May 24, 2022 will forever be one of the most tragic days in American history. 19 children and two teachers were slaughtered in a shooting at Robb Elementary in Uvalde, Texas. Six more shootings have occured since this horrific event. It is no question that the heinous shootings that defined our summer have seemingly become an alarming norm. This snapshot of gun violence and mass shootings in our country necessitates action.
However, gun regulations have notoriously been slow and difficult for lawmakers to legislate. The Federal Firearms Act of 1939 was the first action by the United States government to restrict firearms. This act made it illegal for former felons to purchase or sell firearms. Years later, the murders of President Kennedy and Martin Luther King made it clear that revisions in the law had to be made. Congress responded by enacting the Gun Control Act of 1968. This act required that the interstate dealers of firearms be federally licensed. It also limited gun purchases to adults 18 and up. However, in 1986, gun activists prevailed in passing the Firearms Owners Protections Act (FOPA). This act essentially forbade the states to enact “unreasonable” restrictions on the sale of firearms. Since then, the struggle between gun owners and their adversaries has made it extremely difficult to legislate a solidified and reliable system for gun regulation.
The issue of gun violence is nothing new, but it is now more polarizing than ever. In response to the shootings this summer, Democrats scrambled to pass any sort of legislation that would ban assault weapons and heavily restrict the purchase of high-capacity magazines. H.R. 1808, the Assault Weapons Ban of 2022, is a bill recently passed in the House that mainly aims to outlaw the ability to sell, manufacture, and possess a semiautomatic assault weapon.
The first problem with this sort of ban is that it is far too broad. Defining the term ‘semi-automatic’ is vital to understanding the implications of this bill. A semi-automatic weapon is a gun that cannot reload without manual operation which must be differentiated from a machine gun that is fully automatic. Many politicians conflate the two. A semiautomatic gun can only fire one bullet once the trigger is pulled; automatic weapons like machine guns fire multiple shots with one pull of the trigger. In addition, semi-automatic guns make up half of all gun sales in America. These weapons are commonly used for things like hunting, competitive shooting, and recreation. Most of these weapons sold are semi-automatic handguns, not the large and intimidating ‘military style’ weapons Democrats paint them to be. The bill specifies that it will ban semi-automatic “assault” weapons. Assault weapon is simply defined as “various automatic or semiautomatic firearms,” terminology that is vague and suggests a ban on a wide range of guns. This ambiguous approach to gun control is dangerous and misleading.
Secondly, the ban on these types of guns was slow and ineffective before, and there is no indication that it would be any different now. In 1994, an assault weapons ban was a part of the Violent Crime and Law Enforcement Act, which was in place until the law expired in 2004. Congress never renewed this measure since the effects of this ban were small and insignificant. Although some gun crimes involving assault weapons decreased, it was found that there was no difference in the rate of mass shootings during and after the ban. In addition, assault weapons that were purchased prior to the law were grandfathered in, as it is very difficult to account for and track these weapons. This would make it impossible to recall them. Furthermore, researchers have concluded that in the ten years that this ban was in place, there were no significant or conclusive improvements on gun violence.
In actuality, H.R. 1808 will most likely never pass through the Senate. The bill would have to have the votes of all Senate Democrats and at least 10 Republicans, and many GOP legislators recognize that gun ownership is a driving force in our economy. In 2021 alone, gun sales generated over 375,000 jobs contributing $70.5 billion to the U.S. economy. If legislators want to make any real progress in ensuring public safety, they must redirect their efforts to other measures.
While Congress has a duty to pass legislation that can effect some immediate change, the solution to gun violence and mass shootings can no longer be boiled down to something as simplistic as a ban on certain weapons. Democrats know that a ban on all semi-automatic assault weapons is not at all possible. Yet they use anti-Second Amendment language in saying that the Second Amendment is not absolute in order to bolster their own image and degrade law-abiding gun owners. The truth is that freedom should be absolute within reason. A total ban on assault weapons would be antithetical to this.
Congress made a great step towards ensuring that guns are placed in the hands of responsible citizens by passing the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act in June of this year. This law allocates $750 million to states so that they can ensure these weapons are not in the wrong hands. This bill includes more detailed review processes for those looking to purchase guns, primarily citizens under the age of 21. It will also enhance the review process for those purchasing weapons in addition to creating stricter requirements to become a federally licensed firearms dealer. Most importantly, it will provide $250 million in funds allocated toward community-based intervention programs to support violence prevention. Lawmakers need to focus their time and political capital towards ensuring that communities have the support to use the provisions from this act in a real and substantial way. The Safer Communities Act will also provide funding for school safety, measures which will include training for state and local law enforcement. All of these provisions combined will make it more difficult to attain any sort of semi-automatic weapon in addition to better equipping the community to handle the potentialities of these weapons. State governments need to ensure that these trainings for teachers and school law enforcement are correctly conducted to guarantee students’ safety. Implementation requires oversight, and oversight requires time and energy. Both Democrats and Republicans supported this, and now they need to focus their joint efforts in seeing it through.
What happened in Uvalde, Highland Park, Buffalo, and every other place that has experienced gun violence is truly heartbreaking. The events that led to these tragedies are multilayered. Issues ranging from law enforcement tactics, mental health problems, and easily accessible firearms all played a large role. These complex issues demand well-thought-out solutions, not futile Band-Aids. The divisions between parties over the semi-automatic assault weapon ban are distracting politicians from the real work that creates lasting change.