Gun Laws Are More Effective Than Some People Let On

In the morning hours of February 14th, 1929, seven men were gunned down in a garage on Chicago’s north side. The victims were members or associates of George “Bugs” Moran’s organized crime gang. But despite said victims being criminals, the American public was outraged enough to demand action. And that’s how the National Firearms Act of 1934 came to exist.

The National Firearms Act, which was rewritten and wholly strengthened in 1968, prohibits the manufacture and sale of an assortment of weapons to or for anyone other than the government itself. These weapons include machine guns, short-barreled shotguns and rifles, weapon silencers, and an assortment of other weapons, including grenades, rocket launchers, and the like.

Some Americans today like to tell us that gun laws simply do not work; that criminals and terrorists will obtain weapons by other means. But in most cases, the perpetrators in mass shootings aren’t criminals until the first bullets fly. They almost always use firearms obtained legally. And if it weren’t for the National Firearms Act, the death tolls in Orlando, Newtown, Aurora, Columbine, Roseburg, or San Bernardino could have been considerably higher than they ended up being. It’s evidence that gun laws do, in fact, save lives. And with more gun control on the books, we could save a whole lot more, too.

The AR-15 used in Aurora and the practically identical Sig Sauer MCX used in Orlando look like proper, full-on assault rifles, but they aren’t. An “assault rifle” is technically defined as a weapon that fires in either bursts — multiple rounds (usually three) fire from the weapon each time the trigger is pulled — or fully-automatically, meaning the weapon will fire bullets rapidly and repeatedly so long as the trigger is held down.

The AR-15 and Sig Sauer MCX are actually semi-automatic, meaning they’ll fire one bullet each time the trigger is pulled. Their rate of fire is entirely dependent on how quickly you can pull the trigger. They usually have magazines with 30 rounds of ammo (or less, depending on your States’ gun laws).

Had any of those shooters been equipped with a proper assault rifle — one that fires in bursts, or could be fired as a full automatic — the death tolls would have been considerably higher. But thankfully, the National Firearms Act prohibits the sale of those types of weapons. It’s impossible to fathom how many innocent people would’ve died had the Orlando shooter been equipped with an M-16 or an AK-47, both of those being proper assault rifles. Thankfully, the National Firearms Act makes it illegal for civilians to own or sell either of those weapons, and the Orlando shooter, like so many other gunmen, couldn’t legally or easily obtain them.

The Psychology Behind “Assault-Style” Firearms Should Play A Role In Gun Laws

Once we know the facts about these firearms, we find ourselves asking two new questions. First, why are these weapons so common in mass shootings? Why do gunmen use these weapons so frequently if they’re no more effective than those aforementioned traditional hunting rifles? And secondly, if these weapons are no more effective than a traditional hunting rifle, how would gun laws stop these mass shootings? Would we need to ban standard hunting rifles as well?

The answer to the first question is that these weapons are designed to use 30-round magazines, whereas most hunting weapons are not. A magazine is just one component of a firearm, and a hunting rifle could use an extended magazine, but the AR-15, the Sig Sauer MCX, and other similar weapons come with this capacity as standard, which makes them easier to use in these sorts of situations.

But I theorize that there’s a second, less-technical reason why these weapons are used in these mass shootings more frequently than, say, a hunting rifle: the AR-15 and similar weapons have an aesthetic design that looks deadlier. It’s easy to imagine a hunting rifle aimed at a deer, and it’s easy to imagine an AR-15 pointed at a human being, because the weapon is designed to look like the assault rifles commonly deployed on battlefields around the globe.

To explain this phenomena, let’s take a look at automobiles. In one parking spot, you have a regular car. You imagine it being used as a family vehicle. But parked next to it is another car with the same make and model as the first, but this one has racing stripes, racing tires, and a spoiler. The cars are technically identical inside; the same engine, the same transmission, etc. They generally perform the same; the second car’s modifications might improve performance, though only mildly. But it’s a whole lot easier to imagine the latter car taking part in street races than the first, because it has the aesthetic of a car that goes fast.

I believe the AR-15 and similar weapons have been used in America’s deadliest mass shootings because they look like the sort of firearm that can kill a lot of people quickly. It’s not about the actual stopping power or rate of fire of the weapons.

The two teenagers who carried out the Columbine high school massacre were armed with 9mm TEC-9 weapons. They were semi-automatic, thanks to the National Firearms Act, but they looked like their fully-automatic counterparts. The AR-15 rifles used in San Bernardino, Aurora, Newtown, and elsewhere were semi-automatic, but they looked like M4 or M-16 assault rifles.

When the gunman is holding that “assault-style” firearm, they feel more empowered. they feel like the gun can kill a lot of people. They feel like a soldier, fighting whatever war they tell themselves they’re waging, albeit a holy war like the Orlando and San Bernardino shooters engaged in, or some psychotic war on society itself, as we saw in Aurora or Columbine.

And in that, we find our answer to the second question from earlier. Gun laws could curb the use of these weapons in mass shootings by limiting magazine capacities, forcing a mass shooter to reload more often. Furthermore, gun laws could restrict the sale of firearms that have the appearance of assault weapons to curb the psychological affects these weapons have on mass shooters.

When you stop to consider this from multiple perspectives, the solution becomes blatantly obvious: ban the manufacture and sale of firearms that resemble fully-automatic or burst-automatic weapons. Current owners can keep their weapons, but cannot transfer ownership. Limit magazine capacities, because absolutely no one needs to be capable of firing 30+ rounds of ammunition while hunting deer or in the defense of their homes (a phenomena that almost never actually happens to begin with).

Will this stop every mass shooting in America? No. So long as Americans have this inexplicable affection for guns, the nation will continue to suffer at the hands of mass shooters. But would this simple, common-sense law save lives? Absolutely and inarguably. And while you might think these firearms look cool, and while you might want high-capacity magazines for perfectly lawful reasons, your personal taste is not, nor has it ever been or will it ever be, more valuable to any discussion than the life of another human being.

Ban assault-style weapons. Limit magazine capacities. Let your fellow Americans live to see another day. This debate has gone on long enough. America deserves peace, and common-sense gun laws are the only thing that can help bring that peace along.

Photo by e53