Gun Violence in America

On a winter evening, a stillness is felt as one walks past the East Front Capital in Washington D.C. Yet, in that stillness, a microcosm pulses. Commuters walk briskly past the Senate buildings on their way to Union Station to catch a train to home, to a class, or to a second job. Others walk southeast, past the façade of the House buildings on their way to Bullfeathers or another destination. All pass the small plastic shelters that form tents over heat vents under which the homeless huddle during the cold night. Above the street, lights of staffers working into the evening dot the windows in the Senate and House buildings. Their work will intimately touch the lives of all: the old and young, the experienced and inexperienced, the successful and the struggling, the powerful and the powerless. To maintain stability in our complex society, the members of Congress must find common ground on those difficult issues that threaten the stability of our society and our way of life.

Gun violence threatens our families, our society, and our way of life. Consider the statistics: the U.S. has the  highest rate of gun ownership in the world, and the highest per capita rate of firearm related homicides among advanced countries with gun ownership. We have also experienced about 130 school shootings since the Columbine shooting in 1999. In 2012, the U.S. had 9 mass gun killings occur across the nation. In 2010 alone,  31,672  people died due to the violent misuse of guns. Firearms are the weapon of choice for murderers. The public anguish over the senseless loss of lives demands that the U.S.Congress create a uniform body of legislation that reduces the incidence of gun violence in our country.

The problem of gun violence is multi-fold: including violent individuals, the accessibility of guns and large capacity ammunition magazines, and the inherently dangerous nature of the gun.  Without addressing the individual components of the problem, we cannot hope to substantially curtail the problem itself.  On the issues of accessibility of guns and ammunition and the dangerous nature of guns, Senators and Congressmen on Capitol Hill have introduced legislation to reduce the ability of violent individuals to purchase certain semi-automatic guns and large capacity magazines (LCMs).

Terminology

Recent mass shooters have slain their victims with semi-automatic guns using LCMs. Semiautomatic guns, including rifles and pistols, shoot one round of ammunition with each pull of the trigger, but are designed to rapidly reload automatically from a magazine after a round is fired. Guns can be outfitted with certain military type features such as: scopes, tripods, grips, grenade and rocket launchers, flash suppressors designed to  conceal a shooter’s position, and other modifications that mimic those guns used by the military in combat.

Legislation

Senator Feinstein and her co-sponsors in the Senate have introduced the  Assault Weapons Ban of 2013 (AWB of 2013)  that bans the sale, transfer, manufacture and importation of :

  • certain semiautomatic guns with a detachable magazine and one additional military feature;
  • LCMs of over ten rounds;
  •  dangerous aftermarket modifications and workarounds, such as bullet buttons that allow for rapid replacement of magazines; and
  •  the importation of assault weapons and LCMs.

The AWB of 2013 also:

  • prohibits the  production of the functional equivalent of any banned weapon,
  • requires background checks on the sale or transfer of grandfathered semi-automatic assault weapons,
  • requires secure storage of grandfathered semiautomatic weapons that may be accessed by individuals prohibited from  possessing such a weapon,
  • requires that all semi-automatic assault weapons and large capacity feeding devices manufactured after the enactment of the AWB of 2013 be engraved with a serial number.

Notably, while the bill bans 157 named firearms, it expressly excludes from the ban 2,258 firearms. By excluding these firearms, the legislation seeks to exempt from the ban the type of guns used by hunters and target shooters, and guns used in competition.

The AWB of 2013 was introduced to impose measures that would either prevent the numerous mass shootings that continue to occur in the United States or, at a minimum, to reduce the death toll in the event of future shootings. Reducing the availability of LCMs and expanding background checks to include virtually all sales of semi-automatic weapons are two aspects of the legislation that are not only important to reduce gun violence but should be the least controversial.

Currently, under federal law, licensed dealers who sell firearms must perform a background check on buyers. However, unlicensed firearm dealers can  sell firearms without performing a background check  at gun shows, between private parties, and online. The exclusion of unlicensed gun dealers from the background check requirement allows those who are prohibited by law  from purchasing guns ( felons, fugitives, persons convicted of a misdemeanor crime for domestic violence, illegal drug abusers, those adjudicated mentally ill, and those dishonorably discharged) to easily obtain a gun.  In addition, background checks are not required for the purchase of ammunition.

Unfortunately, the AWB of 2013 inadequately addresses the issue of background checks.  To adequately protect the public, the legislation should require universal background checks on all sale or transfers of  firearms and ammunition with an exception for transfers between immediate family members.  The proposed legislation also could impose penalties on state and federal agencies that neglect to report the identities of prohibited purchasers to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, known as NICS. Congress also could impose  penalties on gun sellers and dealers who fail to perform background checks.  

Restrictions on the number of rounds that can be discharged before the shooter must stop and reload also can reduce the death toll in a mass shooting incident. Magazines for semi-automatic weapons are sold in quantities of  about 7 to  100 rounds. The Tucson, Arizona shooter, Loughner, emptied his 33 round high-capacity magazine in 15 seconds and produced 33 wounds. An individual intervened and halted the rampage only when Loughner stopped to load a new magazine. Mass killing shooters prefer LCM’s: Adam Lanza used 30 round magazines, and Jared Loughner used 33 round magazines. Aurora shooter, James Holmes used a 100 round magazine. The proposed legislation limits magazines to a 10 round capacity. While hunters and sportsman should enjoy their sport, are LCMs necessary for their enjoyment? Certainly, we can justify limiting LCM’s to an amount closer to ten than to 30.

The Role of Money and the NRA

It is difficult for many to understand the strong opposition to legislation that seeks to simply thwart violent individual’s access to powerful military style weapons. The National Rifle Association (NRA) adamantly opposes this legislation and affirmatively acts to extinguish any legislative attempts to implement parameters to reduce gun violence. The NRA has used fear  and misinformation to urge its members to oppose any and all legislation that creates reasonable restrictions on access to guns and LCMs in an effort to reduce gun violence. They speak of the government confiscating the weapons of law-abiding citizens and of other forthcoming acts by the government that, they argue,  could occur if restrictions on access to certain weapons were imposed. But, we have the ability to create reasonable measures to reduce gun violence without infringing on Second Amendment rights that will not result in any “confiscations” of weapons from law-abiding citizens. We can craft legislation that safeguards the rights of law-abiding gun owners. We cannot let our fears dictate how we respond to this crisis. We must safeguard our citizens and our freedoms with thoughtful legislation, and checks and balances.

The NRA also argues that too many guns are  in circulation on the streets for  a change in the gun laws to reduce gun violence.  Instead, they advocate putting more guns on the street by arming more “good guys” than “bad guys”. Such an idea is not only illogical, it also is repugnant to many. Do we want our streets, our neighborhoods, our schools, and our shopping malls to be filled with armed  patrols? Who will make the judgment as to the good and the bad guys?

The reckless position of the NRA raises a question as to their motivation. Not surprisingly, there seems to be another motivation: money. The NRA has a financial stake in the firearms’ industry.

Since 2005, a year after the Assault Weapon Ban of 1994 expired, contributions from the firearms’ industry corporate patrons of the NRA totaled  between  14.7 million and $38.9 million dollars. The NRA coffers were filled with cash by firearm interests such as:

  • MidwayUSA, an ammunition and LCM manufacturer, which established the Round-Up program and donated to the  NRA money received from the sale of ammunition. The endowment fund created by the Round Up program from MidwayUSA sales is over $8 million.
  • The Golden Ring of Freedom is a special NRA membership status reserved for those who donate one million or more in assets or cash to the NRA.  Smith and Wesson, the firearm manufacturer, was awarded the NRA’s Golden Ring of Freedom as published in the NRA-ILA’s publication in May, 2012.
  • The firearm manufacturer, Ruger, also donated over $1 million dollars to the NRA through sales of weapons sold between 2011-2012.
  • In 2012, the firearm industry is estimated to make $993 million in profits. On the NRA Board of Directors, among others, sit the founder of a firearm manufacturer and the CEO of a large supplier of ammunition.

The NRA’s interests are aligned with their powerful financial supporters, the firearms industry. Their agenda on gun violence does not serve the interests of  individuals and families.

As humans, we learn that to live a fulfilling life, we must take action. Good ideas only make a difference if they are acted upon and implemented. If you think it is a good idea to prevent access to powerful weapons by violent individuals, then take action. Complete the petition to Congress on former U.S. Representative Gabrielle Gifford’s website, AmericansforResponsibleSolutions.org.  Better yet, email your own Congressman and Senator to let them know that you will support them in their vote in favor of  the AWB of 2013, but also request that they support legislation requiring universal background checks with a limited exception for transfers between immediate family members. Passage of such legislation will not happen unless the public understands the legislation and demands its passage.

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2 thoughts on “Gun Violence in America”

  1. Useful summary – am finally reading this the day after the Senate did not muster up enough votes for expanded background checks.
    I have been alarmed at how cynical my children are post Boston marathon bombings.They are very concerned about how the victims are doing, but view this latest act as “just the way it is”, a condition of living in our world at this time. Moreover, they do not feel the criminal justice system can do anything to prevent or address these acts. Unsure how worried to be about this at this time. Do other children see it this way? How does this POV affect their participation in electfions/civic engagement as they grow up?

    1. Hi Laurel!
      Thanks for your comment and thoughtful questions. My childrens’ sentiments were similar. The lack of leadership among the senators is disturbing- not only because of the obvious control powerful special interests have over our politicians but also because it breeds the cynism that you speak of and apathy toward our political system.

      The integrity of our democratic process is at risk when the Senate refuses to pass legislation that over 90% of American’s favor. It is not a complicated issue, and the statement made by Senator Grassley that “criminals do not submit to background checks now, they will not submit to expanded background checks” is disingenuous. Many criminals attempt to evade our tax laws too, and some are successful, but our Congress continues to pass laws to thwart tax evasion and to impose strict penalties on those who attempt to do so.

      Expanded background checks would make access to guns more difficult for those who would not pass a background check. Such checks would save some lives, just like child resistent packaging laws save some lives.

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