In light of recent events, it has become obvious that changes need to be made in how we regulate the ownership of guns. As of today, all one needs to do in order to buy a rifle or other long gun (Depending on location. Good luck doing this in New York City!) is show up at the gun shop or gun show and pay up. No license needed. No mental check-up required. Just a couple of questions, an ID check, and you’re good to go. It’s too easy.
And to that effect, the Obama and Cuomo (New York) governments have introduced legislation that they say will prevent people from getting killed by people wielding guns. Some of these measures are common-sense initiatives that I agree with and should be implemented. A universal background check? Good. Authorizing law enforcement to confiscate guns from the mentally insane? Probably going to have some (read:many) teething issues, but we can make it work. Promote safe, responsible gun ownership? Great.
The one thing I do not agree with is the actual assault weapons ban.
The first problem lies in the definition of assault weapon itself. Gun manufacturers and gun enthusiasts refer to “assault weapons” as any weapon capable of firing in fully automatic mode, while gun control advocates define an “assault weapon” as any gun that looks like one used in the military, regardless of actual capabilities. To that end, the newly-passed New York assault weapons ban defines an assault weapon as any semiautomatic weapon that contains one “military-style feature,” such as a pistol grip or a detachable scope.
But then, are weapons without these so-called “military-style features” any less lethal than those with them? Under the new definition, a WWII-era M1 Garand rifle with its bayonet lug sawn off, standard iron sights, and a 5-round box magazine would not be considered an assault weapon, yet it could still kill a person as dead as an AR-15 with a pistol grip, 30-round magazine, and ACOG scope, or even a Glock 17 with 9mm ammunition. The Garand is also heavy enough that it could be used as a makeshift melee weapon.
The second problem lies in the fact that it seems that they are only trying to restrict ownership of “assault weapons.” Statistics for 2011 have shown that around 330 people were killed with rifles, yet over 6000 were killed with “regular” handguns, which would not be covered under the ban. It’s very easy to see the reason for this discrepancy. Handguns are cheaper, lighter, smaller, and more portable than rifles. Concealed carry is virtually impossible with a rifle, and even those broken down into kits require some assembly time and preparation. With a handgun, all one needs to do is hide it in a jacket, ready to fire.
The third problem is, well, is it really going to work?
Guns are very similar to alcoholic beverages. How so? Neither of them are absolutely necessary for life, but if used responsibly, can be very enjoyable. Firing shots and drinking shots have both been a part of American culture for a very long time because the majority of people do so responsibly. It is when these activities are abused that they become dangerous not only to the person shooting or drinking, but also to others around that person, and that is certainly what happened at Newtown and Aurora.
So, since we want to ban guns because of a mass murder, I propose that the next time someone is killed by a drunk person, alcohol is banned from the United States.
Guess what. We tried that, back in 1919. And instead of following the law, people got their alcohol illegally. So much so, that the 18th Amendment was repealed in 1933, legalizing alcohol again.
The same thing is already happening with guns of all kinds, and I don’t see that changing anytime soon. If someone really wants a gun, he or she will get that gun, despite any legislation or obstacles in his or her way. The recent (as of press time) event of a mother forgetting to take her gun out of her 7-year-old son’s backpack? The gun was illegally bought. Why did she buy it? She “didn’t feel safe.” Rappers sometimes… rap… that it’s better to be caught with a gun (and subsequently be imprisoned) than without one (and get killed), the implication being that the guns they carry are illegal. Already, people in New York State are saying that they will not register their rifles with the state, as they feel the government has no business in what kind of guns they own.
In short, an assault weapons ban punishes the law-abiding gun owner for a crime committed by someone misusing the right to bear arms, and makes it seem that the government is willing to uphold the Second Amendment only if the gun you possess is a tiny handgun that leaves you barely able to defend yourself in a home invasion scenario. Guns bought legally and used responsibly aren’t the issue, yet the most publicized fix of the mass murder problem targets them.
Of course, the respective views of both gun rights advocates and gun control advocates on each other doesn’t help matters. The arguments can be boiled down thusly: gun rights advocates see an assault weapons ban as a breach on their Second Amendment rights, and are afraid that such a breach would lead to the revocation of most of their other rights as guaranteed by the Constitution. Gun control advocates see guns as vile machines having only one purpose — killing people — even going so far as for some of them to be paranoid of gun owners, as evidenced by one New York newspaper’s publishing of the addresses and phone numbers of gun owners in Westchester County and Rockland County. (Ironically, because of the number of threats they received over this, they hired armed guards to protect themselves.) There is no acknowledgement that guns — even high-powered ones — can be safely used for recreational purposes, and that shooting is, well, fun. Both arguments, as presented by the media, are greatly dumbed down and presented in a negative light, and really do neither side any justice.
Also very disconcerting is the speed at which Governor Cuomo pushed forth the New York Safe Act, the new New York State assault weapons ban. The entire process took place over the course of one afternoon, with barely any public knowledge, supposedly to prevent a gun rush at the stores. (Of course the gun rush happened anyway.) While I acknowledge his intentions, the fact is that the new law was basically ratified behind closed doors, a blitzkrieg of legislation if you will. Is there no more transparency in government? There was no announcement that the laws were about to be passed; indeed, the traditional three-day debating period was waived by Cuomo, who obviously wanted to ram this through as quickly as possible.
Now, I am a Democrat. I voted for President Obama, and I would likely do so again if given the chance since I agree with him and most of his proposed policies. I just don’t think that an assault weapons ban is the right way to go about doing things. A good alternative, in my opinion, would be to put exorbitantly high taxes on these “assault weapons” such that Joe the Plumber wouldn’t be able to buy an AR-15 without saving up a significant amount of money. The NRA would be satisfied, as the government would not be expressly forbidding the purchase of rifles; the gun control advocates would be satisfied, as there would be fewer of these weapons on our streets (as fewer people would be able to buy them); and the government would make oodles of money off gun sales, just like it does off cigarettes. It would also turn these rifles into significant investments, which would make owners take better care of them and lock them away where no Adam Lanzas can get to them, or even make them think twice about buying the rifles in the first place.
I also think that a universal gun license, not just a license for handguns, should be implemented, renewable annually at $100. At the very least, a license would force prospective gun owners to attend gun safety courses and would prove to any inquirers that the owner has at least been taught how to handle a gun responsibly, and that the owner understands that any misuse of the firearm is punishable. Said punishments should be extremely heavy-handed.
Now, obviously, these aren’t the only things that have to be done. But I feel that these are the two best options for reducing the number of guns on the street while appeasing both the gun control advocates and gun rights advocates. This way, those who enjoy shooting military-style rifles can do so, safely, while those who abhor guns can simply stay away from them.
All photos taken by the author.