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Our gun laws have been distorted to suit the needs of a single interest group. That small, privileged group’s desires outweigh the needs of nearly every other American, and have more influence with our elected leaders than the suffering of crime victims, the recommendations of law enforcement, or the common-sense demands of public safety. These privileged few are not hunters, or sportsmen, or homeowners concerned with self-defense. They are hobbyists. We live in a gun collector’s paradise, and it is very dangerous.
Our nation’s worst mass shootings, like this year’s murders in Aurora and Newtown, were committed with semiautomatic weapons that have very large ammo magazines, magazines which were illegal until the assault weapons ban was allowed to lapse in 2004. These weapons allow criminals to kill dozens of people without reloading. The concealed-carry laws currently promoted by gun lobbyists are useless when violent offenders use guns with such high-capacity magazines. Assault weapons were designed to overcome armed opponents by firing a large number of rounds at high speed, suppressing fire, so that the target cannot safely fire back. Police officers armed with handguns, no matter how well-practiced or well-trained, cannot easily fight back against such guns, which was one reason behind the original assault weapons ban. Random civilians carrying concealed handguns are not likely to do better. Those who argue otherwise display their willful ignorance about guns.
The best hope for stopping a mass shooter, and often the only hope, is to attack him when he reloads. At that moment, and usually only at that moment, he is vulnerable and can be disarmed. The Tucson killer, who wounded Gabrielle Giffords and killed six others, was stopped when he needed to reload his gun, and more killings were prevented. The people who disarmed him did not have or need guns of their own. The Blacksburg killer, who murdered thirty-two people, knew how vulnerable he was when reloading and took elaborate precautions to protect himself when he did. Giving killers the ability to fire fifty or a hundred rounds before reloading allows them to kill many more victims, and takes away victims’ best and often only chance to fight back or escape. Limiting magazine size will not be enough to end gun violence in this country. But it would allow more of us to survive it. And restoring the assault weapons ban is something we can ask Congress to do right now.
Why were guns with hundred-bullet magazines allowed to become legal again? They are not hunting weapons. They take the sport out of sport shooting. (No one needs suppressing fire against a skeet.) They are less useful for home defense than a handgun or shotgun. If you cannot defend your home with a handgun and a shotgun, you do not need more firepower. You need backup. And while some talk about gun ownership as a check on hypothetical government tyranny, these weapons could never rein in our national military with its tanks, planes, and guided armaments. These personal assault weapons are grossly inadequate to the hypothetical task of standing off the federal government, but grossly excessive for any legitimate use.
These guns are sold to collectors. The purpose of owning them is the sheer pleasure of owning the object. It is ultimately no different, and in itself no less innocent, than owning a vintage baseball card or a Model T Ford. These guns are not tools but toys. They provide a perfectly harmless and interesting pastime for most collectors, and an enormously lucrative market for gun manufacturers. Hobbyists buy expensive high-end products and keep buying more. They are where the money is. So it is natural that the gun makers, and the gun lobby they help fund, are bent on keeping that profitable business legal. The result is that we have laws, written at the behest of well-heeled pressure groups, that are more concerned with protecting sellers and collectors from inconvenience than in protecting honest citizens’ lives. Nancy Lanza, who bought and was killed by the guns used in the Newtown murders, was one such avid hobbyist. But the laws that favored Ms. Lanza’s freedom to build her pleasure arsenal must give equal weight to her neighbors’ freedoms to live peaceably, send their children to school, and grow to adulthood. I do not begrudge collectors their hobby. But that hobby cannot take precedence over every other consideration. Children should not lose their lives so that adults may have their playthings.