While total sales figures for firearms aren’t compiled, one can get a very good picture of the market from the numbers that Taschler dug up. And the trend is clear: People are racing to buy guns either out of fear in the wake of the horrific shootings in Newtown, Conn., or because they fear government controls. Buyers are snapping up rifles built on the AR-15 platform — the gun used by Adam Lanza to murder 20 schoolkids in Connecticut — likely because of new talk that Congress may finally act to reimpose a ban on the weapon.
As the debate begins once again over gun control, we think lawmakers should focus on what is likely to work and not on feel-good legislation that will only allow them to claim they “did something.”
While we’d have no problem with a ban on assault weapons such as the AR-15 — hunters have absolutely no need for such weapons — the fact is that there are already many of these weapons in the hands of civilians. Banning the sale of this gun would do very little to prevent the next Newtown massacre. One problem is the definition: What exactly is an “assault weapon”? And how does that differ from semiautomatic guns often used for hunting? Banning semiautomatic guns generally may sound reasonable on the surface but would be impossible politically — and again — because of the vast numbers of these guns already in circulation a ban would not be effective.
Instead, we’d focus on two other areas of the law: banning high-capacity magazines and offering a generous buyback program to take some of the existing large clips out of circulation and closing the notorious “gun show loophole” that allows roughly 40% of gun sales to be conducted without a federal background check.
Banning high-capacity magazines, by itself, won’t prevent another Newtown, either. But it could help make it harder for a determined killer to get his hands on one, especially if coupled with a buyback program, as has been done in other countries and some American cities.
And forcing more gun sales into the light of day would help make it harder for a deranged killer to legally buy a weapon. The sale of ammunition also should be more tightly controlled. Last summer, in the wake of the movie theater massacre in Aurora, Colo., Sen. Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J., introduced a bill to ban the sale of ammunition online. It’s a good idea.
We also still firmly believe that President Barack Obama’s task force on gun crimes, headed by Vice President Joe Biden, needs to make mental health services part of this discussion. The authorities and mental health providers need a better way to identify and get help for people suffering from mental illness who are at risk of becoming violent.
These are very difficult issues both morally and politically. But in memory of 20 innocent children and seven adults who died at the hands of a disturbed killer, we must do better than we have.
Please, don’t forget these kids.