How the USA can Reduce its Swell of Mass Shootings
by S. Aleksander Black
School shootings have been on the rise for the past decade and show no signs of stopping. The recent attack on Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida marks the eighth school shooting in 2018 to have resulted in deaths or injuries, and has once again ignited the debate on gun control. The shooter, 19-year old Nikolas Cruz, used an AR-15 semi-automatic assault weapon to kill 17 people, and to injure 14 more. Semi-automatic weapons consistently appear as firearms of choice for mass destruction, and need to have stricter regulation or a full ban.
On Oct. 1, 2017, a lone gunman used semi-automatic weapons to open fire from a hotel at a concert in Las Vegas--an event that resulted in 59 deaths and more than 500 injured. Stephen Paddock used a rifle modification known as a “bump stock” that effectively turns a semi-automatic rifle into an automatic one.
At the 2016 Pulse Nightclub massacre in Orlando, Florida, Omar Mateen used a legally purchased Sig Sauer MCX .223-caliber rifle; a gun with inspirations from the AR-15, using similar magazines and ammunition. It was a weapon designed for the United States special forces, designed to kill quickly and efficiently.
A Bushmaster XM15-E2S .223-caliber semi-automatic rifle, similar in style to the AR-15 as well, was used in the infamous Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, and resulted in 26 deaths at the school. Adam Lanza, the perpetrator, murdered his mother just prior to the shooting, and died during the event himself as well.
During the Columbine High School massacre, 13 deaths were caused by Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris, using a TEC-9 semi-automatic pistol, in addition to a Hi-Point carbine and a knife. This occured on April 20, 1999, during a time when the Federal Assault Weapons ban was still active, using legally obtained weapons that skirted around the ban or that were not affected by the ban. Bombs were also set up, but did not set off due to faulty wiring. Had they gone off, the death toll could have reached more than 600 people. The two perpetrators intended to cause a spectacle rivaling some of the most destructive events in history, rather than to have the event become a school shooting.
A semi-automatic weapon is a firearm that fires a single shot when the trigger is pulled, and automatically reloads the gun’s chamber with another round from a cartridge or magazine, allowing the gun to be fired again immediately. An assault rifle is a military-grade automatic weapon, while an assault weapon is a term used to denote semi-automatic rifles designed to be similar to their automatic versions. The automatic versions only need one pull of the trigger to rapidly fire many bullets.
The ArmaLite Rifle, better known as the AR-15, was designed by firearms engineer Eugene Stoner in the 1950s and marketed towards militaries for lethality at long ranges. It is currently a popular firearm among civilians. The rifle can be accurate up to 500 yards. A standard AR-15 magazine contains 30 rounds, but high-capacity magazines can be purchased legally and can even hold 100 rounds.
The average price of the AR-15 model assault weapon typically hovers around $1000, but can be found on online retailers for as little as $200. The Sig Sauer used by Mateen in the Orlando shooting can be found for around $1700. In most states, anyone permitted to buy a handgun can also buy an assault weapon. Thanks to a loophole in age requirements that allows teenagers in most states to purchase long-barrel weapons at the age of 18, a teenager can buy an AR-15 semi-automatic rifle before they can purchase a handgun or a bottle of beer. Nikolas Cruz reportedly purchased his AR-15 rifle a year prior to the shooting in Orlando. A total of 28 states have no age regulations whatsoever on owning assault weapons. These guns are alarmingly easily obtained between the cost and age requirements, and need to be regulated more carefully or removed from the shelves completely.
A federal ban on sale, production, and and possession of assault weapons, called the Federal Assault Weapons ban, was authorized by Bill Clinton in 1994, but the ban expired in 2004 when Congress chose to not renew it. Studies generally showed this ban as ineffective at decreasing the total amount of gun-related deaths. There were many loopholes, such as a “grandfather clause” that still permitted keeping and passing on these weapons if they were already owned. Additionally, handguns are the weapon of choice for single-target killing; according to FBI data, at least 64 percent of gun-related homicides in 2016 were committed using pistols.
However, the point of banning automatic weapons is not to stop gun-related deaths entirely, it is to drastically reduce mass shootings in public places. These are more often than not accomplished using assault weapons and semi-automatic weapons. According to a recent poll by Quinnipiac University, 70 percent of Americans support stricter laws on assault weapons, with more than half of Republicans agreeing. Even further, 67 percent support a ban on assault weapons, implying a potential revival of something similar to the Federal Assault Weapons ban.
Banning assault weapons is a start towards reducing mass shootings, but it is far from a complete solution. As many critics have pointed out, these bans are unable to remove these semi-automatic rifles and pistols from the hands that already carry them, and they don’t stop people from killing others. All we can do is try our best to reduce the headcounts, and banning these destructive weapons is the optimal first step. By increasing the age requirement to own and purchase long-barrel guns, and by having more extensive mental health checks on gun owners, deaths can be prevented. The recent increase in Americans supporting changes shows that perhaps our country is finally willing to tackle this issue head-on and save lives.