Editorial: We need to restore sanity to our gun laws
Once again America is mourning the victims of mass slaughter. Once again the scene of the carnage is a school. Once again the instrument of mass death is a gun. And once again that gun is a variant of the AR-15, an assault-style gun. The AR-15, the civilian version of the military's MR-15, is now the most popular rifle in America, according to the National Rifle Association. The AR-15 also has become the weapon of choice for mass murder. That's because the gun is quite adaptable. One of those adaptations, we've recently learned, uses a device called a "bump stock," which basically turns the rifle into a machine gun. Even without modification the AR-15 sprays bullets as fast as the shooter can press the trigger. It is a ruthlessly efficient killing machine.
There is no legitimate civilian use for guns like the AR-15. Yet assault-style weapons remain legal in the United States, despite the ever-rising death toll. In the mass shooting at the school in Broward County, Florida, the 19-year-old gunman was armed with an AR-15. He killed 17 students. We worship gun rights in this country. But what about the rights of the victims? What about the rights of those innocent 17 children, whose families now are planning funerals instead of birthday parties and graduations?
It's easy to forget, with all the blood that's been spilled since, that assault weapons were banned in the U.S. in 1994, but the law was allowed to expire in 2004. Mass shootings have only escalated in the years since. Efforts to revive the ban, which began in 2012, after the Sandy Hook Elementary School slaughter, have gone nowhere. Nor did efforts to ban bump stocks after the Las Vegas slaughter last fall. Critics argue that assault rifles are used in only a small percentage of crimes. That might be true. But painful experience tells us that they are frequently used in mass shootings.
We should revive the assault rifle ban. It is not a cure-all, but it is a start.
It appears the disturbed 19-year-old who shot up the school in Florida legally bought his weapons. He did so even though he was known to be unstable; he bragged about killing animals, and he brandished a gun in a photograph on social media. He was, in short, a walking warning flag, but he could still buy guns legally.
We should strengthen and expand background checks to keep guns out of the hands of dangerous people. They are one of our strongest tools, but are weakened by gaping loopholes, including gun shows and many internet sales. It is not a cure-all, but it is a start.
We have become numb to mass shootings. We allow our politicians to get by with platitudes, such as expressing "thoughts and prayers" for victims of gun violence. We must demand more from our representatives: Sen. John Hoeven, who has received stellar grades from the NRA for opposing restrictions on firearms; Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, who would not support stronger background checks; Rep. Kevin Cramer, who opposes restrictions on firearms; Rep. Collin Peterson, who has an A+ rating from the NRA; Sen. Amy Klobuchar, who is a rare sane voice on gun policy—we call upon all of you to do more to protect innocent people from gun violence.
Large majorities of Americans support tougher gun laws—but they are not as loud or as well organized or as active as the supporters of gun rights. That also must change.
Editorials represent the views of Forum management and the Editorial Board.