(*This story has been updated to correct the sunset date on the federal assault weapons ban, which expired in 2004.)
That’s how long it took for the madman responsible for the carnage in Dayton, Ohio to shoot 26 people, killing nine, including his sister, and wounding 17 more before he was killed by police.
According to CNN, the Dayton shooter (he will not be identified here) was armed with a 223-caliber high-capacity rifle with 100-round drum magazines. As USA Today reports, the “AR” variants used in Dayton and the El Paso killing that claimed 22 lives barely 24 hours earlier, were legal, as were the high-capacity magazines employed in the shootings.
“Those rifles usually come with 30 or fewer rounds in a magazine. But increasingly gun manufacturers have catered to shooters looking to have 40, 60 or 100-round magazines that traditionally were shunned because they were heavy and cumbersome,” USA Today noted in an Aug. 5 story.
These weapons of war are so far past what the Founders, who lived in an age of muskets, envisioned when they crafted the U.S. Constitution. These semi-automatic weapons, with their extended magazines, aren’t intended for hunting, or self-defense, or even sport shooting. Their only purpose is to kill as many people as possible, as quickly as possible.
Recognizing this, the United States banned these weapons for a decade, from 1994 to 2004.*
We need a new ban. And we need it now.
This is what a 100-round drum magazine looks like from the Dayton shooting. Authorities say he had a .223-cal rifle with this attached: pic.twitter.com/sWh8MDHI0g
— Nick Penzenstadler (@npenzenstadler) August 4, 2019
As NPR reports, the old ban, formally known as the Public Safety and Recreational Firearms Use Protection Act, “prohibited the manufacture or sale for civilian use of certain semi-automatic weapons that could be converted to fire automatically. The act also banned magazines that could accommodate 10 rounds or more.”
In an Aug. 11 op-ed for the New York Times, former Vice President Joe Biden, who was chairman of the U.S Senate Judiciary Committee when the original ban was enacted, summed up the argument expertly.
“We have a huge problem with guns,” Biden wrote. “Assault weapons — military-style firearms designed to fire rapidly — are a threat to our national security, and we should treat them as such. Anyone who pretends there’s nothing we can do is lying — and holding that view should be disqualifying for anyone seeking to lead our country.”
And if you don’t believe Biden, take the word of lawmakers who once served our country in uniform.
In an op-ed for USA Today, Democratic U.S. Reps. Mike Sherrill, a Navy veteran from New Jersey, and Jason Crow, an Army veteran from Colorado, passionately and strenuously argued the case for why these weapons deserve to be banned. If there is anyone who knows their destructive power, it is them.
“All of our constitutional rights come with common sense safeguards. We can enact measures to save lives from gun violence and respect our Second Amendment. Those goals are not in conflict. The politicians telling us otherwise are out of touch with the America we know, love, and swore to protect,” they wrote.
Thoughts and prayers are important—but public policy is necessary. There are more than 20+ bills in the #PAHouse that could address #GunViolence. Follow this thread to learn more about each proposal (with links), and how to advocate for the ones you want to see become law 📜📢📜
— State Rep. Dan Frankel (@RepDanFrankel) August 14, 2019
As PolitiFact notes, “in raw numbers,” researchers at New York University’s medical school found that mass shootings decreased when the ban was in effect and rose afterward.
In fact, “the death toll from mass shootings went from 4.8 per year during the ban years to 23.8 per year afterwards.” Still experts are split on whether there was a causal effect between the ban and a reduction in gun deaths.
But “that doesn’t mean that the ban was ineffective — only that we don’t know and probably cannot determine the answer given that the outcome of interest (mass shootings) is so rare,” Duke University expert Philip Cook told PolitiFact.
As The Hill, a publication that covers Congress, reports, momentum for a ban is growing in the majority-Democrat House. It will be a far harder lift in the majority-Republican Senate. But that doesn’t mean the House should not act.
There is a baseline case to advance a new, and constitutional, assault weapons ban. If we had one before, we can have one again. And if the data shows even a modest reduction in deaths, that’s an outcome good for society as a whole.
In Pennsylvania, where a gunman, armed with an AR-15 and three handguns, opened fire last October in Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life synagogue, killing 11 people, Democratic lawmakers in the state House of Representatives have called for a special session on gun violence.
“If we can’t even get to a vote, what does that tell you about the state of representative democracy in the United States?” Rep. Joe Webster, a Democrat from Montgomery County, outside Philadelphia, asked at a news conference. “Are we saying guns are more important than children?”
As lawmakers on Capitol Hill debate a potential federal ban, they can strengthen it in two very important ways: by authorizing a gun buyback and extending any sunset provision included in the new ban. In the 1990s, backers were forced to capitulate on both fronts so they could cobble together the votes to pass it.
An assault weapons ban won’t solve everything. Fighting gun violence requires a holistic approach that includes expanded background checks, extreme risk protection orders, and earlier identification and treatment for those who might be inclined to carry out horrific acts of violence.
But those are still only half-measures if the weapons of war that enable the wholesale slaughter of innocents in mere seconds are still readily and easily available.
America banned these weapons once and was safer for it. We can do it again.