Practically everyone following carefully the recent discussion about gun violence has understood that an assault weapons ban has little chance of passage on Capitol Hill. On Monday, Harry Reid, the Senate majority leader, confirmed the news to Sen. Dianne Feinstein, who has spent weeks trying to engineer a renewal of the ban. He explained that her proposal would not be part of larger gun legislation heading to the floor.
Reid argued that the measure didn’t have the necessary votes. For coming up short, Feinstein and other proponents can blame the grip of the gun lobby, or widely held doubts about the effectiveness of such a ban.
No question, the ban that expired in 2004 suffered from vague definitions that invited evasion. The newer version tightens provisions and delivers more clarity. It does not attempt to alter the reality of the many assault weapons already in circulation, the proposed bill allowing them to remain so. More, assault weapons are used in a tiny percentage of crimes.
Thus, the question: What good would a ban really do? Recall that Adam Lanza killed 26 people at the Sandy Hook Elementary School, his rampage accelerated by an AR-15 style semiautomatic rifle. Know, too, that the Supreme Court in affirming the right to bear arms made room for restrictions, especially in the realm of military-like weapons.
An assault weapons ban may not halt an Adam Lanza, but in time, it would narrow the opportunities, gradually reducing the number, throwing obstacles in the way of a purchase. Worth adding is that such laws involve more than deterring crime. They reflect the idea we have about ourselves, of what we value, in this case, that people just should not have these weapons at the ready.
After the massacre at the Newtown, Conn., school, so many young children among the dead, the cry went up: This time would be different, the country mobilizing through its lawmakers to address gun violence. The Senate legislation that Harry Reid has crafted contains increased penalties for those who purchase guns illegally, known as straw purchasing, and a provision to increase school safety. The legislation also expands background checks Yet it remains a struggle to win application to almost all gun purchases.
The current system of background checks covers 40 percent of purchases, in large part, because gun shows are exempt and states fail to submit timely and sufficient information. Hard to support an improved effort to screen those with mental illness, and not see the complementary role of a much stronger regimen for background checks.
What, in addition, would be different and comprehensive, any success requiring action on many fronts? Limiting magazine capacity (part of the Feinstein measure) and launching a vigorous public health campaign (on par with the anti-smoking effort). For the moment, such steps barely seem more likely than an assault weapons ban.