House Judiciary Committee Holds Hearing on 'Assault Weapons' Ban
Should Congress ban "assault weapons"?
by Countable | 9.26.19
The House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday held a hearing titled “Protecting America from Assault Weapons” in which lawmakers debated the merits of a ban on the controversial weapons. While no specific legislation was marked up today, the Democratic and Republican leaders' opening statements underscored the deep divide between the parties on the issue.
Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) explained that he believes an assault weapons ban would protect the American public:
Today’s hearing is about whether America will tolerate weapons of war on our streets and in our neighborhoods. Simply put, civilian assault weapons are just semiautomatic versions of military weapons. They have no purpose but to kill as many people as possible, as quickly as possible. By allowing killers to rapidly and repeatedly fire bullets at their human targets, without stopping to reload, assault weapons are designed for maximum bloodshed.
Although seven states plus the District of Columbia have passed laws addressing assault weapons, these state laws have proven too easy to evade. This is one reason I support a national ban on assault weapons. For example, despite California’s ban on assault weapons, a man was able to drive across the border into Nevada to buy an assault weapon, a 75-round high capacity magazine, plus five 40-round magazines, and use this weapon to kill 3 people and wound 17 others in a matter of minutes at the Gilroy Garlic Festival...
Although the lethal impact of assault weapons is horrifically evident in mass shootings, assault weapons present a far broader problem. These weapons pose a daily threat to our communities, whether or not their use in particular instances cause mass casualties or make national news. They hold particular appeal to criminals, who can wield terror with them, even without causing loss of life on a wide scale.
Ranking Member Doug Collins (R-GA) countered those calling for an “assault weapons ban” are confusing the debate with misleading terminology. He added that semi-automatic rifles shouldn’t be banned given their common use for self-defense, and that they’re used in fewer murders than knives or blunt objects:
“Assault weapons,” however, are not “assault rifles.” Assault rifles are rapid-fire, magazine-fed rifles designed for military use. They are shoulder-fired weapons that allow the shooter to select between settings: semi-automatic (requiring the operator to pull the trigger for each shot) and fully automatic (allowing the operator to hold the trigger as the gun fires continuously or in three-shot-bursts)... [These] so-called “assault weapons” are semi-automatic ― they aren’t assault rifles and can’t be used as fully automatic assault rifles. Semi-automatic firearms require you to pull the trigger each time for each shot, just as a pistol requires one trigger pull per shot.
Unfortunately, many in the American public, in the media and, shockingly, in this body do not understand the difference. We must understand what different firearms do and how they function if we want to have effective laws to prevent gun violence. I can’t imagine anyone here today would advocate for legislation that does not actually make our families safer, but that’s where I fear we’re headed… I hope we can clear up these misconceptions in today’s hearing. My hopes aren’t high, however, when I heard a Democrat presidential candidate proclaim, “Hell yes, we’re going to take your AR-15.” Let’s hope rational heads prevail here today.
Finally, let’s review how these so-called “assault weapons” are used in crime. Some estimates calculate the number of “assault weapons” in private hands at about 10 million. In 2017, according to the FBI, there were 403 murders committed with all rifles, not just those deemed by some to be “assault weapons.” By comparison, knives or other cutting instruments were used in 1,591 murders. Blunt objects such as clubs, hammers and bats were used in 467 murders. Hands and feet were used in 696 murders. In the same year, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration found speeding killed 9,717 people. I have yet to see any of my colleagues advocate for prohibiting the purchase of a vehicle capable of travelling more than 70 miles per hour.
The full hearing is accessible here and is embedded at the bottom of this article (it begins at about the 35 minute mark).
What does the data say about active shootings & firearm deaths?
The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) defines an active shooter as “an individual actively engaged in killing or attempting to kill people in a confined and populated space,” although open-space active shooting incidents are included in this data. As this chart from USAFacts shows, active shooting incidents have been on the rise over the last two decades, with a peak of 30 incidents in 2017.
Casualties from active shooting incidents have been on an upward trend since 2000 and hit an all-time high of 138 killed and 591 wounded in 2017 ― most of which occurred in an October 2017 shooting at a Las Vegas, Nevada music festival where 58 people were killed and 489 wounded. That shooting prompted the Trump administration to ban “bump stocks” which can accelerate a semi-automatic rifle’s rate of fire to approximate that of a fully-automatic weapon (which aren’t commonly available to the public). In 2018, there were 85 killed and 128 wounded in active shooting situations overall, roughly equal to the 83 killed and 131 wounded in 2016.
Each year since 2000, handguns have been the most frequently used type of firearm in active shooting incidents, exceeding rifles (semi-automatic or bolt-action) & shotguns. The gap between handguns and rifles reached its narrowest point in recent years in 2016, when handguns were used in 16 active shootings and rifles in 13 shootings. Most recently, 2018 saw handguns used in 24 active shootings versus six rifles used in active shooting incidents.
Deaths from active shootings represent a small proportion of overall firearm deaths in the U.S. When deaths from active shootings reached their all-time high of 138 in 2017, there were 14,542 firearm homicides, meaning that deaths from active shootings represented 0.95% of firearm homicides.
— Eric Revell
(Photo Credit: iStock.com / artas)
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