A few weeks ago, just before the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting, one of the largest arms shows in the world was held in Las Vegas, Nevada. The show, SHOT 2018, had an exhibition floor larger than most international arms shows, had the largest small arms manufacturer (FNH), Israel’s major arms manufacturer (IWI) and even companies from the Arab World like the UAE manufacturer of the Caracal pistol.
But, it wasn’t nations that were looking at this selection of small arms. It was over 60,000 retail firearms dealers from all around the United States. And, although there were some products for law enforcement, most of the things being displayed were for the average American gun owner.
And, lest anyone think that American gun owners are out of the American mainstream or naturally violent people, there was Donald Trump Jr., the son of the American president roaming the aisles along with his small Secret Service escort. However, unlike many venues, security was lax and the Secret Service was allowing people to walk up to Trump, talk to him and even have their picture taken with him.
Nor was the SHOT show unusual. Every week, there are dozens of gun shows around the country that offer the same type of firearms. And, polls of Americans show that the majority think that the right to own firearms is a constitutionally given right that government can’t take away.
This is the reality of the American firearms culture. Estimates by international small arms control organizations say there are enough privately owned guns in America for every man, woman, and child in the country and the amount of privately owned ammunition runs in the trillions of rounds. The majority of Americans have probably held or fired firearms and about half of American households have guns. And, while there is talk of additional firearms restrictions, there is federal firearms legislation going through Congress that will expand the carrying of concealed firearms and make it easier to purchase firearms suppressers (these suppress the sound of a gun when it is fired).
With that in mind, will the US pass major gun control legislation? Probably not. There will probably be some tightening of the background check that will make sure all criminal records will be entered into the federal computer system that lists those not allowed to own firearms.
Although some are saying that this school shooting is changing attitudes, the same thing was said by gun control supporters after mass school shootings in 2000 (Columbine) and 2012 (Newtown). And, nothing changed then. Gun owners are a large voter base and they are more likely to vote than non gun owners.
However, some things may change. They are:
TIGHTER BACKGROUND CHECKS. The federal instant check database that is designed to identify people who aren’t allowed to buy guns has some loopholes in it. For instance, the armed forces are obligated to forward the names of people who have been dishonorably discharged from the military because they aren’t allowed to own firearms. Yet, these records and others from states frequently don’t get entered.
There is currently legislation tightening background checks, supported by both Republicans and Democrats, which is working its way through Congress. Even the National Rifle Association supports it.
Expect this legislation to work its way through Congress and eventually become law.
BUMP STOCKS. Although the shooter in Florida didn’t have a bump stock, the shooter in Las Vegas did use one. As a result, this week, President Trump ordered the Justice Department to draft rules that limit their sale and ownership.
Bump stocks allow the shooter to increase the rate of fire of a semi-automatic rifle. However, there are problems in regulating them. According to the National Firearms Act of 1934, they aren’t defined as machineguns or devices that allow a rifle to be turned into a machinegun. Justice Department regulations regulating them, without a redefinition of what a machine gun is by Congress could be challenged in court.
Another problem is that although “bump firing” is made easier with these bump stocks, any shooter can do the same thing without one (one can go to the website YouTube to see examples). Making the way a shooter fires a gun a felony would be hard to enforce and probably be challenged in court.
A shoestring attached to a semi automatic rifle is also an effective bump fire mechanism – although less appealing to the eye. Should the government try to outlaw any device that allows a shooter to bump fire, this regulation could become ridiculous.
Finally, there are thousands of these bump stocks in private hands already. Since there is no law regulating their sale, it would be impossible to make them illegal and then confiscate them. At best, the government could outlaw the manufacture of them, which would make the ones in private hands that much more valuable.
ASSAULT WEAPONS BAN. Although the Justice Department said that the assault weapons ban of the early 1990s didn’t have nay impact on deaths, there is a push to reinstate it. However, there is a problem with it.
True assault weapons are machine guns and are already tightly regulated. Consequently, the focus was on cosmetic items like barrel shrouds, pistol grips and bayonet mounts. There were also limitations on newly manufactured large capacity magazines. All of these proved worthless. Cosmetic items don’t have an impact on the lethality of the weapon and most shooters will tell you that large capacity magazines are more unreliable and awkward.
BAN OR LIMIT THE SALES OF THE AR-15. The AR-15 is the legal, civilian version of the rifle used by the US military. And, anyone going through a gun show will quickly see that it is probably the most popular firearm in the US. They are versatile and can be easily personalized. They can be made very light (3.8 pounds), very accurate, or very reliable.
People who call for a ban on AR-15s usually know little about them. They aren’t machineguns. They aren’t powerful, as the .223 cartridge is actually underpowered compared to every other American battle rifle ammunition in the last 100 years.
Banning AR-15s is not the answer to school shootings. Neither the Columbine killers nor Virginia Tech shooter Seung-Hui Cho, nor University of Texas shooter Charles Whitman, used AR-15s, and all of them managed to commit terrible crimes. Nor would a total ban on firearms help that much.
Norway's stringent gun control failed to stop Anders Breivik from killing 77 people; France's ban on "assault weapons" didn't stop the Bataclan shooters from killing 130; and Egypt's rifle ban didn't stop the massacre of 305 worshipers at a Sinai mosque last year. Britain's total confiscation of handguns and semi-automatic rifles failed to prevent Derrick Bird from shooting 23 people (12 fatally) with a bolt-action .22 in 2010.
Remember that the Second Amendment was written in order to protect Americans from tyranny – both domestic and foreign. This was affirmed by the Heller case, which says Americans have a right to weapons “in common use.” And, there is no American firearm that can be said to be more “in common use” than the AR-15. It also has a military application that is implied in the 2nd Amendment. Consequently the AR-15 fits the Constitutional definition..
RESTRICT THE INFLUENCE OF THE NATIONAL RIFLE ASSOCIATION (NRA). The NRA is a massive organization with about 5 million members. And like any other organization, it has the First Amendment right to voice its political views.
However, some have said that the NRA must be restricted because it taught the Florida high school shooter how to shoot. According to Think Progress, Florida shooter Nikolas Cruz honed his marksmanship skills in a school program supported by the NRA. Cruz was, according to the Associated Press, a member of the school’s four-person varsity marksmanship team, which received a $10,000 grant from the NRA in 2016.
However, the marksmanship team was part of the schools’ federally funded JROTC program. The team trained with “air rifles special-made for target shooting, typically on indoor ranges at targets the size of a coin. The program was created as part of the National Defense Act of 1916 and is sponsored by the US armed forces. It is designed to improve the marksmanship of people likely to go into the armed forces. In fact, many of the people who go through the course become highly decorated soldiers.
What can Happen?
Despite the “sound and fury” there is little that can or will be done. In order to get gun control legislation through the House and Senate, there will have to be compromise.
Any legislation is likely to include improvements in the national firearms check system that will make sure that unauthorized people will not be able to buy a firearm. There may also be something that limits gun ownership by people with serious mental problems like Cruz.
Beyond that, there must be some compromise and something that appeals to gun owners. For instance, bump stock legislation might include something for gun owners like nationally recognized concealed carry permitting or the easing on regulations concerning firearms suppressors.
At this time, however, it seems that Democrats are strongly opposed to either national concealed carry legislation or easing the ownership of suppressors. That means compromise may be impossible.
In that case, it may be up to the next Congress, especially if the Democrats win the House and Senate. And, traditionally, the party out of power gains seats in the Senate and House in off year elections. But, pushing gun control legislation through may be harder than imagined.
As we saw in 2016, gun owners control the balance of power in several states that are critical for congressional elections and the 2020 presidential election. Trump’s pro-gun stance was critical for winning toss up states like Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Missouri. Democrats are unlikely to risk remaining a minority party just to pass strong gun control legislation.
Even if the Democrats gain control of the House and Senate, they still have to face the probability of a filibuster in the Senate. And, there is the probability of a Trump veto as the president looks forward to the 2020 election and the states he needs to win.
As we have observed after past shootings, America has a strong gun culture, supported by the express right to own firearms found in the US Constitution. And, that culture is strong in several states that are tossup states in elections. That’s why Obama and a Democratic controlled Congress didn’t take any legislative action on gun control.
Some say that this time is different. However, given history, that is unlikely. And, although there is talk of gun control on the Eastern and Western seaboard, the voters between the Allegany Mountains and the Sierra Nevada Mountains will continue to oppose any real restrictions of their firearms.