On Wednesday, three days days after the fourth-worst mass shooting in recent U.S. history (the worst ever in Texas) and 39 days after the worst, Congressional Democrats introduced, again, a bill that would ban assault weapons. The legislation would reportedly ban the sale, production, and transfer of military-style assault weapons. The bill also specifically includes a ban on “bump stocks,” cheap devices that allow a semi-automatic weapon to fire rounds at the rate of an automatic weapon. The Mandalay Bay shooter had reportedly equipped dozens of weapons with bump stocks. He put a bullet into one person per second for ten minutes straight.
The bill would ban magazines that can hold more than ten rounds and would require background checks on any sale or trade of the weapons it covers (with some exceptions), though owners could keep the weapons they have. It would also require all guns grandfathered in to be securely stored, and would ban the transfer of high-capacity magazines.
(For the technical arguers out there, I know “assault rifle” as a blanket term doesn’t explicitly fit. For our purposes I mean [ROUGHLY] any semiautomatic with a detachable high-capacity clip. Not just long guns. This includes semi-automatic handguns. I know you can split hairs and educate us further, but apply that to the legislation, not to deflect from the general argument here.)
The questions, of course, are maddeningly familiar. Will it pass this time? If so, will it do anything to stop the violence?
Gun nuts are fond of deconstructing each individual shooting, because there’s always a circumstance that “explains” why the shooting could never have been prevented. These arguments fail, obviously, because they don’t apply to even a majority of these massacres. What’s the one common denominator? The type of gun.
I unequivocally support this bill and will always support aggressive gun regulations on semi-automatic weapons. If after reading this column you still don’t, you can kindly go to hell.
I’m going to do what gun nuts do, and examine in depth the factors that contributed to one event, showing just how many points of failure contributed to it and why it’s insane to fixate impossibly on those and not consider for a moment what the Sutherland Springs shooter had in common with the shooters in, say, Ft. Hood, TX, San Bernardino, CA, Newtown, CT, and Orlando, FL.
First, the Texas gunman legally purchased the semiautomatic that he used to slaughter dozens of people in a church (ten of them still in critical condition) from a national chain sporting goods store in April 2016.
But he also:
1. Was cited repeatedly for violent domestic abuse
2. Hit and kicked his first wife and broke her infant’s skull
3. Sneaked guns onto a New Mexico Air Force base where he was stationed and “attempted to carry out” death threats to his commanders
4. Got court martialed for abusing his first wife and infant stepchild, and in the same case faced four firearms charges, including pointing a loaded firearm at his wife
5. Was subsequently committed to a mental health facility to await court martial, and escaped from that mental health facility 12 days later
6. Was then found to have used the facility computers for “ordering weapons & tactical gear & magazines to a P.O. Box in San Antonio”
7. Pled guilty to assaulting his wife and her infant son, in which he admitted hitting his infant stepson “with a force likely to produce death or grievous bodily harm”
8. As punishment was given a “bad conduct” discharge and spent a year in confinement, then moved back to his Texas home, where he almost immediately came under investigation for “rape by force”
9. After which he moved to Colorado, and the sexual assault investigation in Texas, according to the sheriff (who wasn’t the sheriff at the time), “just kind of stalled out”
10. Was accused in Colorado of beating his dog, pled guilty to animal cruelty and received a $500 fine and a deferred 18-month sentence, but did no time
11. Four months later moved back to Texas (where, again, he’d recently been investigated for rape) and eventually remarried
12. Was reported again to the cops for assault, this time by his second wife’s friend who had been tipped off by “a woman in the home,” believed to be almost certainly his wife
13. Told the cops (again, this is the same jurisdiction as the 2013 rape investigation) that the assault was just a “misunderstanding & teenage drama,” which they included in their notes as a reason they didn’t charge him or investigate further
14. Applied for a license to carry a gun in Texas… AND WAS DENIED
15. In April 2016 purchased a Ruger AR-style semiautomatic rifle (reportedly the one he used to shoot up the church) from an Academy Sports in San Antonio, because in Texas you don’t need a license to own semi-automatic weapons
16. On his background check used a Colorado address and marked he had no disqualifying criminal record
17. Was approved to buy the gun via the FBI’s National Criminal Instant Background Check
18. Taught Bible studies at the First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs, but was no longer welcome there
19. Was consistently described by neighbors as strange, violent and troubled
20. At some point became a hardline atheist
21. Began posting about guns and mass shootings on social media
22. Threatened his mother-in-law with violence
23. Alluded on social media to a looming breakup
24. Alarmed his neighbors in recent weeks with the amount of gunfire coming from his home, which they described as “unusual” even for rural Texas
25. And lastly, posted this picture to his Facebook account on October 29, the Sunday exactly one week before he carried out the shooting.
Sources for the above information can be found here and here and here and here and here.)
President Trump called the gunman’s case “a mental health case at the highest level.” I’d like to point out that, given this history, Mr. Trump is absolutely correct.
But it’s also a matter of:
1. A misogynistic law enforcement culture that all too often fails to pursue serious and repeated charges of domestic abuse
2. Absurd loopholes in the background check system and laws governing the purchase of firearms
3. The failure of the Air Force to transfer charges to civilian law enforcement databases (who knows how often this happens in different systems across the country)
4. An underfunded and overloaded mental health system
5. Our failure to grasp that the mental health system can’t be responsible for “curing” rage or habitual abuse
6. Failure to grasp that mental health is far less accurate a predictor of future violent behavior than is a pattern of past violent behavior
7. The failure to grasp that using metrics such as “mental health” and “violent behavior” to restrict the purchase of semi-automatic guns assumes those things will not only be reported but accurately diagnosed, acted on, and documented legally to a degree that prohibits those purchases
8. The human and technological failings of clerical and filing systems and of state-based (i.e., not national) information sharing networks
9. The infinite and incurable array of human failings to notice, register, and report a pattern of disturbing behavior
10. A law enforcement culture unwilling and unable to accurately diagnose and track those reports if they do come in (let alone with the constitutional authority to act on them)
11. The GOP’s shameful refusal to make even a gesture that they’d consider sensible gun control supported by a vast majority of gun owners (Dems aren’t off the hook, by the way: 15 of them voted against an assault weapons ban in 2013. It didn’t affect the outcome, but let’s be honest about this. It’s not partisan. Looking right at you, Bernie.)
12. The GOP’s shameful health care initiatives that cut funding to mental health programs and belie their monstrous lie, their untenable and inhumane hypocrisy that we can prevent more massacres if we treat them properly as “mental health cases of the highest level”
13. The unforgivable psychopathic selfishness of a small percentage of gun owners who believe that the right to shoot a semi-automatic for fun outweighs these massacres, and who cite the constitution for giving them that right so nya nya nya screw you LOL
14. That exchange of fun for death in all reality has nothing to do with the constitution but with a psychopathic need to win any argument against liberals at any cost, and if that includes enduring the massacre of children so be it
15. And, by the way, the blame for this ultimately lies in the divisiveness of our politics and the cynicism of the GOP, who are afraid NOT OF CROSSING THE NRA as the myth would have it, but of upsetting a small percentage of psychotic voters that the GOP believes holds hostage its political future
16. Which is the same problem we see in so many issues, and it’s the GOP’s own damn fault, too: They’ve brayed for years now the racist myth that white men are persecuted and alienated, so Republican politicians can turn that anger into political action, even though we all know that feelings of alienation, helplessness, and anger breed violent behavior.
It should be really, really crystal clear by now that in all of these massacres the one underlying element is easy, affordable access to high-powered weapons and high-capacity magazines.
How easy is it to access guns in the United States? Well, the U.S. currently has 64,000 gun retailers, which is:
—30,000 more than coffee shops
—50,000 more than McDonald’s
—39,000 more than grocery stores
—54,000 more than 7-11s
—And for you GOP selective mental health bleeding hearts, it’s 3,500 more than pharmacies
(Source for the above numbers here.)
My solution? MAKE HIGH-CAPACITY MAGAZINES PROHIBITIVELY EXPENSIVE AND SCARCE.
This isn’t ideal, but it’s a compromise. Such a bill wouldn’t go after someone’s right to own a firearm, but it would have a substantial effect on mass shootings. Though yes, it’s true the assault weapon ban (which also banned high-capacity mags) we had in place from 1994-2004 didn’t affect the overall murder rate, it DID stop things like, say, church massacres:
Here’s the killer fact:
After the Vegas and Texas shootings, none of the ten worst mass shootings in modern U.S. history occurred between 1994 and 2004, the years the assault weapons ban was in place. (Here is a source, the Economist, that has a graph that will illustrate this; the article was published after Mandalay Bay but before Texas, so factor that in there.)
As I said above, I support a blanket assault weapons ban, and I also don’t believe it’s moral to compromise. But if there’s one practical lesson we all should have learned from 2016, it’s that political reality all too often doesn’t permit morality.
Yesterday the Dems introduced their new ban. I hope to hell it passes. If not, a sensible compromise would be to make legal access to high-capacity magazines practically impossible.
“But Chicago!” – NO: I’m talking strictly about cutting down on the slaughter of innocent people in safe, community spaces.
“But the black market!” – NO: Why do we have laws that regulate all sorts of shit on the black market, such as drugs? What about the child trafficking black market? Should we have laws that help regulate that? Of course. There’s still a drug market, and there’s still child trafficking on the black market, but laws help.
Would this ban have stopped Devin Patrick Kelley or Steven Paddock? You can say “no” all you want and I won’t change your mind, but who knows? What would have happened if Hitler got accepted into art school? It’s proving a negative, a counterfactual scenario, and it’s impossible to know.
Will this ban stop all mass shootings? Of course not. Will it prevent a whole lot of them? Say what you want, but recent U.S. history screams that it will. And it’s a whole hell of a lot more practical than addressing the new and increasingly moronic excuses people use to justify not thinking about the gun. Should we address those, too? Hell yes.
It’s not the bullets, and it’s not the gun. It’s the person using it.
It’s the person who can shoot hundreds of bullets from the gun and leave before anyone can tell someone who that person is—let alone what’s wrong with him.