In 1791, when the Second Amendment was adopted in the United States, the state-of-the-art firearm was a flintlock musket firing paper cartridges loaded with gunpowder and a lead ball. Given the laborious loading procedures, a skilled soldier could fire at most two or three shots a minute. The smoothbore flintlock lacked both stopping power and accuracy; hence the need for lines of soldiers to fire from point-blank range at each other.
Nikolas Cruz did not come to Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, toting a musket. Police say he came with an AR-15 rifle, which typically comes equipped with 30-round magazines and can easily fire 45 rounds per minute. And it fires not lead balls but .223 rounds that at close range could make the head of a Viet Cong soldier “explode” or turn his torso into “one big hole”.
Little wonder that the AR-15 and its variants have become the weapon of choice for mass shooters. It was employed not only allegedly by Cruz, but also (among other weapons) by Adam Lanza, who used it to kill 27 people at Sandy Hook Elementary School; by James Holmes to kill 12 people in an Aurora, Colorado, movie theatre; by Syed Rizwan Farook and Tashfeen Malek to kill 14 people in San Bernardino, California; by Devin Patrick Kelley to kill 26 people at a church in Sutherland Springs, Texas; and by Stephen Paddock, who used a modified version which allowed near-automatic rates of fire, to kill 58 people in Las Vegas in the worst mass shooting in modern US history. Three of these shootings — Sutherland Springs, Las Vegas and Parkland — have all occurred in the past five months. In other words, the danger is growing.
No other country experiences this kind of terror on an ongoing basis — save places such as Afghanistan and Syria that are actually at war. The US has 4.4 per cent of the world’s population, but, according to a University of Alabama researcher, between 1966 and 2012 it had 31 per cent of all gunmen involved in mass shootings. Maybe that has something to do with the fact that Americans own 48 per cent of the world’s civilian-owned guns, far more per capita than any other country. (Yemen is No 2, but lags far behind.)
It simply beggars the imagination that Republicans, in thrall to the National Rifle Association, continue to insist there is no relationship between gun ownership and gun crime. Instead of effective regulations, they offer “thoughts and prayers”, as if mass shootings were acts of nature like earthquakes and hurricanes that mere mortals are powerless to prevent. This was Senator John Neely Kennedy (Republican- Louisiana.) after the Las Vegas shooting: “I just hate to see this issue politicised. I don’t know why bad things happen to good people, but they do in this world, and what happened in Las Vegas was terrible. But we can’t legislate away every problem in the world.”
This is the excuse for inaction as our children get slaughtered? A rationale that would not convince an intelligent 12-year-old? No, Congress can’t legislate away every problem in the world, and no one is asking it to. No one even expects Congress to stop all mass shootings. But Congress has the power to make such shootings rarer and less deadly.
There is a long litany of gun-control measures that enjoy majority support from the public. They include banning the sale of assault-style weapons and high-capacity magazines, prohibiting modifications such as bump stocks that allow faster rates of fire, instituting universal background checks for gun and ammunition buyers, barring gun sales to all violent criminals and those deemed dangerous by mental-health professionals, creating a centralised record of gun purchases, and requiring all gun owners to be licensed just as all drivers are.
Ideally we would also rethink the Second Amendment in an age where firearms are far more lethal than in the 18th century and where we no longer require minutemen to protect our liberties from the redcoats. But it’s not necessary to repeal the Second Amendment. The courts have consistently upheld gun regulations in the past, including a federal assault-weapon ban that was in effect from 1994 to 2004 and a Maryland ban that went into effect in 2013.
Yet, instead of instituting such common-sense safeguards, Congress is moving in the opposite direction. Early in 2017, Congress passed and President Donald Trump signed a bill that revoked an Obama-era regulation that would have made it harder for mentally ill people to buy guns. Towards the end of the year, the House passed legislation that would force every state to honour concealed-carry permits — meaning that a resident of Oklahoma could pack heat in the District of Columbia or New York City.
Politicians, primarily but not exclusively Republicans, are turning their idolatrous worship of the Second Amendment into a suicide pact. If the US had been under assault from Islamist terrorists, they would have acted long ago. But apparently, homegrown mass murderers are of scant concern even though they kill far more people than terrorists do.
--Max Boot, a Post columnist, is the Jeane J. Kirkpatrick senior fellow for national security studies at the Council on Foreign Relations. He is the author of The Road Not Taken: Edward Lansdale and the American Tragedy in Vietnam.