Banning assault weapons works
Image Credit: Gulf News
Joe Biden

Each time a mass shooting strikes one of our communities we grieve. We gather our loved ones. We reach for answers and clamour for action. Each time, for a moment, it feels like this time will be different.

But then the news cycle rolls on. And we push down the gut-churning knowledge that it will be only a matter of time before it happens again. Between El Paso and Dayton only about 13 hours elapsed.

Republican leaders try to prevent action and parrot NRA [National Rifle Association] messaging — as Donald Trump did when he said, “Mental illness and hatred pulls the trigger, not the gun.”

This is the same president who, during his first year in office, repealed a rule President Barack Obama and I put in place to help keep guns out of the hands of people with certain mental illnesses. This is the same president who said after Charlottesville that there were “very fine people on both sides”, and who continues to fan the flames of hate and white supremacy. We can’t trust his diagnosis.

If we cannot rise to meet this moment, it won’t just be a political failure. It will be a moral one. It will mean that we accept the next inevitable tragedy.

- Joe Biden, former US vice-president and a Democratic candidate for president

We have a huge problem with guns. Assault weapons — military-style firearms designed to fire rapidly — are a threat to our national security, and we should treat them as such. Anyone who pretends as if there’s nothing we can do is lying — and holding that view should be disqualifying for anyone seeking to lead our country.

I know, because with Senator Dianne Feinstein I led the effort to enact the 1994 law that banned assault weapons and high-capacity magazines for 10 years. Those gun safety reforms made our nation demonstrably more secure.

They were also, sadly, the last meaningful gun legislation we were able to sign into law before the NRA and the gun manufacturers put the Republican Party in a headlock.

I fought hard to extend the assault weapons and high-capacity magazines bans in 2004. The Republicans who allowed these laws to expire asserted that they were ineffective. But, almost 15 years after the bans expired, with the unfortunate benefit of hindsight, we now know that they did make a difference.

Assault weapons kill more people

Many police departments have reported an increase in criminals using assault weapons since 2004. And multiple analyses of the data around mass shootings provide evidence that, from 1994 to 2004, the years when assault weapons and high-capacity magazines were banned, there were fewer mass shootings — fewer deaths, fewer families needlessly destroyed.

There’s overwhelming data that shootings committed with assault weapons kill more people than shootings with other types of guns. And that’s the point.

Shooters looking to inflict mass carnage choose assault weapons with high-capacity magazines capable of holding more than 10 rounds. They choose them because they want to kill as many people as possible without having to stop and reload.

In Dayton, where the police responded and neutralised the shooter within about 30 seconds, he was still able to massacre nine people and injure more than two dozen others because he carried an AR-style weapon (a lightweight semi-automatic rifle) with a magazine capable of holding 100 rounds.

We have to get these weapons of war off our streets.

Nearly 70 per cent of the American public support a ban on assault weapons — including 54 per cent of Republicans.

When you have that kind of broad public support for legislation that will make their families safer, and it still can’t get through the Senate — the problem is with weak-willed leaders who care more about their campaign coffers than children in coffins.

Buy-back programme

The 1994 assault weapons and high-capacity magazines bans worked.

And if I am elected president, we’re going to pass them again — and this time, we’ll make them even stronger. We’re going to stop gun manufacturers from circumventing the law by making minor modifications to their products — products that were equally deadly. And this time, we’re going to pair it with a buy-back programme to get as many assault weapons off our streets as possible as quickly as possible.

I won’t stop there. I’ll get universal background checks passed, building on the Brady act establishing the background check system that I helped push through Congress in 1993. I’ll accelerate the development and deployment of smart-gun technology — something gun manufacturers have opposed — so that guns are keyed to the individual biometrics of authorised owners.

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There is so much we can do — practical, sensible steps that draw broad support among the American people. But we will see only more and deadlier shootings if we continue to dodge the core issue of unregulated assault weapons and high-capacity magazines in our communities.

If we cannot rise to meet this moment, it won’t just be a political failure. It will be a moral one. It will mean that we accept the next inevitable tragedy. That we are desensitised to children running from schools and bodies littering parking lots, that our outpouring of thoughts and prayers will grow increasingly hollow.

It’s unacceptable that children learn to fear mass shooters alongside their ABCs, that people feel unsafe on their weekly grocery run, and that families everywhere experience increasing anxiety that they are simply not safe anywhere in the United States.

I, for one, won’t stand for that. And the American people agree with me.

Joe Biden, a former senator from Delaware and vice-president under President Barack Obama, is a Democratic candidate for president.