The latter half of 2012 was marked by a series of deadly shootings, including one right here in Colorado. The mass shootings in Aurora, CO and Newtown, CT were just two of sixteen that happened last year, with a total of at least 88 casualties and many more wounded.
These shootings, especially the highly-publicized ones in Aurora and Newtown, have reinvigorated the call for stricter gun controls. The debate caught fire quickly, with gun control advocates crying out for a ban on assault rifles and Second Amendment defenders advocating for more, not fewer, guns in public. After the Newtown shooting, the fighting exploded: There was a call for armed teachers in schools to protect students. The clamor for tighter gun controls grew.
In late December, Colorado Senators Mark Udall and Michael Bennet amplified the clamor and came out in favor of more gun control. Udall, in a statement posted to Facebook, said, “We all recognize that Colorado and our nation have a long and storied tradition of gun ownership for hunting, outdoor recreation and self-defense. However, I am not convinced that combat weapons are necessarily part of that heritage.” Udall also agreed with Governor John Hickenlooper’s proposal to “improve background checks and bolster mental health services.”
Bennet posted similar remarks to Facebook in which he said, “I believe a combination of improved access to mental health services, restrictions on certain weapons intended for the battlefield, and elimination of the gun show loophole [which allows unlicensed sellers at a gun show to sell guns without a background check] are sensible steps that can reduce our children’s risk.”
A bill backed by Democratic Representatives Carolyn McCarthy (New York) and Diana DeGette (Colorado) and introduced in December aims to outlaw high-capacity magazines, which have been used in a number of mass shootings in years past, including the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown. The bill would ban magazines for over ten rounds of ammunition and prohibit the transfer, possession, and importation of those magazines manufactured after the bill is signed into law.
In the Senate, Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) plans to introduce a bill that would ban the sale, transfer, importation, and manufacturing of a number of automatic and semi-automatic rifles, handguns, and shotguns, including 120 specifically-named firearms. Feinstein’s bill would also ban high-capacity magazines, like the bill in the House of Representatives, and include a number of other controls on the sale and transfer of guns.
This is the kind of legislation gun control advocates have wanted for years. And we need it: The number of mass shootings this country has seen is inexcusable. Why has it taken so long to see this kind of action taken? Many blame the National Rifle Association for the lag in gun control reform. The NRA and its supporters have been the biggest voice of opposition to assault weapons bans and similar legislation over the past few decades.
After the Newtown shooting, the NRA went silent for a week before executive vice president Wayne LaPierre held a press conference in Washington, D.C. in which he argued that new gun laws would not prevent similar incidents in the future. His, and by extension the NRA’s, counter-proposal was to place armed security in any school that wanted the protection.
This was followed by the predictable outcry from the left as well as an unexpected chiding from the right. Utah Representative-elect Chris Stewart, a Republican, called the NRA’s proposal a “bad idea.” Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) reminded Meet the Press viewers that “we had an armed guard in Columbine, we had an assault ban. Neither one of them worked.” And Representative Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) said on NBC, “I wouldn’t suggest necessarily that we give everyone a gun. It’s not for everybody.”
One option that many legislators and pundits seem to have ignored in this debate is the prospect of ammunition control. This is the only absolute way to stem gun-related violence. After all, Americans own over 300 million firearms, and those owners are not likely to give them up. So even if we ban additional gun sales, those guns will remain in private hands.
Ammunition, on the other hand, is easily acquired. Wal-Mart carries it. Your local sporting goods store does, too. In fact, there is no mention of ammunition in Colorado’s gun laws. You can even buy it online – James Holmes, the shooter in the Aurora incident, bought over 6,000 rounds from ammo websites. The only restriction to online ammunition purchases is proof of age (buyers must be 21 or older,) but there is no limit to quantity.
Legislators are now looking to change this. Bills have been introduced proposing a ban of online ammunition sales, but so far nothing has passed. What can be done? Treat the sale of ammunition as we do that of guns: impose background checks and waiting periods. Place limits on how much can be purchased at one time. And, yes, ban online ammo sales.
What’s the alternative? We’ll repeat these mass shootings over and over again, year after year, resulting in thousands more unnecessary deaths.