Following last weekend’s back-to-back slaughters in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, there were plenty of suggestions for what the country should do to shed its distinction as the mass-killing capital of the world.
Require background checks on all firearms purchases. Enact “red flag” laws that allow family members or police to have guns confiscated, at least temporarily, from people who are deemed dangerous. Adopt harsher penalties for felons with guns or for those who buy guns for people who aren’t supposed to have them. Pressure makers of gratuitously violent video games and movies to tone them down. Better police the internet to restrict the incitements to violence that spew through it.
All of those might be fine ideas, but the most logical and sensible proposition of all is to severely restrict the manufacture and possession of the types of weapons and ammunition magazines used not only in these two massacres but in the vast majority of mass killings.
Such assault-style, semi-automatic firearms — whether long guns or handguns — are designed to kill a lot of people very fast.
That is not a perversion of their purpose. That is their purpose.
The Dayton shooter exemplified perfectly the horrific capability of these weapons. He was killed by lawmen within 30 seconds of firing his first shot — an amazingly quick response by authorities — but still that was enough time for him to kill or wound 36 people, a rate of more than one a second.
Why does anyone outside of the military or law enforcement need firepower like that?
In an essay this week on the website of NBC News, Michael E. Diamond, a military veteran who served in first Gulf War, makes a couple of interesting observations. First, he says that even though the vast majority of assault rifle owners are law-abiding, the way these weapons are marketed appeals to those with a hero complex or a chip on their shoulders.
Second, he says the benefit that most people get from owning an assault weapon — the rush that comes from shooting one — does not outweigh the cost in the loss of lives when these weapons are so accessible to the mentally unhinged.
“Today, ‘it’s fun to shoot’ is no longer a good enough reason to keep something around that routinely sends shoppers, students, church members and restaurant patrons to the morgue,” Diamond writes.
Of course, the majority of people who die from gun violence are not killed by assault rifles but rather by handguns. There are too many of those in circulation, too. But just because America has a bigger problem with guns, that doesn’t mean it should ignore the statistically smaller but more terrifying one.
We can slow down the killers either by extending the time between the firing of a weapon or shortening the time between having to reload. If a deranged gunman could shoot only one person every two seconds rather than every second, that’s a potentially 50 percent reduction in the casualty count of a mass shooting.
Is that really an infringement on the Second Amendment?