It’s Time to Ban Semiautomatic Weapons

Originally published on Athens Patch on Dec. 17, 2012.

Like all parents of young children, I was shaken by the tragedy in Connecticut, especially as the events unfolded while my kids were at their own elementary school.

I cannot imagine the pain the parents of the victims must be feeling, and hope the outpouring of support from the nation lets them know they are not alone in their mourning.

Since the tragedy, much has been written and said trying to make sense of the events of Dec. 14, and the seemingly increasing senseless violence in our country. Over the past six years, the United States has seen some of its worst mass murders in history:

•April 16, 2007 – Virginia Tech University in Blacksburg, Va., 32 killed;

•Dec. 5, 2007 – Westroads Mall, Omaha, Neb., 8 killed;

•Feb. 14, 2008 – Northern Illinois University in DeKalb, Ill., 5 killed;

•April 3, 2009 – American Civic Association in Binghamton, NY, 13 killed;

•Nov. 5, 2009 – Fort Hood, Texas, 13 killed;

•Aug. 3, 2010 – Harford Beer Distributor in Manchester, Conn., 8 killed;

•Jan. 8, 2011 – Rep. Gabriel Giffords appearance in Tuscon, Ariz., 6 killed;

•July 20, 2012 – Movie Theater in Aurora, Colo., 12 killed;

•Aug. 5, 2012 – Sikh Temple in Oak Creek, Wis., 6 killed;

•Dec. 14, 2012 – Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn., 26 killed.

Each event featured one sole assailant, and these murderers of the 129 victims have one thing in common — they all used legally purchased semiautomatic weapons to conduct their killing sprees. In nine of the 10 cases, the semiautomatic guns were purchased by the perpetrator himself (the Westroads Mall shooter stole the gun from his stepfather). Assault weapons serve one main purpose — to kill multitudes in a short amount of time. It’s how 10 killers single-handedly murdered 129 people in the aforementioned tragedies.

In 1994, with overwhelming bipartisan support, the federal government passed an assault weapons ban. The ban expired in 2004. During the 10 years the law was in place, there were eight mass shootings resulting in 51 deaths. According to the Citizens Crime Commission of New York City, six of the eight massacres involved semiautomatic weapons purchased legally before the assault weapons ban took effect in 1994. The two mass shootings featuring illegally acquired weapons — Columbine in 1999 and Edgewater Technology in 2000 — resulted in 20 combined deaths.

Doing the math, over the past 18 years, mass shootings involving legally purchased assault weapons resulted in 160 innocent deaths, while mass shootings involving illegally purchased assault weapons resulted in 20 deaths.

Obviously, assault weapons and the ease of purchasing them is not the sole reason 160 people have lost their lives. However, one cannot deny the link between the spike in mass killings and the expiration of the assault weapons ban.

For the 20 children shot multiple times in a matter of minutes last Friday; for the 129 murdered over the past eight years by legally purchased semiautomatic weapons; and to reduce a legitimate threat to safety of all Americans, the government needs to restore a ban on semiautomatic weapons.

9-9-9. Yes We Can. Got Details?

Recent polls suggest that Herman Cain may emerge as the Republican nominee. Cain arose from obscurity with a flash — in the form of three numbers, 9-9-9. It’s a catchy phrase, albeit the thought behind it seems a little too simplistic to solve the nation’s budget problems. But Obama showed that sometimes it’s the flash that counts. Got Hope? Yes We Can. Got substance? Not quite.

It’s a disturbing problem with American politics, and it’s not all the politicians fault. We live in a soundbite society. Despite three 24-hour all-news channels, American media — and the American public — is drawn to the soundbite.

Want details on a three-tiered plan to pare down the nation’s deficit and reform the tax code? Boring. 9-9-9!

Want information on how we can change the course the country has been taking the past eight years? Yawn. Yes We Can!

But it’s not all the media’s fault.

The internet has allowed us to access an endless flow of information. Smartphones give us the opportunity to access that information from virtually anywhere. Putting these elements together, one would think that our electorate would increasingly become more educated about their candidates, forcing them to give more details on their websites.

But the information explosion has backfired on our political process. Perhaps because of an information overload — fun distractions like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube — our brains cannot handle the capacity to discern American politics. So we fall on the catchy phrases and the unachievable promises.

So whose fault is it? Perhaps we should look in the mirror and think about our priorities. Before you get mad, consider this less popular slogan from the Barry Goldwater campaign, “In Your Heart, You Know He’s Right.”