Our nation is at a standstill. With a deeply divided electorate and a polarizing President, Americans are finding it harder and harder to reach common ground, and gun control is perhaps the biggest example of this. Despite crime rates having declined sharply since the 1990s, an increased focus has been placed on gun murders in particular, and since the Parkland shooting, where 17 people were murdered by a teenage gunman, calls for gun control have intensified, and so has the opposition. In particular, calls have intensified for a ban on so-called assault weapons, which were defined by the now-expired Assault Weapons Ban of 1994 as semi-automatic weapons with various cosmetic features and/or the ability to accept detachable magazines.
According to the FBI’s 2016 Crime in the United States report, out of 11,004 firearm murders, only 374 were committed with rifles. This includes all types of rifles – not just so-called assault rifles but hunting rifles as well. The vast majority of murders were instead committed by handguns, which are not a target for most gun control laws; even weapons like knives and blunt objects caused more murders than rifles. From my perspective, the focus on assault rifles for a gun control advocate just doesn’t make much sense because even if an assault weapons ban stopped every rifle murder it would only stop 3% of gun murders.
An example of this lack of vision in gun policy comes from dropout presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke, who wanted to ban all assault rifles and confiscate them from citizens at a total cost of around $15 billion. Even if we assume every rifle death was caused by an assault rifle and that this ban would be 100% effective in ending rifle deaths, the cost would be staggering. Given there were only 374 rifle murders last year, the cost would be over $40 million per life saved. There is no price on life, to be sure, but there are far more efficient ways to not just deal with gun violence but to save lives.
One idea that is genuinely innovative is the idea of a gun violence restraining order. These laws are already on the books in California and several other states are considering them. In short, GVROs would allow police to temporarily remove weapons from people if an immediate relative or police find evidence they are trying to harm themselves or others. This resolves much of the issue of suicides, which comprise a large percentage of gun deaths in America, as well as the cracks that many mass shooters have fallen through. This idea appeals to both sides because it only affects those who are dangerous, not law-abiding gun owners, and has a direct outlet for appeal – the courts – if a mistake is made.
These ideas don’t infringe on the Second Amendment and have been passed in Florida and Vermont, states with strong gun cultures that have a deep respect for the right to keep and bear arms as well as our responsibility to ensure guns are used safely and responsibly. And most importantly, all of these ideas would solve easily fixable loopholes in our gun laws rather than focus on the cause of a tiny fraction of gun deaths.
Gun control advocates would be wise to work with gun owners on passing these, rather than focusing on divisive ideas like an ineffective assault weapons ban. These commonsense ideas have broad support in red and blue state and working with gun owners would show a degree of support and understanding to gun owners that might help gun control advocates in the future.