It isn’t about assault weapons, it’s about access to guns in the first place

Yet another shooting has America having another conversation about gun violence.

An absurd number of people are killed by guns every year, and the Republican Party and the NRA are blocking sensible regulations to help reduce gun violence — they won’t even let the CDC research the problem, fearful that it will lead to unconscionable, unconstitutional restrictions on gun access. This is strange to hear coming from the same folks who insist that regulations on voting such as voter IDs, manual voter registration and cutbacks on early voting don’t restrict ballot access.


Even stranger is the continued insistence that gun control doesn’t work. It does. However, the extent to which it works varies greatly from policy to policy.

Take the assault weapons ban, for instance. In 1994, President Bill Clinton signed an assault weapons ban in an attempt to reduce gun deaths. Following the implementation of this ban, we are told, gun violence plummeted, so many want to see the ban re-implemented in the hopes that gun violence will plummet again.

The chances are it won’t, because it didn’t really work the first time. The spike in gun violence that led to the implementation of the assault weapons ban was almost entirely due to a spike in handgun violence. The number of deaths in America at the end of guns other than handguns had been flat since 1980. What’s more, the spike in handgun violence was already on the way down when the assault weapons ban was implemented. It is bad that people are killed by rifles with high capacity magazines, but knives kill almost as many people per year. Furthermore, the definition of what actually constitutes an assault weapon is shaky, at best. This is partially the gun industry’s fault — they coined the phrase to make regular rifles sound cooler — but it speaks to the difficulty in trying to legislate

If we want to reduce gun violence we cannot focus exclusively on an extreme minority of cases just because they look scarier in the media; mass shootings create headlines, but the vast majority of gun deaths happen outside of the news cycle. To center gun safety rhetoric around assault weapons and high capacity magazines instead of ordinary handguns is like saying you’re afraid of flying while speeding on the highway.

Man with gun via Shutterstock

Man with a not-assault weapon via Shutterstock

Rather than focusing on which specific types of guns should be banned, we should instead focus on making it harder for people who shouldn’t have access to guns in the first place to, well, have access to guns. That means universal background checks, gun safety classes and other across-the-board regulations that screen for competence and responsible ownership. That means closing loopholes and cracking down on straw purchases. That means ending the war on drugs and bringing those industries into the light so that there isn’t as much drug-related violence. That means de-stigmatizing mental health care and ensuring that everyone has easy access to it — not because mass shooters are probably mentally ill, but because most gun deaths are suicides. Perhaps most importantly, that means expanding economic opportunity, in part by structuring and funding our schools better, with something less stupid than local property taxes.

Other countries (notably, Canada) have proven more than capable of doing this. We can, too.

Regulating gun access, as opposed to specific types of guns, means that the proverbial “good guys with guns” won’t be affected at all. What’s more, responsible gun owners should be part of the conversation about how to regulate guns responsibly. If they come to the table and use their knowledge about guns to help us create reality-based legislation, we can work on implementing that legislation that keeps all types of guns out of the hands of people who we don’t trust to use them, without restricting access for people who don’t pose a threat.

At the end of the day, the talk of banning assault weapons and high capacity magazines is well-intentioned, but misguided. There are better, more comprehensive steps we can take to reduce the number of gun deaths. Conversations about new gun regulations should start there.

Max Mills is a 26 year old Texan with a degree in Computer Science. Although he writes about a variety of things, his main focuses are education and political accountability. You can follow him on Twitter at @MaxFMills

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17 Responses to “It isn’t about assault weapons, it’s about access to guns in the first place”

  1. Melo11 says:

    Oh my.. What a strange picture!! Sorry, guys, but it reminds me of

  2. David M says:

    Man, I’m loving you Doug!

  3. Ol' Hippy says:

    Actually it didn’t, there have still been shootings, Canada has a policy that actually works, Switzerland too.

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  5. Doug105 says:

    The NRA and its fanbase handily hands us a list of companies we should absolutely support.
    The Second Amendment Check Boycott List

    All companies we boycott have received a 2ACheck rating of “F” for their lack of respect for the rights of gun owners. Your experience with some of these companies will vary based on location, however, the boycott is based on the corporate policy toward responsible gun owners.

    We believe guns in the hands of good people make everyone safer. We encourage freedom loving Americans to boycott anti-gun companies until they improve their policy. Please share this page.

    We also strongly recommend everyone know the firearms laws applicable in their own state, and states they travel through. We recommend something like the Traveler’s Guide to Firearms Laws.

    Print this image and post it publicly for all to see, take it with you, give it to friends, etc.

  6. Bill says:

    How do we determine who can be trusted with a gun and who can’t. What if we gave every “good guy” a gun and if they had been in the San Bernardino office with a gun (legally and trained) would there have been a mass shooting? Interesting discussion.

  7. Jon Erickson says:

    When the Brady Bill was introduced, it included a listing as an assault rifle of the 1863 Henry Repeating Rifle, introduced in the Civil War. It had a long magazine and used a pistol cartridge. What this says is that the people who finally put the bill together, didn’t really have a clue as to what they were doing. This undermines their credibility and the credibility of the bill. If only they had passed this restriction before General George Armstrong Custer had met the Sioux and Cheyenne at the Little Big Horn. Out numbered 3,000 to 270+ and out armed by a 13 round “assault rifle” to the cavalry single shot rifles, such a restriction could have prevented that tragedy. (Naaa, wouldn’t have made a bit of difference then either.) But then, many believe that Custer got what he deserved.

  8. Ron Helton says:

    A gun free zone and no armed security guards.
    What could go wrong?

  9. Nelson Kerr says:

    If you violate the Constitution to, you can’t be so sure which way the mitary will go.

  10. Nelson Kerr says:

    You have no clue what a war look like, much less a civil war, that many dead in a day would be considered a war

  11. Nelson Kerr says:

    The Australian model won’t work in the US until we repeal the 2nd amendment. But i guess the bill of rights doesn’t mean much to you when it is inconvenient If you want top go that way get a super-majority of the State legislatures and Congress to go along, BTW state legislatures for the most part have been loosening gun controls for over a decade so you might have a problem with that

  12. Doug105 says:

    If you think the randomish nutters are war I hope you never get in a real one, but I agree the most of idiots have no idea what will happen if the military turns on them, it will be dragged out by small groups of survivalist’s for years.

  13. nicho says:

    We’re in the midst of a civil war right now. Over, 1,000 mass shootings in three years. If that’s not a war. I don’t know what is.

    Besides, the Second Amendment Patriots with their popguns are no match for the US military. Gun ownership was universal in Iraq. Didn’t save them from Saddam. Didn’t save them from Cheney and Bush.

  14. nicho says:

    Enact gun control laws. If you are caught with a gun that isn’t properly permitted and registered, you go to jail, automatic, 10 years, no parole. Mere possession get you the 10 years. If you use it in a crime, that sentence is added to the 10 years.

  15. pliny says:

    While I support background checks and think banning research into gun violence is stupid, I’m wondering what the response is going to be to downloadable guns. They are rapidly approaching the point where you can print them on a sub $1000 3-d printer and have them not blow up in your hand the first time you try to use them.

  16. Doug105 says:

    The Australian model would never happen here without a civilwar, best we can hope for is a set of laws like Canada.

  17. nicho says:

    We need to pick up the phone and ask Australia what they did to stop mass shootings. It worked for them. It could work for us.

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