No one understands better the tragedy of mass shootings than Coloradans. Over the past several decades, Coloradans have witnessed some of the most infamous mass shootings in America’s history—Columbine High, Aurora Theater, STEM School in Highlands Ranch, Planned Parenthood in Colorado Springs, and now a King Soopers in Boulder. Naturally, after each of these tragedies, we ask ourselves what could have been done to prevent such an event. And inevitably, the demagogues appeal to the emotions of the masses instead of offering well-considered and empirically grounded policy proposals.
In the wake of Boulder and to no one’s surprise, Democrats and their media counterparts rushed to their podiums and keyboards to call for passage of a new assault weapons ban, conveniently already written and waiting for such a moment. President Biden on Tuesday explicitly called for new legislation, much like the earlier 1994 bill he helped pass, that had no discernable impact on mass shootings according to researchers at the National Institute of Justice. The President stated, “Another American city has been scarred by gun violence and the resulting trauma.” I wonder whether he feels as passionately about the massive uptick in gun violence in cities like Philadelphia, Portland, New York City, Chicago, or if those daily occurrences have slipped his mind.
The ultimate question remains: Will banning so-called ‘assault weapons’ actually stop — or at least curb — future mass shootings?
Before we continue, let’s pause for a moment and remember that there is no consensus definition of what an ‘assault weapon’ actually is. The various definitions continue to narrow, as we saw under Senator Dianne Feinstein’s 2019 proposed assault weapons ban legislation, S.66. Under those criteria, all rifles that aren’t “manually operated by a bolt, pump, lever, or slide action” would be banned from future manufacturing. The result would’ve been the banning of nearly all semi-automatic rifles, some of the most commonly owned sporting and hunting rifles in America. It’s unclear if the Biden administration’s new proposal will be as extreme, but gun owners should assume the worst with Democrats in control.
Now that our understanding of what Democrats want to ban is somewhat clearer, back to the original question. Will banning semi-automatic ‘assault weapons’ actually stop mass shootings? Asked another way, are ‘assault weapons’ the only weapons that can be used to carry out these atrocities, or are they just tools that if banned can be replaced with another tool?
There are unfortunately many examples of mass shooters inflicting mass casualties without using ‘assault weapons.’ The murderer’s weapons of choice in the 2007 Virginia Tech shooting that killed 32 people were a 9mm handgun and a .22 caliber handgun. The 2009 shooting at Fort Hood that killed 13 was committed using a single handgun. On October 16, 1991, a madman armed with two 9mm handguns murdered 23 people at Luby’s Cafeteria in Killeen, Texas.
Sadly, I can go on. The 2013 Washington Navy Yard shooting (shotgun and pistol), 2018 Thousand Oaks, California shooting (single pistol), and the 2019 Virginia Beach, Virginia shooting (single pistol) each claimed 12 victims without the use of so-called assault weapons. Most recently, early reports of the Atlanta spa shootings indicate the shooter used a single 9mm handgun, killing eight people.
Common sense and historical observations dictate that even with an outright ban of weapons like the AR-15, determined monsters will still commit mass shootings with whatever firearms are accessible, and with largely similar outcomes. And then what? More and more bans until law-abiding citizens are entirely divested of their right to bear arms?
At a time of civil unrest and more first-time gun owners than ever before, rushing to ban “assault weapons” is short-sighted, arbitrary, and counter-productive. While it will certainly restrict the Second Amendment freedoms of peaceful Americans, it will very likely not achieve any meaningful decrease in mass shootings. Hopefully, pragmatism and thoughtful policy debates will prevail over emotionally charged but empirically unsupportable proposals.
J=arvis Caldwell is the Vice Chair of County Commission District 2 in El Paso County. He’s also a USAF veteran, elected Bonus Member to the EPC GOP Executive Committee, and a Political Science major at American Military University.