My newspaper column this week:
U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., last week unveiled a summary of the legislation she says she will introduce to Congress this month aimed at banning assault weapons.
The legislation, which will come just weeks after 26 people — including 20 children — were murdered by a young man with an AR-15 assault-style rifle at a Connecticut elementary school, looks to be the strictest gun law ever attempted in the U.S.
In fact, the legislation looks to go even beyond the laws in Feinstein’s native California, which is widely regarded as having the toughest gun laws in America on the state level.
The Feinstein bill will take the now-expired 1994 Assault Weapons Ban a step further by specifically banning more than 20 gun makes and reducing the number of military characteristics — such as guns equipped for flash suppressors or guns equipped with bayonet lugs — needed for a gun to be classified as an assault weapon from two to one.
The bill would also ban any gun — handgun or rifle — with fixed magazines capable of holding more than 10 rounds. And those who currently own legal guns that fall under Feinstein’s definition of assault weapons would be forced to register their firearms with the feds by obtaining letters of compliance from local sheriffs or other local law enforcement officials and submitting to fingerprinting.
The weapons falling under the legislation currently legally owned could not be transferred — owners would be unable to sell them or even gift them to family members. Upon the deaths of the owners, those guns would have to be forfeited to the federal government.
High-capacity detachable magazines capable of holding more than 10 rounds would also be banned.
Even as Feinstein was introducing the summary of her gun control bill to the nation, police in New York City were searching for a woman who pushed a man to his death in front of an oncoming subway train. It marked the second time in less than a month that a citizen was murdered in the Big Apple by being pushed in front of a train in a high-profile incident.
In a nation where well over 10,000 people are murdered each year, the NYC incidents might not ordinarily be particularly noteworthy.
Except for this: According to FBI statistics, there were 323 people killed with a rifle in the U.S. in 2011. By comparison, there were 728 people killed by “personal weapons,” such as hands, fists and feet.
The NYC subway death qualifies in that category.
The point to be made by that is simply this: rifles — including those Sen. Feinstein is targeting in her legislation — are responsible for only a miniscule number of American homicides.
FBI data shows that the total number of deaths at the hands of rifles declined by nearly 30 percent — from 453 to 323 — between 2007 and 2011. In 2011, rifles were responsible for only 2.6 percent of the 12,664 murders that were reported by law enforcement agencies across the nation.
That falls in line with FBI statistics that say that assault rifles are criminals’ weapon of choice in only about two percent of all gun crimes.
There is little doubt that America’s is the most violent society in the industrialized world. But shouldn’t we be targeting the cause rather than the means?
Gun rights proponents say gun bans do not work, and it is increasingly difficult to argue with their rhetoric.
According to FBI data, the total number of homicides in America declined by 15 percent from 2007 to 2011, from 14,916 murders in 2007 to 12,664 in 2011, despite a lack of new gun laws.
But in Chicago, which has stricter gun laws than any other American city, homicides increased by more than 10 percent during the same time frame. There were 448 homicides in Chicago in 2007 and over 500 in 2012.
Gun rights proponents have long claimed that gun bans will only keep guns out of the hands of law-abiding citizens; that such laws will do nothing to keep guns out of the hands of determined criminals.
To that point, police in Washington, D.C., are reportedly investigating whether NBC’s Meet the Press host David Gregory violated the district’s law by brandishing a high-capacity ammo magazine on national television on Dec. 23.
During an interview with NRA executive director Wayne LaPierre, Gregory waved the 30-round magazine — similar to the magazines used by the gunman in Newtown, Conn. — in front of the camera and asked LaPierre for a concession that school shootings might decrease if such magazines were banned.
The problem? The District of Columbia — where NBC’s Meet the Press studios are located and where that particular segment was filmed — already has a ban on high-capacity magazines and assault weapons. The penalty for possessing such a magazine is a hefty fine and up to one year in prison. According to the Reuters news agency, NBC News filed a request with D.C. police to show the clip on air, was denied, and chose to defy law enforcement authorities by showing the magazine anyway.
Even if a ban on high-capacity magazines were to be passed tomorrow, there are millions of legally-owned magazines already in circulation in America, and millions more would be available on the black market. If a ban on high-capacity magazines cannot stop an NBC News host from getting his hands on such a magazine in Washington, D.C., how is a federal ban on high-capacity magazines going to stop deranged gunmen from getting their hands on such magazines in places like Newtown or Aurora, Colo.?