By Dianne Feinstein
Originally published in USA Today
We’ve heard passionate pleas in recent weeks from students who survived a massacre and lost their friends and teachers. Through their pain, with Wednesday’s National School Walkout and in many other ways, this generation of students growing up with active-shooter drills is demanding that lawmakers take action to reform gun laws.
Unfortunately, there’s a lot of misleading information about reasonable measures to ensure gun safety, and it distracts from the fundamental issue at hand: the safety of our children, communities, schools and businesses.
One frequent refrain: “Criminals don't follow the law.” This is absurd on its face. By this logic, we shouldn’t criminalize murder, rape or kidnapping. Laws exist to deter crime, and when a crime is committed, laws are there to ensure punishment is meted out.
Banning assault weapons won’t prevent all shootings, but contrary to Republican talking points, we already know that banning these military-style weapons does reduce mass killings of six people or more. When the original ban was in place from 1994 to 2004, the number of such massacres fell by 37% and the number of people dying from them fell by 43%. After the ban expired, the number of gun massacres killing six or more increased by 183% and the number of people dying from them increased by 239%.
Another canard: The only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun. Tell that to the 49 people killed in Orlando at the Pulse nightclub, where an armed guard was on duty and was unable to prevent the murders.
Another particularly terrible idea floated recently: arming teachers. How can we expect teachers, who already have too much on their plates, to undergo the same training as law enforcement officers and be able to confront killers armed with AR-15s?
The falsehood that is most frustrating, however, is that Democrats have no ideas to counter this violence. That couldn’t be further from the truth.
The first is getting military-style assault weapons such as the AR-15 off the streets.
These weapons fire much faster than typical hunting rifles. They fire rounds that are also deadlier than those fired from a hunting rifle. A Parkland radiologist noted that an AR-15 round may leave an exit wound “the size of an orange.” These weapons are designed to kill people, not animals.
Our current bill would ban 205 weapons by name, and any other weapons that accept a detachable magazine and have one military characteristic. The 1994 ban required two additional characteristics, a loophole that gun manufacturers exploited. We'd close that loophole.
Importantly, the bill also bans high-capacity magazines that can hold more than 10 rounds. The shooter at the grade school in Newtown, Conn., for example, used 30-round magazines.
High-capacity magazines also lead to deadlier mass shootings. While law enforcement might be able to respond to mass shootings in a matter of minutes, a matter of minutes is all it takes to fire hundreds of rounds. In Las Vegas, for example, the shooter fired 1,100 rounds in just 10 minutes — 110 rounds per minute.
Under current law, licensed gun dealers cannot sell a handgun to anyone under 21, but they are allowed to sell assault rifles like the AR-15 to anyone over 18. This policy is dangerous and makes absolutely no sense.
While my preference is to ban assault weapons, ensuring teenagers can’t legally buy these weapons is a commonsense step forward.
Another problem is a legal loophole permitting accessories such as bump stocks, which allow semiautomatic weapons to fire at the same rate as machine guns. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives has concluded that it cannot regulate or ban these devices without a new law.
While President Trump has directed the ATF to review the issue, if the agency were to reverse its analysis after admitting that it lacks the authority, inevitable lawsuits would tie up any regulations banning these devices for years.
Too often, family and friends were aware that a family member posed a threat to themselves or others but were unable to act. The gun lobby and their allies say we need to take guns away from those who exhibit "red flags," but it fails to explain that families and law enforcement have little recourse in these situations.
Barring someone who does not fall into the one of the nine prohibited purchaser categories from buying or keeping weapons can be done only through a legal process that few states have in place. Our bill would help states establish a court process to allow family members and law enforcement to petition to bar someone from purchasing or possessing weapons.
Last, none of the above will make a difference unless we improve the background check system by ensuring that states and federal agencies submit required records and ensure that all sales — not just those at federally licensed dealers — require a background check.
I’m hopeful that the groundswell of activism we’ve seen in the wake of the shooting in Parkland, Fla., will see results. The American people have always stood on the side of gun safety, and now they’re making it clear that lawmakers who don’t back these commonsense proposals to save lives will face consequences.