Commentary

By Dianne Feinstein

Originially published in Medium

Today, tens of thousands of students nationwide are taking to the streets to demand Congress act to stem the epidemic of gun violence that plagues our communities.

This generation has grown up with active shooter drills as a way of life. Reading, writing and arithmetic now join ways to avoid getting murdered in the classroom.

It’s no wonder so many young people are saying “enough is enough.”

One of the demands of lawmakers: reinstate the federal assault weapons ban. It’s a smart step, and we know it will have results because it worked before.

Before we get to the solution, let’s discuss the problem: Gun manufacturers are making billions of dollars selling military-style assault weapons that evolved from the battlefield.

Smith & Wesson, which manufactured the Parkland shooter’s AR-15-style rifle, estimated in 2012 that the market for AR-15s and similar rifles was $489 million per year.

Smith & Wesson has manufactured and sold more than 1.8 million of those rifles over the last 10 years. The National Shooting Sports Foundation estimates there are 15 million assault weapons in circulation in America.

Given the financial impetus to sell as many weapons as possible, the gun lobby has been employing the same set of lies about a ban on assault weapons. They say it doesn’t work and they say it only bans guns with cosmetic differences.

They’re wrong on both counts.

When the original ban was in place from 1994 to 2004, the number of gun massacres fell by 37 percent and the number of people dying from gun massacres fell by 43 percent. That’s according to research from the University of Massachusetts. After the ban expired, the number of gun massacres increased by 183 percent and the number of people dying from gun massacres increased by 239 percent.

The primary goal of the ban was to reduce the frequency and deadliness of mass shootings, but the ban also had an effect on overall use of those weapons. An October 2017 study in the Journal of Urban Health found that law enforcement recovered fewer assault weapons nationwide while the ban was in place, an indicator that they were used in fewer crimes.

In Boston, for example, 72 percent fewer assault weapons were recovered by police during the decade the ban was in place.

Since the ban expired, recovery of assault weapons and high-capacity magazines has increased significantly. In Baltimore alone, numbers increased by 50 percent.

One of the most egregious falsehoods perpetuated by the gun lobby is that differences between assault weapons and other firearms are merely “cosmetic.” That’s wrong.

Assault weapons fire bullets at a destructive velocity from long range. For example, a bullet fired from an AR-15 travels almost three times the speed?—?and therefore triple the energy?—?of a bullet from a handgun.

Assault weapons are also capable of accepting detachable magazines that can hold dozens of bullets that can be fired in a few short seconds.

Moreover, the design of assault weapons makes the effective firing range of an AR-15 around 500 meters. I recently heard from a physician who served in Iraq who witnessed soldiers killed instantly by weapons fired at this distance.

When you combine the AR-15’s lethal velocity with its pinpoint accuracy at great distances, the result is carnage, and we’ve seen that in mass shooing after mass shooting.

That’s why the assault ban bill we introduced uses a characteristics test to identify assault weapons.

Detachable magazines allow shooters to quickly replace high-capacity magazines that often hold 30 or more rounds.

Pistol grips make it easier for shooters to rapidly pull the trigger, quickly and accurately firing many rounds. They also facilitate firing from the hip and allow shooters to quickly move the weapon from side to side to cover a wider range.

Barrel shrouds allow a shooter to grip a weapon with the non-trigger hand even when the barrel gets extremely hot from rapidly firing multiple rounds. This makes it possible to more accurately fire dozens, even hundreds of rounds.

Our bill bans the sale, transfer and manufacture of 205 specific weapons as well as any firearm that can accept a detachable magazine and has at least one military characteristic. The 1994 ban required two additional characteristics, a loophole that gun manufacturers exploited. This version of bill closes that loophole.

Importantly, the bill also bans high-capacity magazines that can hold more than 10 rounds. The shooter in Sandy Hook used 30 round magazines, helping him murder 20 young children and six school personnel.

High-capacity magazines also lead to deadlier mass shootings. Even if law enforcement can respond to a mass shooting in just minutes, a shooter can already have fired hundreds of rounds. The same damage could never be inflicted with a handgun with a 10-round capacity, which would have to be reloaded more frequently.

To get weapons off the streets faster, the bill also includes federal support for state and local buyback programs, which have seen great success. After the Sandy Hook shooting, Los Angeles collected 2,000 weapons in a single day.

The bottom line is this: If we’re going to put a stop to the mass shootings, we need to get weapons off war of the streets.

I’m so proud of the students who are making their voices heard today. Keep it up, never stop.