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OPINION

Dispelling gun-law disinformation and deflections

Right-wing rhetoric notwithstanding, well-designed gun laws work.

A fully automatic rifle, which can be legally owned in Nevada, is fired at a shop in Las Vegas. Nevada announced on June 2 that it will divest from companies that profit from the manufacture or sale of assault-style weapons.John Locher/Associated Press

We’re about to start another debate about gun safety — and that means Americans should be prepared for the nonsense, non sequiturs, and nothing-can-be-done-ism that always flood such a discussion.

Let’s start with something we’ve already heard in the days since 19 elementary school kids and two teachers were massacred in Uvalde, Texas, on May 24.

“If you want to stop violent crime, the proposals the Democrats have — none of them would have stopped this,” Senator Ted Cruz, Republican of Texas, claimed in his must-see duck-and-dodge with Sky News’s Mark Stone at a vigil to mourn those victims.

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Actually, several proposals would at very least have put serious barriers between the shooter and the lethal weapon he allegedly used to carry out the mass murder of innocents.

The shooters in Uvalde and in the Buffalo supermarket killing of 10 people on May 14 were both 18. Both used an AR-15, a so-called assault rifle, which is to say, a self-loading rifle with a detachable or folding stock, one or two pistol grips, a barrel shroud (think: heat shield), and the ability to accommodate a high-capacity magazine. Those features make them a favorite weapon of mass shooters.

If one couldn’t buy such a weapon until 21 — the minimum age to purchase a handgun from a federally licensed dealer — those shooters would have had to find a different way to acquire their weapons. Extend that age restriction to private sales at gun shows and elsewhere, and that acquisition would become harder still. A de facto waiting period for 18-to-21-year-olds, which is under consideration by Senate negotiators, would be a weaker alternative, but still one worth doing.

Any such changes would almost certainly be litigated; last month, a three-judge panel of the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled that such an age restriction violates the Second Amendment. But there’s room for maneuvering; the same three jurists upheld the requirement of a hunting license as a prerequisite to purchase.

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A 2020 study of the relationship between state firearms laws and mass public shootings over four decades concluded that two measures — requiring a permit as a prerequisite to purchasing or possessing a firearm and limiting the size of magazines — could have significantly reduced the incidence of those shootings and the extent of the carnage. In a related policy brief, the authors, including Northeastern University criminologist James Alan Fox, wrote that “permit laws were associated with a 60 percent lower odds of a mass public shooting across time and place” while “large capacity magazine bans . . . were associated with a 38 percent reduction in fatal victimizations and 77 percent reduction in nonfatal victimizations.”

A recent New York Times analysis, meanwhile, found that banning large-capacity magazines, raising the age for the purchase of military-style assault weapons to 21, expanding background checks to private sales, and strengthening safe-storage and anti-gun-theft measures could have changed the course of one-third of the mass shootings since the Columbine High School massacre in 1999.

So claims like Cruz’s are simply an attempt to disguise the intransigence of gun zealots in the falsely claimed futility of sensible solutions. What the senator is really saying is that nothing acceptable to Second Amendment absolutists like him would deter these shootings. That’s an argument against absolutists, not against stronger gun laws.

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Now let’s turn to Chicago. Another regular right-wing deflection is that the high rate of gun violence in that city shows that tougher guns laws don’t work, since Illinois has strong gun statutes.

But that assertion ignores several key facts. First, the majority of Chicago crime guns — 60 percent — come from surrounding states whose weak gun laws help facilitate gun trafficking. Second, “a large share of victims or suspects in these incidents are believed to have some sort of gang or crew affiliation,” noted Roseanna Ander, executive director of the University of Chicago Crime Law.

Gangs generally have a greater ability to acquire weapons than a single alienated would-be school shooter. So no, as persistent and lamentable as Chicago’s gun violence problem is, it simply isn’t compelling evidence that comprehensive gun-safety laws can’t help reduce mass shootings.

Now, mass shootings and, in particular, school shootings are a small component of America’s gun homicides, suicides, and accidents. But studies show that smart gun laws help reduce that broader carnage as well.

A January report by Everytown for Gun Safety offered this compelling data point: The 13 states with the weakest gun laws have a gun death rate nearly three times that of the tier of states with the strongest laws. The numbers: 20 annual gun deaths per 100,000 residents compared with 7.4 deaths per 100,000.

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So don’t be misled by specious arguments. Rather, use the facts to disperse the fog — and to demand action on sensible gun-safety laws.


Scot Lehigh is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at scot.lehigh@globe.com. Follow him @GlobeScotLehigh.