One of the nation’s worst mass shootings at the time occurred on Jan. 17, 1989, at an elementary school in Stockton, Calif.; five children were killed and more than 30 teachers and students were wounded. Americans were appalled, and by 1994 Congress finally enacted a federal ban on assault weapons and ammunition magazines over 10 rounds.
That ban, which was supported by every major law enforcement organization, reduced the number of mass shootings with the 19 specific banned weapons by 66 percent. Sadly, the ban expired in 2004 and hasn’t been renewed. Since 2014, there have been 4,077 mass shootings — defined by Gun Violence Archive as four or more people shot — and there are nearly two deadly massacres every single day. Since Feb. 14, 2018, when 34 students and teachers were shot, 17 fatally, at Marjory Stoneman High School in Parkland, Fla., there have been at least 2,741 mass shootings — with over 40 more just since Jan. 1. In total, over 214,946 Americans have died from gun violence in the five years since Parkland. Over 1.5 million Americas have lost their lives to largely preventable gun violence since 1975, more than in all 30 developed countries combined.
America is the gun violence capital of the developed world. Other nations require responsibility and accountability on the part of gun owners, dealers, manufacturers, and law enforcement. But in the United States, inherently dangerous, easily concealed handguns and increasingly more prevalent military-style assault rifles and pistols, designed for war, are unregulated at the federal level.
Unlike US toy gun manufacturers, which must comply with a multitude of federal manufacturing and safety standards and can be sued for violations, real firearms are exempt from national manufacturing and consumer safety requirements. Incredibly, Congress has also prohibited lawsuits against the gun industry. Further, only federally licensed gun dealers in the United States are required to perform criminal background checks for gun sales, while private gun dealers, who are estimated to sell up to 50 percent of firearms each year, can legally do so without background checks or detection.
Last year more than 44,000 Americans were killed and over 38,000 were injured with firearms, and gun violence is now the leading cause of death for children ages 1 to 19 in America. Every 30 minutes a child or teen is shot and every three hours a child or teen dies from gun violence. We could fill Fenway Park three times over with the more than 120,000 kids and teens killed by guns since 1994 when Stop Handgun Violence built the large billboard on the Mass. Pike next to Fenway. Since 1975, more Americans have been killed with firearms than all US service men and women killed in all foreign wars combined.
This is a uniquely American public health and safety crisis. No other developed country intentionally allows unrestricted access to easily concealed handguns and military-style assault weapons. There are sensible steps Congress can take to help prevent gun violence without violating the rights of law-abiding gun owners:
▪ Renew the federal ban on new military-style assault weapons and large-capacity ammunition magazines, designed for war, and buy back those currently owned. The previous US ban dramatically reduced these weapons used in crimes between 1994 and 2004. Australia and New Zealand banned and bought back all assault weapons after major mass shootings there.
▪ Renew the federal ban on large-capacity ammunition magazines holding more than 10 rounds. There’s a three- and five-round limit, respectively, on hunting duck and deer to protect those populations. There’s no limit on the number of rounds to hunt humans.
▪ Regulate guns like automobiles, including mandating manufacturing standards, consumer safety features, renewable licensing, safe storage, and insurance. There’s a license requirement for hunting animals but not for hunting humans or buying guns in most states.
▪ Revoke gun industry immunity from lawsuits.
Republicans in Congress must stop ignoring gun violence prevention regulations that have proven in many states to dramatically reduce preventable gun injuries and deaths without banning guns. Unlike in the United States, elected officials in other countries have prioritized gun safety over special interest campaign contributions from the unregulated gun industry.
Gun violence is a uniquely American manufactured crisis, and incredibly, it’s by design to sell more guns and increase profits. Inaction results in more unregulated gun sales, more gun violence, more fear, and more preventable gun injuries and deaths. If Congress didn’t care in October 2017, when 450 people were shot and 58 killed in minutes with dozens of assault weapons at the largest mass shooting to date at a concert in Las Vegas, what’s it going to take for Republicans in Congress to prioritize human life and gun safety over gun industry campaign contributions and profits?
John Rosenthal is cofounder of Stop Handgun Violence.