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Should the US ban assault weapons?

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In a photo provided by the San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department, the weapons police say were used in the San Bernardino, Calif., shooting.
In a photo provided by the San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department, the weapons police say were used in the San Bernardino, Calif., shooting.NYT
John Rosenthal.
John Rosenthal.David L. Ryan/Globe Staff

YES

John Rosenthal

Gloucester resident; cofounder, Stop Handgun Violence

Most of the all too routine and gruesome mass shootings at schools and other public places are committed with military-style assault rifles and concealed handguns with large capacity ammunition magazines. These weapons of war are designed to cause the maximum damage in the shortest time without having to reload.

Take for example, the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting. On Dec. 14, 2012, Adam Lanza was able to kill 20 young students and six adults in just under five minutes using a .223 caliber M4 rifle and several 30-round ammunition magazines.

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The massacres at Columbine High School, Virginia Tech, Sandy Hook, and the 142 school shootings since Sandy Hook, illustrate that military style assault rifles and easily concealed handguns equipped with large capacity ammunition magazines are now the weapons of choice for mass shooters. These semiautomatic weapons are far more powerful and lethal than standard issue law enforcement service weapons.

If that doesn't convince you, contemplate the risk of terrorists purchasing military style assault weapons in the 33 states and at the thousands of gun shows that don't require a criminal background check or even proof of ID.

Some argue that because most people in this country killed with firearms are shot with handguns, a ban on assault weapons and high capacity ammunition magazines would do little to reduce most gun violence. While there is truth in the raw numbers, that argument fails to capture the lethal capacity of military style assault weapons and the now daily mass shootings in America.

As of early December, there had been more mass shootings of four or more people in the US than days in the year. The common denominator in almost every one is an assault rifle and high capacity ammunition magazine. The prevalence of mass shootings has people rightly wondering if they are safe sending their children to school or going to malls.

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An assault weapon ban would not end all gun violence in this country and it might not significantly reduce the average 90 Americans killed by guns each day. But it would help reduce the daily mass shootings. It might also help us begin living without the fear of being massacred in a public place.

Jim Wallace.
Jim Wallace.handout

NO

Jim Wallace

Newburyport resident; president, Gun Owners' Action League of Massachusetts

The recent terrorist attack in California was a horrible cowardly act. It was an outright attack on innocent people and our nation's freedom. Because these murderers chose to use certain types of firearms, many have jumped to ban those weapons.

The semi-automatic rifles and magazines again in debate, the AR platform, are most likely the most popular style of rifle used for competition, sporting, and defensive purposes. These extraordinarily common firearms are often labeled "assault weapons." Strictly speaking, the term "assault weapon," like "large capacity magazine," was adopted by self-defense opponents during the Clinton era. The terminology had one purpose and that was to frighten the uneducated into supporting more infringements on our civil rights. Sadly, the ruse has been somewhat successful.

The AR-15 semi-automatic rifle that is currently a focus of debate is actually an old form of firearm technology. In fact, these rifles and magazines have been around for more than a half century. Why now are certain politicians and anti-civil rights groups against citizen possession of these common items? Perhaps it is to avoid an honest, mature discussion that should be taking place, and is being avoided at all costs, concerning so-called gun-free zones.

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Many of the mass murders in recent history have occurred in gun-free zones. It seems that terrorists have been paying attention to this newly politically correct vulnerability. What amounts to defenseless zones were created by those who consider self defense to be a violent act. Somehow, they have convinced themselves that the absence of any means of self-defense tools makes these areas a safer place. Sadly, it is just the opposite.

Millions of semi-automatic firearms and magazines are owned across our country without issue. In the hands of innocent citizens, they are tools that are and can be used in a defensive nature. The real crisis we are facing is the inability to possess them when and where we need them the most.

Gun owners are not looking to create a "wild west" as some would have the public believe, but rather a normal, everyday society where citizens can exercise their civil rights to protect the people we care for and work with.


Globe correspondent John Laidler solicited opinions for this exchange. He can be reached at laidler@globe.com.