By Paolo von Schirach
December 18, 2012
WASHINGTON – California Senator Dianne Feinstein wants to reintroduce a bill that will ban the sale of assault weapons in America. At first glance it seems like a good idea. Even if we want to respect the constitutional right to bear arms, assault weapons are not indispensable. So, assuming that the law will be introduced and passed, is this the proverbial “first step in the good direction”?
Not really. This is just another empty gesture, well meaning but worthless. America is already awash in weapons of all kinds, including millions of assault weapons. I have heard different numbers from a variety of experts. Some say 250 million fire arms in the hands of private citizens in the US, some say 300 million. These are astonishing numbers.
And consider that if there is any prospect of a new ban on assault weapons, millions of people will rush to buy them before the prohibition will kick in, thus vastly increasing the numbers of weapons already in private hands.
Besides, and this is shows how the effort is just a political empty gesture, a previous ban on the sale of assault weapons (from 1994 to 2004) had no appreciable consequences whatsoever. No impact on their use and/or on the homicide rate.
Too many guns in circulation
But the real issue is that not much can be done with laws partially restricting this or that. There are just way too many weapons in the hands of average Americans. And possessing all sorts of weapons, regardless of numbers and features, according to the prevailing –if preposterous– interpretation of the Second Amendment, is a constitutional right. Without a major cultural transformation, no way to outlaw or severely restrict guns in America.
And quite frankly there is no direct correlation between the number of guns in private hands and the number of homicides. In fact, with all these weapons floating around, homicides are way down in America. True enough, mass slaughters just like the one in Connecticut, are up. Still, even though these are horrible events, such massacres do not occur on a daily basis.
Mentally ill people can get guns
It is obvious that in these cases we have a bad combination of mentally disturbed people and a system that makes it relatively easy for them to acquire weapons, or to use weapons owned by others, as in the case of Adam Lanza, the 20 year old Connecticut shooter who used guns owned by his mother.
Politicians want to show they are doing “something”
President Obama says that he is going to do “something”. Senator Feinstein wants to reintroduce a ban on certain categories of weapons that (as we know from experience) will have no impact. So, this is the moment for politicians to appear serious and look busy.
Still, in the end all this activism will do nothing. In all this, the good news is that, (without any new laws), overall fewer people get killed in America. The bad news is that the system as it exists makes it relatively easy for deranged individuals to plot and execute mass murder because they can easily obtain weapons.
Stop deranged individuals before they act?
Of course, it would be great to be able to spot and apprehend all would be mass killers before they act, but this is clearly impossible. America is a free society. You cannot keep an eye on everybody. You cannot arrest all mentally unstable people on suspicion that some day they may do something really horrible.
This being the case, as deranged individuals and weapons make a terrible combination, realistically we cannot create a large enough shield that will prevent other events like the one in Connecticut.