First, a confession. I’d originally planned to write about my ambivalence regarding the ‘assault-style weapons’ ban. I don’t believe banning those weapons would have any real effect — certainly not on crime in general, and probably not on mass killings.
I may be ambivalent about the proposed legislation, but I’m NOT ambivalent about the way it’s been dropped by Harry Reid, the Senate Majority Leader. If the legislation had been given a vote and failed, I wouldn’t be upset. If it had succeeded, I wouldn’t be upset. But to refuse to even offer it up for a vote? That upsets me.
Here, according to Politico.com, is the reason:
Reid’s decision highlights the tightrope walked by the majority leader in governing the gun control issue. Trapped between the White House and rank-and-file Democrats who support broad gun control legislation following the shootings last December in Newtown, Conn., Reid must also be mindful of red-state Democrats up for reelection in 2014 who favor gun rights.
Why? Why must he be mindful of red-state Democrats up for re-election? Shouldn’t he be mindful of the citizenry they’re supposed to represent? The most recent ABC News–Washington Post poll found 57% of the nation supports the proposed ban. The University of Connecticut–Hartford Courant poll had the very same result. Quinnipiac found 54% supported the ban, and Pew found 56%. Hell, even a recent poll in Texas (which revealed 39% of those polled want to see President Obama impeached) showed 49% support for an assault-style weapons ban.
I’m not suggesting the majority is always correct. Clearly, they’re not. Nor do I believe legislators should always do what the majority of their constituents want. Legislators should vote their own conscience, even if it goes against the will of their constituents. But I am suggesting they should vote on the issues their constituents think are important.
They want a vote on the proposed weapons ban.
Refusing to bring the proposed legislation to the Senate floor for a vote is, in my opinion, an act of cowardice. It’s not about representing the citizenry; it’s about political expediency. It’s about wanting to stay in office. It’s about putting their personal considerations before those of the people they’re supposed to represent.
So, why am I ambivalent about the legislation itself? I wrote something about the topic back in December, so forgive me if I partly repeat myself. Basically, I don’t see any evidence that banning the 157 assault-style weapons listed in the law will have an impact on mass killing.
Since the first assault-style weapons ban was put into place in 1994, there have been 44 mass killings (see the note below). Relatively few of those involved assault-style weapons. I don’t think there’s much doubt that, given a choice, mass killers would prefer to use assault-style weapons — but the sad fact is, folks who are intent on committing mass murder will use whatever weapons they can get their hands on. Mass killers don’t choose assault-style weapons because they’re better at killing people — they’re not. They choose those weapons because they fit in with the Mass Killer Aesthetic. They look scary.
That’s the same reason mass killers (and especially the younger ones) tend to dress in similar ways — camouflage or all-black tactical outfits. These guys plan these crimes in advance, including how they’re going to dress. They make deliberate fashion-based decisions. They know how mass killers are supposed to look. Popular culture has taught us the elements of Mass Killer Fashion. Assault-style weapons are the weapons of choice because they complete the look. But in the end, the most common weapons used by mass killers since 1994 has been the semi-automatic pistol with a high capacity magazine.
You want to pass a law that will have a real and measurable effect on mass killings? Pass the universal background check. Pass the ban on magazines holding more than ten rounds. And give the BATF enough funding and personnel to do its job. That will make a difference.
In any event, when the public wants these measures enacted, the refusal to bring them to the floor of Congress for a vote is an act of political cowardice. Harry Reid should be ashamed of himself. He should have to explain to the families of the victims of the Newtown School murders why he’s failing to put the legislation to a vote.
But I’m willing to bet he doesn’t have the balls to do that either.
Editorial note: How do we define a mass killing? It’s generally defined as one in which at least four people unknown to the shooter were killed. This, of course, excludes all those mass killings in which family members or ‘loved ones’ were among those killed. It also excludes failed attempts at mass murder. For example, in January of this year Nathan Van Wilkins opened fire in downtown Tuscaloosa, Alabama with an AK-47 variant; 17 people were injured, but nobody died, so this incident is only a mass shooting, not a mass killing.