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.

Harry Reid, Senate Majority Leader & Coward

Harry Reid – Senate Majority Leader, Coward

Here, according to, 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.

Bushmaster .223

Bushmaster .223

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.

Anders Behring Breivik, poster boy for the Mass Murder Aesthetic

Anders Behring Breivik, poster boy for the Mass Murder Aesthetic

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.

Nathan Van Wilkins - not a mass killer

Nathan Van Wilkins – not a mass killer

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.

6 thoughts on “cowardice

  1. I have to somewhat disagree with you on this one, Greg. A number of the mass killings have been performed by kids, who—had this ban been in effect—would not have had access to the weapons because their relatives likely wouldn’t have had them. That said, I haven’t read the proposed legislation, so, I’m assuming that the Sandy Hook weapons would have been covered by the law had it been adopted.


    • I suspect most of my friends will somewhat disagree with me on this. And yes, you’re right — the weapon used to kill the children at Sandy Hook would have been banned by the new legislation — and by the old legislation. Had the 1994 ban still been in effect, Adam Lanza’s mother couldn’t have bought the AR-15 her son used in the massacre.

      But she was something of a gun nut herself, and I’ve no doubt she’d have bought another weapon equally lethal and her son would have used that instead. But if she’d been prohibited from buying 30 round magazines, it’s likely fewer kids would have died. While he was changing magazines, six children managed to run away and escape. Lanza fired just over 150 rounds, requiring him to reload four times. If he’d only had 10 round magazines, he’d have had to reload 14 times…and that could have made a difference.


      • The stunning statistic which I don’t recall having heard mentioned on any reports about Sandy Hook, is that Lanza fired an average of almost six bullets per person. I haven’t looked into the characteristics of the ammunition, but my guess is that they were designed to render as much damage as possible. Considering the small size of most of the victims, one can only imagine how horribly shredded their bodies must have been. Which is precisely why I believe the photos should be released.


      • Patrick, I don’t know about averages, but my understanding is that every child was shot multiple times — some as many as eleven times. And yes, you’re right — at that age, with such small bodies, those wouldn’t have been limited to tissue wounds;

        A .223 round fired from a Bushmaster travels really fast. It doesn’t ‘tumble’ like a lot of folks claim, but it does tend to become unstable once it impacts a body. In other words, it can cause a huge wound path. Bullets used for hunting tend to expand on impact, which causes massive damage and shock trauma (which is good for hunting in that the animal dies rather than running away wounded to bleed out slowly). It also prevents the round from passing through the body and possibly striking something or somebody else.

        What happens to the body of a child when hit by a round designed for hunting is horrible to consider.


  2. I had a conversation with a dad recently about the proposed ban, and his ignorance was profound. He was of the opinion that ‘they want to take away our guns’ and that he needed to be able to defend his family. I tried to tell him the ban would have been on high capacity magazines in things like assault rifles and he didn’t believe me. I will admit that I launched into your description from an earlier blog entry about how if that shooter had had to reload more often then more children would have been able to escape. And that those little kindergarten kids were shot multiple times and shredded and that if those goddamned guns were illegal then people would have a harder time getting the guns and killing little innocent kids and…. And I realized only after he backed up and went on the other side of his car and got in and rolled up his windows that I had gotten louder and very intense…

    I obviously can’t have a rational conversation about these things. I see too many little kids every single day, and I have kids of my own and I just don’t get why anyone needs an assault rifle at all. Hunting rifles if you live in very rural Montana like my friends, maybe. But the real people I know who live out in the wilds and know how to hunt don’t condone those sorts of guns.


    • Nobody needs an assault style weapon, you’re right. Hell, almost nobody needs any sort of firearm at all. The problem is the current Supreme Court said the Constitution contains the right of an individual to own a firearm — a right, they say, that’s completely unconnected with service in a militia — and since assault style weapons are in common use, they’re protected (unless they’re specifically excluded by law), All the more reason we need to put some moderate or liberal justices on SCOTUS.

      At any rate, as current law stands, ‘need’ doesn’t figure into it.


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