With gun control being highlighted by the Obama administration during his State of the Union address, legislation is still pending, including an assault weapons ban. Vice President Joe Biden recently stated that the proposed legislation would not "fundamentally alter" the prospects of another mass shooting nor guarantee a reduction in gun homicides, and he is right that it would likely have little to no impact in either case. Here we'll take a look at some of the more notable shooting cases from 2012 that involved these weapons to examine the efficacy of an assault weapons ban. How many lives could have been saved?
In Aurora, Colorado during a massacre at a premiere of Dark Knight Rises, shooter James Holmes used an AR-15 with a drum magazine that held 100 rounds of ammunition. Holmes also had two .40 caliber handguns and a 12-gauge shotgun. We don't yet have a clear picture of the events that transpired that night in the movie theatre, but we do know that the AR-15 had jammed on Holmes. How many lives would have been saved if he did not have his AR-15? One thing to consider is that Holmes could have used his handguns and shotgun, or possibly another weapon, to carry out his plans. For example, Holmes had many firebombs and explosives rigged at his apartment. Yet another issue to consider is that since Holmes used a drum magazine, its use likely contributed to the AR-15 jamming; that may have bought potential victims some valuable time to escape, as Holmes would have needed to actualize the malfunction and make the decision to switch weapons. One could argue that Holmes' decision to use that particular firearm with that magazine may have actually saved lives.
A similar situation occured in Clackamas, Oregon, where Jacob Roberts opened fire in a mall full of holiday shoppers. Roberts' AR-15 malfunctioned. When he was struggling to get it operational again, he was confronted by an armed citizen. Shortly thereafter Roberts committed suicide. Had the gun not malfunctioned, more lives may have been lost that day.
In Newtown, Connecticut, Adam Lanza also used an AR-15, but he also had a handgun and a shotgun. Lanza murdered his mother with another rifle and took only some of the guns with him to Sandy Hook Elementary School that day. Hypothetically, had the AR-15 not been available, then he may have taken another weapon. Reports say that the shooting occurred in only two rooms of the school. A reported timeline of events shows that initial calls to emergency responders came in shortly after 9:30 a.m. that day, and the SWAT team arrived on the scene to engage in an active shooter scenario at around 9:45 a.m., 15 minutes after the initial calls. How many lives would have been saved if Lanza had used another gun instead of the AR-15 and had been restricted to ten round magazines? That is debatable, but to put this in perspective, take the time to count out fifteen minutes. Imagine the amount of havoc an individual armed with multiple guns can wreak in a defenseless school in that time. However, the whole example becomes moot since Connecticutt already had an assault weapons ban in place, very similar to the federal law passed in 1994.
All of this is conjecture, but we can safely assume that the individuals committing these crimes would not have been deterred by a ban on assault weapons or magazines. Banning certain weapons did little to prevent situations like the shootings at Columbine and Virginia Tech, where the murderers in those situations were able to carry out their rampages by carrying more magazines and using multiple guns. A ban on certain weapons and magazines would do little to even affect the outcomes of these types of events.
Well, how about gun crime in general? We need not look far to examine the efficacy of such legislation. In 2004 a study by the Department of Justice of the original Federal Assault Weapons Ban showed that it was ineffective at reducing gun violence. The report also stated that a ban on magazines may have a non-trivial impact, but at the time, it was not clear if even that would effect gun crime if at all: few instances of gun violence involved more than ten shots being fired, and assailants fire about four shots on average.
Additionally, the proposed legislation would keep law abiding citizens from obtaining these weapons and magazines to defend themselves. If we are to hypothesize on the effects of such legislation, then we must also consider that it might have a negative impact on a citizen's right to defend themselves.
There are many instances of defensive gun use where an armed individual has to fight off multiple armed attackers. In these situations, who decides if a ten rounds is sufficient enough to defend yourself against two, three, four, or maybe even five individuals who may all be armed?
In these situations, would the limit have a negative impact on the ability to defend one's self? Would those situations turn out differently, and would the victims' lives be lost if they only had ten rounds or only had access to certain firearms?
In a recent situation in Inkster, Michigan, a security officer armed with an AR-15 was able to fight off two armed individuals in an attempted robbery. The security officer was shot twice, but lived. Had he not had that AR-15, would he be alive today? Would this boy in Texas defending his home from multiple attackers with his father's AR-15 be alive today? Would Christopher Boise in New York, who defended himself against multiple burglars with an AR-15, be alive today? We don't have definitive answers to these questions because those situations resulted in the victims keeping their lives rather than losing them. But we have to try if we are to examine the efficacy of the proposed legislation.
Not only would the proposed legislation not have helped prevent these tragedies from happening, but they may not have saved any lives at all. On the other side of the equation, these laws would limit the ability of the law abiding citizen to defend themselves and limit access to a wide arrange of firearms that are used sparingly by criminals, but widely and effectively by citizens acting in self-defense.
Is limiting access to tools millions upon millions of law abiding citizens commonly use for self-defense worth the possibility of saving even one life?