Why is this gun still legal?


Alec Behrendt

One aspect connects the recent slaughters in San Antonio, Las Vegas, and Orlando: a deranged man uses an assault rifle to murders dozens of innocent Americans. More and more American lives are lost, and each time, nothing changes. We simply wait for the next massacre.

  Instead of waiting, our legislators should immediately make one very obvious change to national gun laws. Assault rifles must be outlawed.

  Of the 30 largest mass shootings in the United States in the past 70 years, 18 have occurred in the past 10 years. In June 2016, 49 were killed and at least 50 were injured at a nightclub in Orlando, Florida. It had been the largest mass shooting in modern US history. Only 16 months later, tragedy struck again. At a country music festival in Las Vegas, 58 were killed and over 500 more were injured. Only 35 days later at a Texas church, 26 were murdered. In each of these tragedies, the gunman was using a military-style assault rifle. How many more American lives need to be taken before a serious change is made to prevent these senseless murders?

  Most Americans agree that people do not need military-style assault rifles or modifications that increase the lethality of weapons. According to the Pew Research Center, 84% support more extensive background checks in the process of purchasing a gun. From a survey by Gallup Polls in October, 60% of Americans want more strict gun laws, and only 5% want less strict gun laws. The American people want change in the country’s gun legislation, and now it is in the hands of America’s lawmakers to create laws that reflect what their constituents want.

  Any reasonable person recognizes that changes need to be made promptly. So what is preventing any progress in Congress, the lawmaking body of America? The truth is that the National Rifle Association has become extremely powerful, and prevents any gun control legislation from moving through Congress. This happens in two ways: misinforming the vast public and indirectly paying Congressmen to vote against laws that would regulate the distribution of guns.

  There have been several attempts to ban assault rifles in Congress, but there needs to be much more regulation today. In 1994, Congress passed the Public Safety and Recreational Firearms Use Protection Act, which banned assault weapons. However, there were several loopholes in the Act, so it was revoked in 2004. In 2013, an Assault Weapon Ban was introduced in response to the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School. The bill had very similar provisions as the Federal Assault Weapons Ban of 1994, but with a few minor improvements. In response to the bill, the NRA started a “Stop the Gun Ban” campaign to combat the bill, and the bill quickly failed to pass in Congressional committees.  More recently, an assault weapons ban was proposed to Congress in 2015. The provisions of the bill were to regulate assault weapons more than to ban assault weapons, and regulated various barrel, grip, and stock modifications. The bill never made any progress in the House, however.

  In general, the American people have been misled to what gun control regulation in America would actually mean. The NRA has told its followers that the government is going to confiscate weapons or make firearms illegal. However, this is far from the truth. In recent years, the aim of firearm bills has been to limit high-capacity magazines, armor-piercing ammunition, and modifications to increase the fire rate of weapons. Almost all gun owners in America own firearms for either hunting or protection, which would require hunting rifles and pistols, not military-style assault rifles.  

  The NRA is also responsible for directly influencing voting for gun control legislation in Congress. Several Congressional leaders accept payment, generally in the forms of incentives and campaign funds, to vote for legislation that would decrease firearm regulation and to reject any bill that might increase gun control. With all the various sources reporting NRA spending, it is difficult to find an exact total, but it certainly has been tens of millions of dollars in the last 20 years. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, the NRA has spent $22.9 million on candidates since 1989. The NRA also spent $54.3 million in “outside expenditures”, which could include advertisements, fundraisers, and more, in the 2016 election cycle alone. In comparison, gun control advocate groups spent only 3 million dollars in the 2016 election cycle.

  This is only part of the issue though. On the receiving end, there are several politicians currently serving that have taken millions of dollars from the NRA to preserve gun rights in Congress. Each source provides a different total to NRA spending, so finding an accurate estimate is a challenge.

  According to the New York Times, Senator John McCain (R-AZ), a leader in the Republican Party, has taken $7.7 million in campaign funds from the NRA in his career. McCain has consistently been a strong opposition to gun control regulation throughout his career as a Senator and during his presidential campaign in 2008. In his presidential campaign in 2007, McCain spoke to an NRA gathering and said “For more than two decades, I’ve opposed the efforts of the anti-gun crowd to ban guns, ban ammunition, ban magazines, and paint gun owners as some kind of fringe group; dangerous in ‘modern’ America.”

  Senator Richard Burr (R-NC) has been endorsed by the NRA in recent elections, and the NRA has donated almost $7 million to his political activities in Burr’s career. Burr has received an ‘A+’ grade from the NRA and has been a leader in the opposition of several firearm regulation bills, including one in 2013  that would have increased background checks for firearm purchases in gun shows.

  Senator Roy Blunt (R-MO) has racked up another $4.5 million in donations from the NRA, and was paid more than any other Congressman in the 2016 election cycle according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Blunt served as the House majority whip from 2003 to 2007, and has voted against several recent bills that would increase gun control.

  These senators are among several Congressmen that have received millions of dollars from the NRA. They all have consistently rejected any attempts to protect American lives through legislation. To these Congressmen: what is more important: money or American lives?   

  With a recent slew of mass shootings, most Americans will recognize that a change in the current gun laws is pertinent. However, Congress may be taking a step in the wrong direction. A bill known as the Sportsmen’s Heritage and Recreational Enhancement Act of 2017, or the SHARE Act, has made progress to ease laws on assault rifles. The aim of the bill is to protect the importation and sale of foreign assault rifles and the use of armor-piercing ammunition. It would also allow gun owners to bring registered firearms across state lines, carry guns in national parks, and it would eliminate the costly fee to transfer silencers. The SHARE Act is yet to become law, but it has received much support in the House and Senate, and several Congressmen have cosponsored the bill.

  Every mass shooting brings up new conversations of increasing gun control, and a bill has recently been introduced to the Senate to ban military-style assault rifles. The Assault Weapon Ban of 2017 bans the manufacture, sale, and transfer of 205 military-style weapons, high-capacity magazines, and bump stocks. Existing owners of assault rifles would keep their weapons, but would have to store them in a secure gun storage. This bill is very unlikely to make any progress, though, because both the House and Senate are of Republican majority, and apparently, the NRA controls their vote.  

  The time for change is now, and as more time passes, more lives will be senselessly lost. The American people want change, and new policies need to reflect these views. It is up to the 535 Congress members to do their job: to start representing the wants of the public and to stop representing the powerful NRA.