Restrict access to handguns and assault weapons — they are weapons of mass destruction

Restrict access to handguns and assault weapons — they are weapons of mass destruction
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Since 2014, more than 80,000 people in the U.S. have been shot to death by someone else, with about twice that number suffering injury from a gunshot. That is more than 25 times the death toll of the 9/11 attacks. 

The most pressing issue is not mental health, it’s access to the handguns and high-capacity semi-automatic weapons that kill and injure so many.  Handguns have their place as home defense weapons but we are now at a point of needing tougher, constitutionally-compliant national laws akin to what Boston and some other cities have already implemented locally. 

Prospective handgun owners should be required to pass safety courses, undergo extensive background checks, and renew their permits via follow-on background checks every three years. Weapons should also be restricted to 10 rounds’ magazine capacity. In addition, all handgun transactions — including between private parties — should be conducted through a Federal Firearms License (FFL) holder and recorded in a centralized federal registry.

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The sale and ownership of high-capacity, magazine-fed semi-automatic rifles also deserve greater scrutiny. These guns are direct descendants of the MG44 rifle first deployed by the German Wehrmacht late in World War II. The Germans called the gun sturmgewehr or “storm rifle,” clearly reflecting the weapon’s offensive combat orientation.

True to their roots, such rifles and the newer rifle-derived magazine-fed assault pistols are weapons of war and restricting their ownership would improve public safety. Parts of the federal judiciary are already moving in this direction, with the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals noting in a 2015 decision that “A ban on assault weapons and large-capacity magazines might not prevent shootings ...but it may reduce the carnage if a mass shooting occurs.”

Congress should immediately amend Section 5845 of the National Firearms Act to include high-capacity magazine fed semi-automatic rifles, as well as pistols capable of being equipped with a “stabilizing brace” that effectively makes them into short-barrelled assault rifles. This would require owners to register the weapons with a national registry and obtain official approval to transfer or sell the weapon. This would effectively close the gunshow loophole for assault weapons and combined with anticipatory screening measures, could make it tougher for would-be mass shooters to clandestinely acquire a weapon. Each measure would allow for a 12-month grace period to allow gun owners to become compliant. 

We cannot see inside people’s minds and discern who is potentially homicidal before they step into the abyss and unleash a hail of bullets on an innocent crowd. But we can certainly begin systematically curtailing access to high-firepower weapons whose designed purpose is “to kill a lot of people in a short amount of time.”

Perhaps most importantly, we can improve public safety without compromising the Second Amendment rights of the millions of Americans who responsibly own and use their guns to hunt and defend home and hearth.

Gabriel Collins is a fellow at Rice University’s Baker Institute for Public Policy. The opinions expressed in this article are his alone and do not represent the views of the Baker Institute or Rice University.