‘Sensible’ gun reform that Republicans could get behind

Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) addresses reporters after the weekly policy luncheon on Tuesday, May 24, 2022.
Anna Rose Layden
Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) addresses reporters after the weekly policy luncheon on Tuesday, May 24, 2022.

How can one not be disturbed, even depressed, by the recent mass shooting in Uvalde, Texas? No words can accurately describe our collective shock and revulsion. So, the practical questions that follow for our Congress and state legislators are pretty basic: What can we do to stop or greatly reduce such horror?

There is no question that part of the answer relates to early identification and treatment of individuals with mental health issues. That should be non-controversial, although there would be debate as to length of commitment and treatment. The major developing political issue relates to “gun control,” with the Democrats and much of the media demanding greater restrictions and the Republicans portrayed — perhaps falsely — as being against meaningful limitations. All say they are for “sensible gun control” but usually leave out the specifics. I am generally regarded as a conservative and a Republican but, in my opinion, it clearly would be to the benefit of Republicans if they embraced “sensible gun reform” as outlined below and did not let themselves continuously be labeled as beholden to the gun lobby or as the party against gun control.

As part of self-disclosure, I should note that I am purchasing but do not currently own a rifle and, as part of my employment, military training and Department of Justice (DOJ) deployments, occasionally have carried a pistol and trained with M-16s and M-4s. Because of that training, I recognize a major mistake that the media and politicians consistently make in their public proclamations. There should be limits on the AR-15, but the AR-15 that is sold and used by some mass shooters is not exactly the fully automatic “weapon of war” carried by our soldiers on the battlefield. 

On Sunday, for example, Judy Miller stated on Fox News, in effect, that she has been in many combat situations and we should not continue to allow civilians to carry this weapon on the streets. The answer is that they do not. The AR-15 that is sold is a semiautomatic rifle, which does not fire like the M-16 or M-4 machine gun. (These military weapons fire several rounds in succession when the trigger is pulled one time.) The sold AR-15 looks like a military gun, and that may explain its popularity, including with mass shooters. Experts and researchers have noted that mass shooters’ gun choices have less to do with the AR-15’s specific characteristics but, rather, with familiarity and a copycat effect.  

That said, there are steps we could take as part of “sensible gun reform” and some of them involve the AR-15. It is hard to determine why magazine clips holding more than 10 rounds should be legal. If you cannot hit a deer with six shots, you should not be hunting. Virtually all of the mass shootings in recent years have involved large-capacity ammunition magazines. AR-15s and other weapons also fire high-velocity rounds that are much more destructive than conventional bullets. I have yet to see a good explanation for why there is a need for such high-speed, highly devastating ammunition. A normal bullet is damaging enough.

There is no single definition of the phrase “assault weapon,” and unfortunately we can expect the media and politicians to use the term erroneously in the coming debate — but one common factor is a large-capacity magazine. Eliminating these clips would help solve our gun control problem. Banning the sale of high-velocity ammunition would be another step in the right direction.  

In addition, we may have to look hard at restricting gun sales to those under 18. Sometimes it appears that 18-year-olds in my father’s generation — identified as the Greatest Generation — were more mature than many of those of the same age today. Social scientists can determine whether this relates to the need to work to support your family in the 1930s, today’s single-parent households, video games or whatever else factors into the equation, but anyone who has observed both generations cannot help but believe there is a dramatic difference.

Finally, we may have to include background checks that will disclose not just criminal convictions but also law enforcement encounters for allegations of potential serious crimes. Has there been one mass shooter who has not provided hints of their mental state in either social media posts or through a history of law enforcement interaction? These warning signs do not have to be an absolute ban on a firearms purchase if a court, after a hearing, determines the person is nonviolent, but they should be an initial roadblock.

Democrats probably want more restrictive gun control than this, but I hope, and think, that most serious Republicans could agree to these limitations as “sensible” gun reform.

Ron Sievert is Associate Professor of the Practice and director of the Certificate in Advanced International Affairs Program, Bush School of Government & Public Service, Texas A&M University. A former Department of Justice counsel, in 1990 he was assigned to DOJ’s National Security Working Group and as an International and National Security Coordinator for the department.

Tags assault weapons ban High-capacity magazine ban Mass shootings school shootings
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