A month ago, we hoped that maybe – just maybe – the political winds had finally shifted on gun control after a disheveled high-roller named Stephen Paddock brought his personal arsenal into a Las Vegas hotel room and shot more than 500 people attending a music festival on the street below, killing 58 of them.
A month later, we’ve come to our senses. And, apparently, so has Sen. Dianne Feinstein.
In introducing legislation this week that would bring back a federal ban on assault weapons, she admitted she was doing it for one reason: “So that after every mass shooting with a military-style assault weapon, the American people will know that a tool to reduce these massacres is sitting in the Senate, ready for debate and a vote.”
Such a debate and vote will never happen, of course. There is zero appetite among congressional Republicans and their puppet masters at the National Rifle Association to consider Feinstein’s “Assault Weapons Ban of 2017.”
It doesn’t matter that, last Sunday, Devin Kelley used an AR-15 rifle to kill 26 men, women and children, including an unborn child, in a church in Sutherland Springs, Texas. Nor does it matter that Paddock used the same type of semi-automatic weapon, modified with a bump stock conversion kit to make it shoot like an illegal fully automatic weapon. Or that assault rifles have been used to mow down people in San Bernardino, Orlando, Newtown, Stockton and many other places.
Feinstein and her allies also have been unable to pass a modest ban on bump stocks.
But with red states haphazardly enforcing gun laws or refusing to pass them at all, Feinstein is at least keeping the issue of gun control top of mind.
Much like her original 1994 assault weapons ban that expired in 2004, the new bill would forbid selling, manufacturing or importing more than 200 “military-style” rifles. It also would ban magazines that hold more than 10 rounds of ammunition.
Feinstein’s new bill defines an “assault weapon” as a semiautomatic rifle with a detachable magazine and one military characteristic, such as a pistol grip, as opposed to a two. That might prevent gun manufacturers from tweaking their designs to easily circumvent the restrictions, as in the 1990s.
But even provisions that would let current owners keep their rifles and magazines aren’t likely to win over many people. That’s because the AR-15 is one of the most popular firearms in the country. It’s lightweight, customizable, easy to aim and shoot, and relatively cheap. It even comes in pink.
Although AR-15s have some use for sports, target practice and even hunting, they are weapons of war. It is the civilian version of the M16 rifle first used in the Vietnam War.
At the time the first assault weapons ban went into effect, researchers estimated that some 1.5 million of the rifles were already in people’s homes. There are certainly many more now, in part because sales surge after every mass shooting.
The question now remains: How much are the rest of us willing to suffer for gun owners to have fun?
It’s not that every owner of a semi-automatic rifle is a Stephen Paddock or Devin Kelley. But without a doubt, the millions of assault rifles in circulation make it easier for someone like Paddock and Kelley to turn their delusions into mass murder. Mental illness is an issue all over the world, but mass shootings are an overwhelmingly American problem.
Feinstein admits her bill won’t stop every slaughter. But she’s right that it’s time to culling the the massive supply of assault weapons from the nation’s streets.