Like every other American, I was shocked and horrified to hear the news that 17 people had been killed in yet another mass shooting. The stories of the brave people at Marjory Stoneman High School who gave their lives to save others — like Peter Wang, only 15 years old, who was killed holding open the door so that his fellow students could escape to safety — are a testament to the indomitable human spirit that persists in even the worst of circumstances. They deserve our memory, our respect, and our action.
Something should be done. Something needs to be done. Something has to be done.
Unfortunately, I’m not sure that the legislative proposals that are being put forward today by our representatives would even be effective at stopping attacks like this. I hoped that my intuition was incorrect, but the harsh truth is that no popular gun control policy proposed today — or that has been previously proposed — would have stopped this shooting.
Universal background checks would not have stopped this shooting. The man accused of this heinous act went to a Federal Firearms Licensed gun store, filled out what is known as a Form 4473 Firearms Transaction Record, and was approved by the National Criminal Background Check System created by the FBI. According to the special agent in charge for the Miami division of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives, Peter J Forcelli, “no laws were violated in the procurement of this weapon.”
An assault weapons ban would not have stopped this shooting. Nick Cruz committed last week’s killings with an AR-15 style semi-automatic “assault” rifle — one of the most popular civilian rifles available to the general public, with an estimated 5 million AR-15s in civilian hands. Most firearms experts agree that previous legislation on assault weapons focused on mostly cosmetic features of a rifle — pistol grips, telescoping stocks, handguards, flash hiders, bayonet mounts, vertical foregrips, etc. — and did nothing to address the lethality of the weapons themselves. A commonly available semi-automatic rifle known as the Ruger Mini-14 was available during the 1994 Federal Assault Weapons Ban until the ban’s mandatory expiration in 2003; it was just as lethal as the AR-15 and had a similar rate of fire. The only difference? It’s a gun made of wood and metal, free of any of the features that any state or federal law would classify as an assault weapon.
A magazine restriction capacity would not have stopped this shooting. Even if this shooter was restricted to 10 round magazines, an experienced shooter could easily replace a magazine in two to four seconds. A review by Gary Kleck of Florida State University found that of 23 mass shootings — defined as more than six deaths — between 1994 and 2003, when a magazine restriction of ten rounds was mandated by the Federal Assault Weapons Ban, only one stopped while reloading and all 23 had multiple weapons. The shooter at Marjory Stoneman had multiple minutes of uninterrupted shooting between when he started and when he was arrested by the police. It is unlikely that multiple magazines would have impeded his rampage.
Killers could easily subvert ammunition purchase limits by amassing a large amount of ammunition over a longer span of time. Requiring weapon microstamping, which involves firing pin imprinting specific indentations on bullet casing, wouldn’t have stopped a mass shooting. Gun safes wouldn’t have stopped this mass shooting — although they may have prevented shooters from obtaining their weapons by acquiring them from other gun owners. Enhanced mental health treatments wouldn’t have stopped this shooting — the shooter had, reportedly, previously been in therapy. Gun licenses wouldn’t have stopped this shooting — this shooter passed all legal requirements to own a gun. Waiting periods between the purchase of a firearm and time of possession likely would not have stopped this shooter — he had reportedly planned this attack for quite some time.
I’m not alone in this analysis. Glenn Kessler of The Washington Post’s “Fact Checker” blog analyzed mass shootings between 2012 and 2015, finding that of the 12 mass shootings during that period, nine would not have been stopped by any proposed gun control laws. The other three had more nuanced findings: The Dec. 14, 2012 Newtown Elementary School shooting might have been prevented if the shooter wasn’t able to access his mother’s firearms, and the AR-15 rifle — one of many weapons used in the shooting — might have been made illegal under a failed 2013 assault weapons ban; the June 7, 2013 Santa Monica shooting involved a person who built their own firearms and circumvented federal law; and the Dec. 2, 2015 San Bernardino shooting involved weapons modified to circumvent California law but were legal in most states under federal law.
So what should be done? Nobody has a good answer to that question. 33,000 people die every year from firearms, almost two-thirds of which are suicides. Only the remaining third is split between firearm murders and accidents. In fact, mass shootings only constituted one percent of firearm deaths between 1980 and 2008.
I am in favor of universal background checks for every firearm purchase, reasonable waiting periods, gun safe and lock requirements, and expanded access to mental health treatment. However, I recognize that mass shootings are an unfortunate consequence of the wide availability of firearms, the American culture of individualism, a desire for fame and notoriety, and the copycat phenomenon. The legislative solutions for those problems are much more difficult than anything that has been put forward so far.
We owe it to the victims to make the right choices when we request legislation from our representatives. It’s easy to believe that if we just do a few things that we can totally eliminate mass shootings, but the reality is much more difficult. We must balance our idealism with our realism and face these difficult choices together, as one people. As Abraham Lincoln professed this month 158 years ago in his Cooper Union address, “let us have faith that right makes might, and in that faith, let us, to the end, dare to do our duty as we understand it.”