James Holmes Demonstrates Why We Must Reinstate the Federal Assault Weapons Ban


Wade Michael Page, the suspect in the shooting at a Sikh temple in a Milwaukee suburb, used a 9mm semi-automatic handgun with multiple ammunition magazines. James Holmes, the suspect in the Colorado movie theater shooting, employed a .223 caliber Smith and Wesson assault rifle equipped with a drum magazine (the civilian version of the M-16), a Remington 12 gauge shotgun, and a .40 glock handgun. Seung Hui-Cho, the assailant in the Virginia Tech massacre, operated a Walther P22 semi-automatic handgun with a 10 round magazine and a Glock-19 handgun with a 15 round magazine. Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold used the Tec-9 semi-automatic handgun and two 12-gauge shotguns.

The Federal Assault Weapons Ban, signed into law in 1994 by Bill Clinton, restricted the sale of semi-automatic firearms with detachable magazines and two or more additional components (such as a pistol grip, flash suppressor, and bayonet mount).

Unfortunately, this savvy piece of legislation expired in 2004. At a time when Americans have been subject to a tsunami of violence, with shootings every few weeks, we need to reinstate this ban to protect American citizens. There have simply been too many egregious acts of violence from mentally imbalanced and/or radical figures not to act immediately. 

When the public is in mortal danger, gun control becomes an urgent necessity. Some feel further controlling guns is a type of social engineering that conjures up an Orwellian dystopia. This seems an overreaction.

When Mayor Bloomberg outlawed smoking in bars, similar arguments were bandied about town. But this particular policy helped create a healthier, less toxic urban milieu. It may have produced a small loss in personal freedom, but when you consider the benefits — such as a diminished risk of cancer from second hand smoke and the possibility of returning home with clean-smelling clothes — it seemed a worthy tradeoff.

Reinstating the Federal Assault Weapons Ban could be similarly effective. If anything, reinstating these gun control measures is an even more necessary type of social engineering. Gun violence poses an imminent threat to the very fabric of American society.

Another reason to reestablish the Federal Assault Weapons Ban is that these mentally imbalanced and/or radical figures are almost impossible to identify. James Holmes was a Ph.D. student in neuroscience without any arrest record. During college, he was a member of Phi Beta Kappa and an honor student. Is that the profile of a mass murderer?

Besides, even when these troubled individuals show clear signs of mental disturbance, the odds that we will be able to pick them out of the teeming masses and get them help in time seems incredibly Pollyannaish.

Every high school has swarms of disaffected characters who, at a moment's notice, could transform into a Eric Harris or a Dylan Klebold. Plenty of employees are infuriated about being fired, just like Jeffrey Johnson, the suspect in the Empire State Building shootings. Can we single out the madmen? Ensure they all obtain the necessary psychological treatment? Or, perhaps, might it be better to at least ban the most destructive weapons — those that can wreak the most havoc?                                   

A final reason we need to consider the Federal Assault Weapons Ban is the incredible potency of modern weapons. According to Slate, a semi-automatic handgun can shoot 1575 rounds in seven minutes.

Take a minute to let that sink in.

If an assailant was a skilled shooter in a crowded area, with nothing more than a semi-automatic handgun, he could potentially gun down more than a thousand innocent victims faster than you can order a pizza. Had the Colorado police not been able to respond in that quick minute and a half, who knows what the death tally might have been? 

The N.R.A. advocates for the right to hunt and protect oneself, but this can be done without assault weapons. Indeed, the kind of M-16 surrogate Holmes employed seems to have very little essential use outside of mass murder. How is it that we live in a country where jaywalking is a crime, yet buying an assault weapon is, in many states, perfectly legal? Which of these poses the greater threat to the public good?

This summer we've become surfeit with a rising tide of violence. Mother Jones reports that since 1982 there have been at least 60 mass murders, with the massacres unfolding in at least 30 states. When will it be enough? At some point public policy needs to change, and reinstating the Federal Assault Weapons Ban would be an important start.

Democratic Congressman Ed Perlmutter from Colorado said as much on Face the Nation recently, suggesting he supports this particular legislation. He pointed out, "We ought to be taking hard look at how this guy [James Holmes] was able to accumulate so much ammunition. He had enough ammunition for, like, a small army. There's something wrong about that."

Indeed. Holmes bought 6,000 bullets. The next depraved assailant might actually use all that ammo. Possibly on someone close to you. We must support reinstating the Federal Assault Weapons Ban.