The shootings are coming so fast now, you have to specify to which one you are referring to in conversation. Gilroy. El Paso. Dayton. Back to back to back mass shootings perpetrated with semi-automatic, civilian version of a military weapons. In Gilroy, an AK-47 derivative. In El Paso, an AK-47. In Dayton, the AR-15.
In an environment like a school, a nightclub, or a big box store like Walmart, we are witness to the incontrovertible fact that a single, calm and collected terrorist can inflict mass death more efficiently with their weapon of choice, an assault rifle, than with almost any other conceivable weapon.
We also shouldn’t waste another second talking about these guns.
Apart from a conversation about regulations on all guns, especially handguns, any effort that only moves us towards partial solutions for violence against marginalized groups is unacceptable. After all, incomplete and reactionary gun legislation has a long history of focusing enforcement only marginalized communities, the very victims of these shootings.
When it comes to these mass shootings, killers perpetrate the majority of them (75%) without the use of an assault rifle. The Virginia Tech Massacre, was carried out with handguns and still resulted in the loss of 32 souls. But even more critically, mass shootings themselves are disproportionately represented in public debate and resulting policy efforts; they account for less than 2% of total US gun deaths. These 200 deaths per year, as horrific as they are, pale in comparison to the twelve thousand murdered in relative quiet by other guns. That’s 6000% more gun homicides, mostly by handguns.
Mass shootings distort our perception of reality and change our reaction to it. We have fallen prey to the logical trap of terrorism: fear has moved us to react to salient extreme which has moved us towards feckless assault weapon intervetions and legislation that disproportionately focuses on communities of color. From the Second Amendment to the Black Panthers, the history of gun control in this country has been about preventing marginalized communities from arming themselves in response to racism.
The NRA and their ilk are more than happy to meet us on this front, far from any action that would actually protect the communities being actively victimized. Eighty-five percent of terror attacks on US soil since 9/11 have been carried out with the use of guns, and according to the FBI, the vast majority of domestic terror attacks in 2019 have been carried out by white supremecists and white nationalists targeting minority communities. The case of the racist El Paso killer is no different. He wrote that his attack was “in response to the Hispanic invasion of Texas.”
We don’t have time to wait for the Supreme Court to overturn the Second Amendment. Well within the confines of the constitution, like any freedom, is legislative room for us to enforce annual registration, licensing, competency testing and ownership requirements like gun safes and mandated insurance. It is everything responsible gun owners expect, the vast majority of whom don’t belong to the NRA or support its extreme views.
The unique dangers presented by assault rifles like the AK-47 used in El Paso would be addressed with a comprehensive regulatory approach that enforces certain hurdles to ownership to all guns which could and should function on a graduated scale depending on the deadliness of the weapon. After all, there are many other weapons that gun advocates are quick to point out are just as dangerous as the AR-15 or AK-47 that an “assault rifle” ban would miss.
Fines, criminal charges and confiscation must also be on the table for those who don’t comply, as well as opening the paths for liability for those who sell and manufacturing guns. These solutions exist and have been proven to work elsewhere. We just need to find the political will to move the public debate back to where it should be.
And critically, to not deprive protection from those who know they can’t depend upon racist police, who wish to organize a well-regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state.
Juddson Taube is a PhD candidate and interdisciplinary research at Stanford’s Graduate School of Education and an MA student at the Department of Communication studying Democracy in the Digital Era.