Huffpost Politics
The Blog

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors

Earnest Harris Headshot

Assault Weapons Ban Is Not Enough

Posted: Updated:

President Obama's announcement of his new plan to stem gun violence is a good start. But it doesn't go nearly far enough. The whole focus on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines as the cornerstones of the agenda is still a compromise to gun owners and the NRA that they won't ever accept anyway. So why stop there? If that is as far as we are willing to go to stop gun violence then we are wasting our time.

I am officially beyond a place of wanting to find a compromise with those who want to argue for the right, or the need, of citizens to arm themselves with guns. Focusing on assault weapons only is just giving in to the gun lobby out of a fear that we can't beat them if we don't give them something. The time has come for our society to say enough is enough and that we must completely outlaw private citizens from owning guns. There is just no good logic to it and the number of senseless deaths attributed to people wielding all too easily acquired guns has reached a point where we have to say this has to stop.

Obviously the killings of those teachers and those 20 innocent young children at Sandy Hook Elementary is the biggest clarion call. But children are killed or wounded as well by stray bullets in drive-by's in inner city neighborhoods almost weekly it seems. Lost in the understandably huge news out of Connecticut that fateful day, were the gun battles in Alabama that same weekend. One man, armed with an AK-47 assault rifle, was killed by police after a triple murder using his weapon. That same day another man opened fire at a hospital in Birmingham, wounding three before being shot by police. And who knows how many other times even this past week gunfire rang out somewhere in the U.S. We tend to focus on mass shootings, like at the mall in Oregon and the movie theater in Colorado because they are not places we expect to have to worry about being shot at. But the violence, death and woundings from guns happen in many places.

As expected the gun lobby and those who own or support the right to own guns has trotted out the old logic. Three main arguments are being spouted.

If teachers at Sandy Hook were armed, if people in the theater in Colorado were armed, if people walking around that mall in Oregon were armed, if more people at Virginia Tech were armed, if people at the Sikh temple in Wisconsin were armed, then these killers would have thought twice about their plans, or at least likely been killed early in their sprees, saving more lives. That is one of the most common arguments.

Ridiculous. If more people were walking around carrying guns, in malls, theaters, restaurants, on city streets, there simply would be more innocent people killed in shootouts. This isn't Gunsmoke or the Wild West. There is no part of me that would feel more safe because I knew lots more people sitting around me were packing guns. People are just not that skilled to handle guns under normal conditions let alone in highly stressed ones where stray bullets can kill innocent people as opposed to the ones intended. And there has not been one study, not one, that indicates criminals are less likely to enter a bank, a mall, a school, wherever, because they stopped and considered that someone else might be packing. It is just a silly argument. More guns on the street is not a solution to deaths by guns. We already have more guns owned by private citizens than many countries. So the gun lobby's argument should indicate that our death rate by guns should therefore be less than a country like England, where guns are much more less likely to be in the hands of private citizens. But that is not the way it is.

According to the Small Arms Survey, "With less than 5 percent of the world's population, the United States is home to roughly 35-50 percent of the world's civilian-owned guns, heavily skewing the global geography of firearms and any relative comparison." Their report indicated that the U.S. has the highest gun ownership rate in the world, an average of 88 guns per 100 people. Wow. England and Wales, which are grouped together in their statistics, has 6.2 guns per 100 people. So according to gun lobby logic, you would think criminals in England must be going crazy killing people since the population is so unarmed. Wrong. England's violent crime rate is nowhere near ours. Six-hundred thirty-eight homicides were reported in 2011, 58 by firearms. In the U.S. over the same period, 8,775 deaths were by firearms, with 12,996 people being killed in total.

Seriously. More guns does not equal less gun deaths. It is an argument that makes no sense.

Another argument long floated by gun supporters is the age-old guns don't kill people, people kill people. And of course we're hearing that again in the aftermath of Sandy Hook. Well people using guns are certainly killing people at a rate that is just impossible to do without the ease of guns. A knife-wielding crazy person can of course do great harm. But do we really think a man armed with a knife running around a mall, or bursting into a movie theater or running around a college campus, or driving by an inner-city street corner, can do as much damage to innocent people as a man armed with a Glock or an assault weapon? Come on. The answer is obvious. Guns can do damage from a distance and in the case of automatic or even semi-automatic weapons, kill a lot of people in an instant. Guns cannot operate without a person behind them. But in the hands of people, guns continue to prove that they are weapons of mass destruction that just don't make sense being available to private people.

Which leads to that other stale and ridiculous argument from those who want their right to be armed. If guns are outlawed, and only law enforcement is allowed to have them legally, only criminals will get guns, is that reasoning. Good heavens that is such flawed logic.

As a society do we really want to base our behavior on what people prone to breaking the law will do? For one, banning private ownership of guns will certainly make it harder, over time, for guns to be acquired, and reduce the number in circulation. There are just too many guns floating around out there. Of course it will be difficult to rid the streets of all the guns out there currently. But we can't ignore the need to get there because the path is not easy or simply done. And the vast majority of us will go our entire lives and never encounter someone threatening us with a gun, and even if they did, I can't say I would sleep better knowing I could get into a shootout with a criminal who broke into my home. It is true, criminals, by definition, will break the law on any gun ban. But I believe if as a society we commit to the ideal of non-private ownership of guns, we will see the proliferation of guns and gun deaths decrease every year. Again, the proof of this is in those statistics from countries that do ban guns. Their criminals too can get guns on the black market I am sure. But strict gun laws and bans, clearly make a difference. And one thing is for sure, as we can see from the killings at our malls, homes, theaters, schools, places of worship and elsewhere, we are not safer because we, like criminals, can get access to guns.

I still ask myself why would Lanza's mother, a private citizen, have thought it was a good idea to own, legally, two pistols and a high-powered rifle. That is just insane. And we see the result when those weapons, as legally as they were bought, end up in the wrong hands.

By the way, I don't care what a gun ownership ban on private citizens would mean for those who enjoy the sport of hunting. It is a cost hunters will have to deal with. The joy they derive from shooting a deer or whatever it may be, will have to be steered into something less violent. Their pleasure at killing for sport is not worth the cost of lives lost from those who kill, using guns, because they want to hurt people, including innocent children. And for those who feel they need guns as a safeguard against their own government, I say anybody who thinks their gun could beat a tank needs a serious mental check anyway.

We are at a place in time when our society and world, has to decide whether are not we want to evolve, or would we prefer to live like we are still in the cowboy days of old. The level of gun violence in this country should be alarming to everyone. Really, we have to ask ourselves how many innocent people have to die before we decide not to let ourselves be bullied by those who hold onto completely illogical arguments about how much better off we would be if more guns were in the hands of everyday people, not less. It is a an argument that requires blindness to facts and statistics.

The right to bear arms was not written with this in mind. No one is safer, in the inner city or in the quiet little towns in America, as long as guns are all over the place. The time has come, indeed is long overdue, for us to begin disarming the public. Enough is truly enough with these justifications for why someone has a right or a need to own a gun, of any kind, whether assault weapon or not. I applaud the president and Senator Feinstein for going after assault weapons and some of the other initiatives the president is putting forth in his plan. But that is a mindset rooted in giving regular gun owners a pass because we don't think we can beat them if they thought we were coming after their regular guns and hunting rifles too. And the assault weapons ban also ignores that any gun can inflict devastating damage, it doesn't have to be an assault weapon.

Let's not go halfway on this. Let's not be afraid of the fight ahead in working to remove all guns from private ownership. We are more progressed than this and we are certainly better than this.