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Laws about who can buy guns work, laws about which guns you can buy don't
As a Harvard-educated, politically liberal researcher giving my first talks on firearm violence prevention, I was afraid the gun owners in the audiences would boo me. But the only backlash I faced was from a gun control advocate when I told her I was against assault weapon bans.
Our main argument is that laws regulating what firearms can be bought are ineffective, but policies controlling who can purchase them tend to work.
There are many reasons for this finding. First, most people do not understand how arbitrary the definition of "assault weapon" really is. With the definition from the 1994 ban, you can turn a regular rifle into an assault weapon by adding two cosmetic or historic features such as a flash hider, a bayonet mount, or a grenade launcher. I would definitely push this policy forward if the goal were to reduce homicide by grenade and bayonet, but most mass-shooting killers could legally obtain firearms that are just as lethal, but not considered assault weapons.
Second, the single most effective predictor of violence is past violence. So ironically, the National Rifle Association’s rhetoric is accurate about how guns don't kill people, people do. As a result, preventing anyone with a history of violence from acquiring guns reduces homicide rates by 36%. Along the same lines, preventing domestic abusers from possessing firearms dramatically decreases firearm deaths. And if you think this does not apply to the 0.1% of total gun deaths caused by mass shootings, think again. A report reveals that the majority of mass shootings in the United States between 2007 and 2017 were related to domestic or family violence.
The Dayton, Ohio, shooting could have been prevented in a may-issue law state such as Massachusetts, where police chiefs have the discretion to refuse a possession permit. Although the Dayton shooter did not have a criminal record, the police had been aware of his “hit list” and “rape list.”
The perceived division created by the NRA between gun owners and non-gun owners does not exist. We all want to save lives and do what’s best for the country. We even agree on how to do it. However, if evidence from state law implementation and a 97% public support for universal background check are not enough to convince you, listen to the other 3% in the person of NRA spokeswoman Dana Loesh: “This individual was nuts, and I — nor the millions of people that I represent as a part of this organization that I'm here speaking for — none of us support people who are crazy, who are a danger to themselves, who are a danger to others, getting their hands on a firearm.”
If we all agree, then what are we waiting for?