2 decades ago, Congress made a temporary decision on guns that haunts us to this day.

In 1994, President Clinton signed a crime bill that, among other things, banned the production of certain military-type semi-automatic weapons for civilian use.

At best, it could be seen as a wise move for public safety — no matter your take on the Second Amendment. What practical need is there for a civilian to own such a thing?


Photo via Sanandros/Wikimedia Commons.

At worst, it was another example of politics as usual — collusion among lawmakers and lobbyists to create the illusion of cooperation in the interest of public safety.

The law narrowly made its way through Congress in mostly partisan votes. But the assault weapons ban had major shortcomings that, in light of the shooting in San Bernardino and many others like it, may be haunting us to this day.

1. It wasn't built to last.

Soothing as a salvo at sunset. Photo by U.S. Naval Forces Central Command/U.S. Fifth Fleet/Flickr.

The deciding factor in getting the bill through a divided Congress was a sunset provision that gave the law an expiration date 10 years from the day it became law — unless Congress took further action to reinstate it.

With broad support for the ban — including from national police organizations — George W. Bush maintained that he would sign the renewal bill if it came to his desk.

But that day came and went in 2004 without a renewal of the ban from the Republican-controlled Congress, who defied public opinion to protect their political interests.

2. It was riddled with loopholes.

More like bullet holes, I guess. Photo by Jimmy Harris/Flickr.

First, there was no clear definition of what constituted an "assault weapon," wrote Brad Plumer of The Washington Post:

"There are fully automatic weapons, which fire continuously when the trigger is held down. Those have been strictly regulated since 1934. Then there are semiautomatic weapons that reload automatically but fire only once each time the trigger is depressed. ... Congress didn't want to ban all semiautomatic weapons — that would ban most guns, period. So, in crafting the 1994 ban, lawmakers mainly focused on 18 specific firearms, as well as certain military-type features on guns."

Congress's minced approach made it easy for gun makers to tweak features to legally produce weapons that were fundamentally the same as those restricted by the ban.

There were also "grandfather" provisions that gave a pass to semi-automatic weapons and high-capacity magazines produced before the ban took effect.

3. It lacked the resolve seen in other rich countries.

Japan has some of the strictest gun laws in the world, and their low gun-related homicide rate shows it.

A 1996 mass shooting in Port Arthur, Tasmania, an island state south of Australia, ended with 35 dead and 23 wounded. So the Aussies took decisive action to stop future mass shootings.

They banned all semi-automatic rifles and shotguns, avoiding the types of loopholes exploited by gun manufacturers in the U.S., and spent a half billion dollars buying back the guns in circulation. Since then, the country has seen zero mass shootings.

In Japan, where all firearms except shotguns and air rifles have been outlawed for decades, they've had as few as two gun-related homicides a year.

The United Kingdom and Canada also have assault weapons bans and strict licensure rules for buying a gun, and both countries experience a fraction of the gun-related deaths we see in the U.S.

Meanwhile in the U.S., "there are depressingly few days — if any — between most mass shootings. More than 75% of the time, there has been another mass shooting on the same day or the day before," wrote Buzzfeed, citing data from ShootingTracker.com.

Politics won't solve the problem of gun violence. Humility over our mistakes and the courage to face them will.

A group of men pray together near the site of the San Bernardino shooting. Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images.

Authorities have confirmed that two of the four weapons used in the San Bernardino shooting were assault rifles "powerful enough to pierce the standard protective vest worn by police officers," said Meredith Davis of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms. All of the weapons used were legally purchased.

Guns may be an ingrained part of the American identity, but we have a shameful record with them. And if there's anything we should have learned by now, it's that tinkering around the edges isn't solving the problem.

Banning assault weapons, high-capacity magazines, and other impractical gun gadgets doesn't have to mean we're "taking away all the guns."

We can't say with any certainty that a firm ban would solve gun violence, but the stats from our more gun-strict global neighbors are evidence that a law like this could have limited the horror and destruction of events like the shooting in San Bernardino.

And forgoing chances to enact that and other reasonable measures is, to use a related cliché, like shooting ourselves in the feet — or worse.

Courtesy of Tiffany Obi
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With the COVID-19 pandemic upending her community, Brooklyn-based singer Tiffany Obi turned to healing those who had lost loved ones the way she knew best — through music.

Obi quickly ran into one glaring issue as she began performing solo at memorials. Many of the venues where she performed didn't have the proper equipment for her to play a recorded song to accompany her singing. Often called on to perform the day before a service, Obi couldn't find any pianists to play with her on such short notice.

As she looked at the empty piano at a recent performance, Obi's had a revelation.

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Using the coding skills she gained at Pursuit — a rigorous, four-year intensive program that trains adults from underserved backgrounds and no prior experience in programming — Obi turned this market gap into the very first app she created.

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When she learned about and applied to Pursuit, Obi was eager to be a part of Pursuit's vision to empower their Fellows to build successful careers in tech. Pursuit's Fellows are representative of the community they want to build: 50% women, 70% Black or Latinx, 40% immigrant, 60% non-Bachelor's degree holders, and more than 50% are public assistance recipients.

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With the election quickly approaching, the importance of voting and sending in your ballot on time is essential. But there is another way you can vote everyday - by being intentional with each dollar you spend. Support companies and products that uphold your values and help create a more sustainable world. An easy move is swapping out everyday items that are often thrown away after one use or improperly disposed of.

Package Free Shop has created products to help fight climate change one cotton swab at a time! Founded by Lauren Singer, otherwise known as, "the girl with the jar" (she initially went viral for fitting 8 years of all of the waste she's created in one mason jar). Package Free is an ecosystem of brands on a mission to make the world less trashy.

Here are eight of our favorite everyday swaps:

1. Friendsheep Dryer Balls - Replace traditional dryer sheets with these dryer balls that are made without chemicals and conserve energy. Not only do these also reduce dry time by 20% but they're so cute and come in an assortment of patterns!

Package Free Shop

2. Last Swab - Replacement for single use plastic cotton swabs. Nearly 25.5 billion single use swabs are produced and discarded every year in the U.S., but not this one. It lasts up to 1,000 uses as it's able to be cleaned with soap and water. It also comes in a biodegradable, corn based case so you can use it on the go!

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