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

The idea was there. The political courage was not.

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.

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Courtesy of Macy's

In many ways, 18-year-old Idaho native, Hank Cazier, is like any other teenager you've met. He loves chocolate, pop music, and playing games with his family. He has lofty dreams of modeling for a major clothing company one day. But one thing that sets him apart may also jeopardize his future is his recent battle against a brain tumor.

Cazier was diagnosed in 2015. When he had surgery to remove the tumor, he received trauma to his brain and lost some of his motor functionality. He's been in physical, occupational, and speech therapy ever since. The experience impacted Cazier's confidence and self-esteem, so he's been looking for a way to build himself back up again.

"I wanted to do something that helped me look forward to the future," he says.

Enter Make-A-Wish, a nonprofit organization that grants wishes for children battling critical illnesses, providing them a chance to make the impossible possible. The organization partnered with Macy's to raise awareness and help make those wishes a reality. The hope is that the "wish effect" will improve their quality of life and empower them with the strength they need to overcome these illnesses and look towards the future. That was a particularly big deal for Cazier, who had been feeling like so many of his wishes weren't going to be possible because of his critical illness.

"In the beginning, it was hard to accept that it would be improbable for me to accomplish my previous goals because my illness took away so many of my physical abilities," says Cazier. His wish of becoming a model also seemed out of reach.

But Macy's and Make-A-Wish didn't see it like that. Once they learned about Cazier's wish, they knew he had to make it come true by inviting him to be part of the magical Macy's holiday shoot in New York.

Courtesy of Macy's

Make-A-Wish can't fulfill children's wishes without the generosity of donors and partners like Macy's. In fact, since 2003, Macy's has given more than $122 million to Make-A-Wish and impacted the lives of more than 2.9 million people.

Cazier's wish experience was beyond what he could've imagined, and it filled him with so much joy and confidence. "It is like waking up and discovering that you have super powers. It feels amazing!" he exclaims.

One of the best parts about the day for him was the kindness everyone who helped make it happen showed him.

"The employees of Macy's and Make-A-Wish made me feel welcome, warm, and cared for," he says. "I am truly grateful that even though they were busy doing their jobs, they were able to show kindness and compassion towards me in all of the little details."

He also got to spend part of the shoot outdoors, which, as someone who loves climbing, hiking, and scuba-diving but has trouble doing those activities now, was very welcome.

Courtesy of Macy's

Overall, Cazier feels he grew a lot during his modeling wish and is now emboldened to work towards a better quality of life. "I want to acquire skills that help me continue to improve in these circumstances," he says.

You can change the lives of more kids like Cazier just by writing a letter to Santa and dropping it in the big red letterbox at Macy's (you can also write and submit one online). For every letter received before Dec. 24, 2019, Macy's will donate $1 to Make-A-Wish, up to $1 million. By writing a letter to Santa, you can help a child replace fear with confidence, sadness with joy, and anxiety with hope.

Believe
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