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assault weapons

Democracy

Powerful PSA uses reverse psychology to drum up support for assault weapons bill

In 90 seconds, it totally nails the absurdity of how we live.

A March Fourth PSA shows how our daily lives are impacted by mass shootings.

Those of us who live in the United States have a strange relationship with gun violence, no matter where we fall on the beliefs-about-guns spectrum. We have to. Our mass shootings statistics are too bizarre, too absurd to be real, and yet here we are, constantly living in a combined state of denial, disbelief, disillusionment and despair.

We don't have to live like this, and yet we do. Thanks to a well-funded gun lobby, our incredibly unhealthy ultra-partisan politics and debatable interpretations of the Second Amendment, most meaningful pieces of legislation put forth to curb our gun violence problem don't get passed. Everything but the guns gets blamed for our mass shooting problem, so we keep reliving the same nightmare over and over and over again.

A group of moms lived that nightmare on the Fourth of July, when a gunman opened fire on a parade in Highland Park, Illinois, killing seven and wounding 48. They immediately banded together with a singular purpose—to convince the government to ban assault weapons, which are increasingly becoming the weapon of choice in mass shootings.


They formed March Fourth two days after the parade shooting and organized a march in Washington, D.C., less than a week later. "I just want to go to DC, scream at the top of our lungs that we want these weapons of war banned, and not shut up until they listen," said founder Kitty Brandtner.

Her quote to WGN9 News was even more succinct: "They f**ked with the wrong moms."

Now March Fourth is holding another march at the Capitol on September 22 and they're inviting anyone and everyone to join them. In a powerful PSA promoting the march, Americans describe what they "love" and "enjoy" about living with mass shootings—a bit of reverse psychology that makes the absurdity of our reality painfully clear.

The truth is no one wants to live this way. And we don't have to. We can choose to take action to at least attempt to prevent mass gun violence. The assault weapons ban that was in place from 1994 to 2004 had an impact. One analysis shared in The Conversation estimated that the risk of a person in the U.S. dying in a mass shooting was 70% lower during the ban.

Before someone swoops in with the "How do you define assault weapon?" argument, the current Assault Weapons Ban of 2021 bill that has passed the House and sits before the Senate offers a lengthy definition of the kinds of firearms it includes right up top. Read it here.

See more information about joining March Fourth's September 22 march at the U.S. Capitol at wemarchfourth.org.

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.