Massachusetts Daily Collegian

After tragic Newtown shooting, weapons bans not the solution

By Stefan Herlitz

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In the wake of the horrible tragedy that left 28 people, including the shooter, dead in Newtown, Conn., on Dec. 14, activist groups all over the nation have been demanding stricter gun-control legislation, as happens in the wake of every tragedy in which firearms are involved. They mean well, but despite their noble intent, this approach will not work in America. Assault weapons bans cannot and will not prevent mass shootings.

One of the primary ideas pushed forth by gun-control groups, for instance, is to reinstate the Federal Assault Weapons Ban, which lasted from 1994 to 2004 . This act banned all semi-automatic firearms that shared certain characteristics with fully automatic assault rifles (which have been banned since 1986). While reinstating this act might seem to be a good idea at face value, one must face the fact that the ban didn’t really do much in the way of stopping crime. In particular, this is largely due to the fact that such “assault weapons” are only used in about 2 to 8 percent of gun crimes, according to the Washington Post. In fact, a Department of Justice study found that not only were “assault weapons” used in an extremely low percentage of crimes (and even then usually associated with organized crime), but also that the vast majority of criminals who reported owning assault weapons didn’t even use them while committing the crime that landed them in prison. The Federal Assault Weapons Ban had little to no measurable impact on gun-related crime in the United States, and the Columbine High School massacre, possibly the most infamous school shooting in history, occurred in 1999, when the ban was in full effect.

In addition to this, one must note that shooters do not need a “long gun” like the Newtown shooter’s Bushmaster (which would have been illegal under the Assault Weapons Ban) in order to kill many people. A prime example of this can be found in the case of the 2007 Virginia Tech massacre, the deadliest shooting incident perpetrated by a lone gunman in U.S. history. The perpetrator of the Virginia Tech massacre managed to kill 33 people (including himself) and injure 17 others using only two handguns (a Glock 19 and a Walther P22), both of which are easily obtainable and have never been illegal. In fact, the Newtown shooter also had two handguns (a Glock 20 and a Sig Sauer) on his person that were more powerful in terms of bullet caliber (10mm/9mm vs. 9mm/5.6mm) than those used by the Virginia Tech shooter, with which he would have just as easily been able to kill all 27 victims even in the absence of his Bushmaster. Only under a blanket ban on all firearms would such small handguns be outlawed, and such a ban would be completely impossible to implement without a Constitutional amendment.

Instead of devoting countless hours and valuable resources advocating for gun-control legislation that will not (and cannot) do much at all to prevent tragedies like Newtown’s, we should instead focus on two completely different things: mental health awareness and cultural change.

Firearms are not the only thing that the Columbine, Virginia Tech  and Newtown massacres had in common: all three were perpetrated by individuals with mental health problems, though varying in both type and degree. Legislation must be put forth to provide for a better awareness of those who are mentally ill and to provide them with the care they need, both for their well-being and the well-being of the general populace. The current background-checking system is incomplete and flawed, as evidenced in the Virginia Tech shooter’s purchase of firearms after being ordered to seek outpatient psychological treatment. Doctors need to be able to identify and treat at-risk individuals. The public as a whole needs to be given more information about how to identify the mentally ill and act to help them before it is too late.

The second action we as a nation must take is much more subtle. In our culture, mass killings have a special mystique; whenever one occurs, the nation watches little else for weeks, even months afterwards. People talk about them to one another in casual conversation. The major news networks drop everything and report on nothing but the death toll, victim reactions and the entire life of the shooter. By the time the coverage ceases, the shooter has become a household name and his picture has been carved into the eyes of the whole nation. This process, which, without fail, occurs every single time such an event happens, merely perpetuates the cycle of violence by making a lone, mentally ill gunman into some sort of anti-hero and martyr for future shooters to emulate. The public does not need the name and life of every person who goes on a rampage permanently etched into its memory, and it is for this reason that I have omitted the names of these shooters from this column. The public need only focus on the events and victims, while the media need only report new developments, not constant repeat coverage, as clearly the world does not just stand still while the investigation is happening. For example, Hawaii Sen. Daniel Inouye, the President Pro-Tempore of the Senate, the second-longest serving senator in U.S. history,  a World War II veteran and Medal of Honor recipient, died Dec. 17. His passing and contribution to America were barely reported at all, buried under the casualty lists and blood.

Stefan Herlitz is a Collegian columnist. He can be reached at [email protected]


9 Responses to “After tragic Newtown shooting, weapons bans not the solution”

  1. Mike on January 22nd, 2013 11:38 am

    Great article. Good to see reason prevailing. You do put too much faith in the media to do what is right.



  2. Bill B on January 23rd, 2013 2:29 pm

    Bravo!!! Such a compelling argument with exceptionally valid points. It would be wonderful to see our nation embrace an unwritten policy within the media to never announce the name of another criminal following any type of mass murder, family murder-suicide or other heinous crimes. While the media could remain free to report, even at the unnecessary frequency we see after crimes of these types, the perpetrator would know there would be no “household name” effect following such dispicable crimes.

    While we are disgusted at the thought that one among us could commit such horrific acts, we can agree to act in such a way as to report and receive information about those crimes without any media recognition given directly, by name, to the perpetrator(s). The name serves little purpose other than casting widespread recognition for an individual least deserving of any public attention. The crime and the background of the individual can provide insight into the situation, but adding a name to the individual does nothing to enhance the story.

    I would propose that our nation attempt to cover the news in such a way as to provide the public with the information, as is standard, but simply refuse to name the individual until some specified amount of time later. And if the individual is alive and captured, keep the name from being mentioned on television until some time into the future. Sure, the name will be used on publicly available documents, but that does not necessitate mentioning the name on television for any reason. Maybe if we, as a nation, make it more difficult for a criminal to feel they have made any difference in our country as an individual through their criminal act, fewer people will try. An idea such as this could have a much higher chance of success than any weapon or ammunition ban could ever hope to have, and the media and the public would feel no consequence of such a subtle change.


  3. Matt on January 24th, 2013 4:51 pm

    Here’s my question. Everyone that’s against gun control cites that the Assault Weapons ban didn’t work that the difference in crime with or without the ban is negligible.
    But nobody that’s anti-gun control has said what benefits come from assault weapons being legal. What’s the upside?
    Even if it’s negligible 20 innocent lives are saves per year, isn’t that worth it?


  4. mike on January 24th, 2013 11:22 pm

    The benefit is you don’t set precident for arbitrary bans being imposed on good people based off physical charachtetistics of a gun. Good people are also not prohibited from being able to effectively protect themselves. As someone with a background as military as well as a state certified firearms instructor I can attest to their being a benefit to having more than 10 rounds in the gun one is carrying. I also use an AR15 to defend my family at home. Crimunalizing me will not fix the problem.

    What we should do is have minimum mandatory sentences for gangbangers and firearms traffickers, as that is the cause of 90% of the carnage in our country.


  5. Stefan Herlitz on January 25th, 2013 8:15 pm

    Just by default, everything is legal- government takes action to ban things or control them. What are the benefits of donuts being legal?


  6. tyler on February 7th, 2013 2:25 pm

    @mike Lol, “physical characteristics of a gun” Oh, you mean the fact that it’s main purpose is to shoot and kill other people? I’d like to see your reference for 90% of the “carnage” being “gangbangers and firearms traffickers.”


  7. mike on February 8th, 2013 10:56 am

    An ar15 is no more capable of killing somebody than any other gun. The reason people are calking for its ban is because it looks scary.

    Look up FBI statistics on weapons used in homicides, the majority by a large margin are handguns. Rifles (which only partially include what is incorrectly referred to as assault rifles) are used in less than half as many killings as hands and feet, and a quarter from blunt objects. But we should ban them because they look scary due to physocal attributes.

    I’d also encourage you to look up where the majoroty of homicides with firearms take place. I’ll give you a hint, its not the homes of 100 million law abiding Americans.


  8. Matt on April 19th, 2013 8:16 pm

    Of course tighter gun-control isn’t the solution. Did the War on Drugs damper the drug supply in the US?

    Mental health is the issue here.


  9. Richard on June 13th, 2013 8:46 pm

    I know I’m a little late to the party, but I am always amazed by the people who are willing to surrender their freedoms for the perception of safety.

    Other than firearms, how many inanimate objects do we blame for the actions of the people who control them? Do we blame Ford for reckless driving?

    Of course guns can kill people! But there is a huge difference between self-defense and murder. People in favor of disarmament never address the issues of how disarmed people should defend themselves against violent attacks.


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