Behind President Obama’s proposals, there looms a big question: in a nation of 80 million gun owners and roughly 300 million guns, will these changes make any difference?
Critics said the assault weapons ban that existed for 10 years had no effect on overall crime rates, and they believe a new one won’t matter either. About 80 per cent of gun crimes in the US are committed with handguns.
Restrictions on large capacity magazines means more reloading. The Aurora movie theatre shooter used an assault weapon with a 100 bullet drum magazine to shoot 70 people. Had he had a bolt action rifle, he could not have committed the same degree of mayhem.
Holes in the gun background check process represent a big area for improvement. About 40 per cent of all gun sales occur without background checks because they are not conducted directly with licensed gun dealers. And despite federal law requiring states to report the names of those who, because of mental disability, should not have access to guns, 30 states report no such data.
Given that the majority of shooters in the US over the past decades have had mental health problems, and that 80 per cent of them obtained their guns legally, no good argument can be made against improved reporting.
If enacted, we will not know for some time whether the changes equate to a drop in gun crime. But there is no rational argument against action to keep guns out of the wrong hands. Doing nothing is no longer an option.
Robert J Spitzer is chair of Political Science at the State University of New York at Cortland, and author of 'The Politics of Gun Control'
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