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Canada bans assault weapons after
mass shooting. The contrast with US inaction is painful.
Large capacity magazines are the real
culprit on lethality. If Trump could be convinced to turn against his NRA
pals, he should limit their size.
James Alan Fox Opinion columnist
Published 12:35 p.mo ET May 5, 2020 Updated 6:16
ET May 5, 2020
It didn't take long for this chief executive to
respond to a nation's anguish with decisive action. Immediately following
the slaughter of 22 Nova Scotians, 13 with firearms and nine by fire, Prime
Minister Justin Trudeau vowed to do something about assault weapons the
instrument of death used in this massacre as well as others on Canada's
short list of mass shootings. Within two weeks, Trudeau made good on his
Capitalizing on his added powers amidst the COVID-19
pandemic, Trudeau summarily banned the sale, transfer, and use of more than
1,500 assault weapons identified by make and model. Existing owners of these
firearms were given a two-year grace period after which Trudeau expects to
launch a massive buyback.
What a contrast to President Donald Trump's
vacillating response to repeated acts of carnage that occurred prior to the
coronavirus pandemic, when the "March for Our Lives" movement - not physical
movement - was the focus of debate and demonstrations.Trump
flip-flops on gun restrictions
In 2018, after meeting with
survivors of the Parkland shooting, Trump vowed, "We're going to be very
strong on background checks." However, days later, after conferring with his
friends and financial supporters at the National Rifle Association, he
walked back on that assurance.
The same Trump turnaround occurred in
the wake of horrific mass shootings in El Paso and Dayton on successive days
last August. The Tweeter-in-Chief typed, "Republicans and Democrats must
come together and get strong background checks." A week later, Trump's
resolve wilted under pressure from the gun lobby, insisting, "we have very
strong background checks right now."
Trump made similar flip-flops on
so-called "red flag laws" and on raising the age requirement for purchasing
rifles. Trump's reversals are so frequent that The White House might well be
dubbed "The Waffle House."
To be fair, Trump's response to gun
tragedies is more constrained than Trudeau's and not just by pressure from
pro-gun groups. All presidents, whether Trump or his predecessors in office
during times of mass casualties, are limited in their powers. Executive
actions can only be employed to modify how existing laws are enforced, but
not to make new ones. Only Congress can initiate legislation for a president
then to sign into law.
Last year the House did pass a universal
background checks bill that would apply to gun shows, online purchases and
other private transfers. Yet Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, taking
his cue from Trump, has refused to allow a vote on expanded background
checks. It was disappointingly reminiscent of when opponents used the Senate
filibuster rule to block similar legislation during the Obama
administration.Let the Senate vote:
McConnell's blockade on gun background checks is a year old.
from the differences between Trudeau and Trump on guns, questions remain
concerning the effectiveness of any policy approach, including banning
military-style assault weapons. Actually, very few homicides are committed
with AR-15s or their variants, as compared to handguns. Even in mass
shootings, less than 20% involve assault weapons.
The limited role of
these ominous-looking weapons explains why the empirical evidence on the
impact of assault weapons bans be it the 10-year Federal ban launched in
1994 or those enacted in a handful of states is inconclusive, at best.
Nevertheless, a prohibition is worthwhile as an empathetic gesture to those
who have lost a loved one to bullets fired from these weapons.
Large magazines are the real problem
As many have
argued, assault weapons are not unlike most semi-automatic firearms except
for their scary appearance. The real culprit when it comes to lethality is
the large capacity magazine accessories that allow these rifles and certain
handguns to fire dozens of rounds without reloading. In fact, two of the
eight U.S. mass shootings with more than 20 victims killed were perpetrated
with handguns not rifles, but handguns equipped with a large capacity
If somehow Trump could be convinced to turn against his NRA
pals for steps more meaningful than a bump stock prohibition, it would be
limiting the size of magazines, an approach that nearly two-thirds of
Americans support. Our research on existing state gun laws, led by Michael
Siegel of the Boston University School of Public Health, shows that limiting
magazine capacity significantly reduces the severity of public mass
shootings when they occur.3 senators:
to resume bipartisan gun background check talks with Trump anytime
this juncture, mass shootings are not foremost on the minds of Americans and
especially Trump. With stay-at-home orders, and closures of schools,
churches, restaurants, and concert venues, there have been no public mass
shootings with large death tolls for months.
When mass shootings do
resurface as a hot topic, we can only hope that Trump will listen to the
majority of Americans who support gun control and not just those "very good
people" at recent protests standing with nooses, swastikas, and weapons of
mass murder destruction.James Alan Fox is the Lipman Family Professor of
Criminology, Law and Public Policy at Northeastern University, a member of
USA TODAY's Board of Contributors and co-author of "Extreme Killing:
Understanding Serial and Mass Murder." Follow him on Twitter: @jamesalanfox.