Assault Weapons Should Be Illegal
These semi-automatic rifles are killing machines—and there's no reason average Americans should continue to have unfettered access to them. They have been used in dozens of massacres and continue to be the weapon of choice in school shootings.
Last updated on June 1, 2022
The U.S. has a disastrous gun violence problem. The recent massacre at a primary school in Texas, which left 19 children and two adults dead, is just the latest tragedy in a long-standing and ever-growing problem of mass shootings in America. The number of mass shootings has only increased in the past two decades to the point where it's a leading cause of death for American children.
Gun violence is causing immense harm to children. Gun violence is a prevalent and persistent danger for American children, who risk losing their lives or dealing with long-term psychological fall-out. It is no longer a rare occurrence but a constant threat for U.S. kids.
The U.S. has had 100 times as many school shootings as any other country. There were 288 in the United States and only two in the next highest country, Canada. These school shootings have affected children as young as 5.
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A school shooting is defined as "any time a gun discharges a live round inside (or into) a school building, or on (or onto) a school campus or grounds, where “school” refers to elementary, middle, and high schools—K–12—as well as colleges and universities," according to the activist and research group Everytown, which started tracking school shootings after the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary massacre. In 2018, the U.S. averaged one school shooting per week. As of 2018, the country has had hundreds of school-based shootings, which is 57 times as many shootings as Canada, France, Germany, Japan, Italy, and the U.K. and 21 other countries - combined. Still, school shootings in elementary, middle, and high schools are not commonplace and only represent about one percent of all school gun violence incidents. But, school shootings are the cause for the majority of deaths from school gun violence. Within the first 45 days in 2018, there were 17 school shootings including the attack on Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida when 17 people were killed and 14 people hospitalized with life-altering injuries. Some of the deadliest mass shootings in the country have taken place in schools, like the 2012 massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary Newtown, Connecticut which killed 26 people - most of whom were six year old children. According to CNBC: "The count for 2017 school shooting was 65, including seven through Feb. 14. The last year that neared 2018?s total for the first 45 days of the year was 2014, in which there were 15 school shootings midway through February. There were 58 total school shootings in 2014." No other country needs to keep statistics like this because of far stricter gun control laws.
Gun violence also does immense psychological damage to children. Children who survive mass shootings often deal with that trauma well into adulthood. The problem of gun violence can alter the lives of thousands of American children.
Gun violence affects children mentally. Their mental and emotional health can be affected for years to come. Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can often follow as a result of surviving of a mass shooting.
It's important to remember that victims of mass shootings are not limited to the dead or physically injured. Children can't often verbalize the emotional trauma of surviving a shooting but it does affect them mentally and emotionally. In “Mitigating the Effects of Gun Violence on Children and Youth,” James Garbarino and his colleagues point out that “children exposed to gun violence may experience negative short and long-term psychological effects, including anger, withdrawal, post-traumatic stress, and desensitization to violence.” According to the Child Welfare League of America, the effects of gun violence on children is "very real...children and youth exposed to chronic trauma can experience inhibited brain development, producing a lasting impact on life outcomes." According to Dr. Jean Kim of George Washington University medical school. “mass shootings are a first-line traumatic event that can potentially trigger post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)...Children, in particular, are even more vulnerable; multiple studies have shown that childhood trauma has more lifelong and pervasive effects on young developing psyches, both in terms of their psychological worldview, and their physiological systems that handle stress and anxiety." Gun violence can put children at risk of developing anxiety and a host of mood disorders as well, often signs of post-traumatic stress disorder.
It also affects some children especially badly. It can have a negative impact on future behavior. Even those children survive a mass shooting can be dealing with the fallout for decades to come.
Backpack and sign on ground at March for Life protest
A 2002 study says that, "Certain children may be at higher risk for negative outcomes if they are exposed to gun violence. Groups at risk include children injured in gun violence, those who witness violent acts at close proximity, those exposed to high levels of violence in their communities or schools, and those exposed to violent media." More than 215,000 American students have been exposed to some sort of gun violence as a result of a slew of school shootings. This does not include the thousands who have come in contact with gun violence outside of school. Medical costs for pediatric gun-related injuries costs approximately $330 million a year, according to a study published in the Hospital Pediatrics journal. This does not include the cost of ongoing treatments for physical injuries or mental health treatments for psychological damage.
There’s also an epidemic of mass shootings outside of schools. Whether in supermarkets, movie theaters or concerts, public life in the U.S. is marred by the threat of mass gun violence. Nowhere in the U.S. is truly safe from the threat of mass shootings.
Mass shootings are enormous problem in American public life—both inside and outside schools—and by some estimates, there is one mass shooting per day in the U.S., far exceeding other developed nations. There is debate over what constitutes a “mass shooting,” but many experts have settled on the metric of “four or more” victims to qualify as a mass shooting. The rate of mass shootings has tripled in the past 10 years, even while homicide rates overall have declined. The reason for increased mass shootings has varied source to source, but easy access to firearms, and especially to assault weapons is among the most frequently referenced. While a mass shooting as defined by the four or more rule can take place anywhere (and by that definition many are domestic murders), the ones that make the news tend to be those that take place in public: in schools, movie theaters, night clubs and churches. One recent mass shooting took place in a supermarket in Buffalo, New York in a racist incident targeting Black residents. Ten people were killed and several more were injured when an 18-year-old self-described white nationalist opened fire. Other notable mass shootings in the past 10 years in the U.S. include the Pulse shooting, which targeted a gay nightclub in Miami and killed 49 people in 2016 and the Las Vegas shooting in which a man opened fire on an outdoor concert, killing 60 people in 2017.
And assault weapons are the firearm of choice for mass shooters. Again and again mass shooters have chosen the same gun: an AR-15 or something similar to it that allows them to kill rapidly. These guns have been used in shootings ranging from Sandy Hook Elementary to the Pulse nightclub.
The gunman in Ulvade, Texas used an AR-15 semi-automatic weapon to kill 19 children and two adults at Robb Elementary School. The 18-year-old shooter reportedly bought it from a sporting goods store, though they are widely available at stores and gun shows across the country. Semi-automatic rifles—and the AR-15 in particular—have become the weapon of choice for mass shootings in the U.S. This type of gun was used in nearly all of the deadliest mass shootings in recent history. The AR-15 was used in the shooting at Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida in 2018 (17 dead), the concert shooting in Las Vegas in 2017 (58 dead), the Texas church shooting in 2017 (26 dead), the 2016 Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando, Florida (49 dead), the 2015 San Bernardino, California shooting (14 dead), and the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre (27 dead). In 1994, then President Bill Clinton banned similar weapons for a period of 10 years. This move was followed by a substantive dip in mass shootings in the ensuing years.
Assault weapons are not useful except for killing a lot of people or to penetrate body armor. Assault weapons are not necessary for sporting or home protection; their main use is in paramilitary attacks. Assault weapons are primarily useful for one thing: large-scale massacre.
Assault weapons main use is killing large numbers of people indiscriminately over a short period of time. They are a weapon used by some militias for their ability to kill efficiently and to penetrate body armor. Given that, there's no reason why these weapons should be so readily available to the public. In many states, they are available without a background check or a waiting period. It's why it's become such a contentious issue politically. "I would support a ban on assault weapons," said Sen. Tim Kaine of Virginia. "Why should an 18-year-old be able to buy weapons of this lethality and ammunition in the quantity that he purchased?" Kaine said, referencing the Ulvade shooter. Millions of AR-15s have been sold to American civilians since 2018. They're hugely popular because they're easily customizable and can have scopes and other accessories added on. Some people have bought them for home protection or even for hunting, but the gun has not traditionally been used for either. There are also many other guns available to Americans that are not semi-automatic assault weapons that can be used for either purpose.
These weapons are a problem even in states with good gun control. Stricter gun control might not necessarily target these dangerous weapons in particular. This is demonstrated by the fact that in some of the states with the strictest gun control laws in America, it’s still possible to buy and use assault weapons.
Some 43 out of 50 states in the U.S. allow civilians to buy assault weapons. That means that it’s possible for the average 18 year-old to buy an AR-15 with little to no restrictions in the vast majority of the U.S. Even the few states with an existing statewide ban have seen issues with these types of weapons because the porousness of travel between states in the U.S. means that it’s relatively easy to secure an assault weapon in a neighboring state and bring it back to a state with a ban in place. For instance, Connecticut was one of the first states to ban assault weapons in 1993 (even before a federal ban in 1994). However, the state still saw one of the worst mass shootings in recent history when an assailant massacred 20 children at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2011. The state has since sought to create even stricter legislation. In 2013, Connecticut passed additionally sweeping legislation in the wake of the Sandy Hook shooting that added another 100 firearms to the assault weapons ban and placed additional restrictions on the purchase of ammunition magazines. Gun enthusiasts and lobbyists are still challenging the bill. The fact remains, however, that assault weapon the Sandy Hook shooter used was obtained legally by his mother. It’s unclear how she was able to do that given the weapons ban already in place, but the fact that she was able to demonstrates that state-by-state bans are far from sufficient.
The time to ban these weapons is now. Recent history has proven time and time again that waiting will only lead to more deaths across this country.
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