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We need gun registration, some bans and closed loopholes

What does a killer, firing hundreds of rounds a minute into a crowd of concertgoers, have to do with the need for “a militia necessary to the security of a free state?”

Or am I asking the question too soon? Are emotions are still too raw to make informed decisions about the ease with which mass murderers obtain and use their weapons of mass destruction?

It was too soon after the massacre in Orlando in 2016, too soon after 20 six- and seven-year-olds were gunned down in their Connecticut schoolhouse, too soon after Virginia Tech, San Bernardino and all the other scenes of mass killings in this still young century. We shouldn’t politicize these tragedies, especially when the killer doesn’t fit any of the accepted stereotypes.

After Newtown, some of the more emotional members of Congress tried and failed to pass legislation requiring background checks for all gun buys, including those at gun shows and online. They would also have banned the accessory that turns assault rifles into machine guns like those used in Las Vegas. 

The bill failed after champions of gun rights cried about the inconvenience to hunters and sportsmen and claimed it would amount to an assault on the Second Amendment. After 49 were murdered in Orlando last year, the NRA and its allies even successfully opposed legislation that would have kept people on federal no-fly terrorism watch lists from buying guns.

And now, with the Las Vegas murders still too fresh to permit rational thought, the representatives and senators beholden to the NRA, along with their cable news outlet, are advising caution. 

Sen. Mitch McConnell, the majority leader, huffed to reporters that it would be “particularly inappropriate” to “politicize” the massacre at this time and he would remain focused on tax reform.

Rep. Paul Ryan, the House speaker, did acknowledge a bill to allow the purchaser of silencers for various weapons would not come for a vote as that might be considered “inappropriate” at this time. He and some other Republicans have indicated they’re willing to consider restrictions on those devices that transform some weapons into machine guns. 

The National Rifle Assn. says it would support having the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms,  and Explosives, the ATF, look into regulations on the bump stock, presumably to avoid having Congress ban them and start doing other gun regulating. The bureau is part of the executive branch.

But the second-largest gun promoter, the Gun Owners of America, doesn’t even agree with that small step.

“We see this as an item that is certainly protected by the Second Amendment,” said the group’s executive director, who also noted that “banning them isn’t going to stop bad guys.” The Las Vegas killer wouldn’t, of course, have qualified as a bad guy.

The bump stock, which transforms a deadly assault rifle into a mass murder weapon, is available to good guys and bad for between $40 and $200. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives has ruled the tool is a firearms part and not regulated. 

Certain models of the AR-15s and AK-47s used in Las Vegas were banned from 1994 until 2004, when Congress succumbed to NRA lobbying and contributions and failed to renew the 10-year ban. But even when the ban was in effect, there were loopholes that made it easy for gun manufacturers to modify weapons so that they didn’t fall under the ban, and that’s exactly what they did.

Since 2004, we have had versions of those semiautomatic or assault weapons used in the four deadliest shootings this nation has ever seen — in Las Vegas, Orlando, Virginia Tech and Newtown. 

But efforts for sensible gun control measures after each of them failed to get adequate support in Congress, with the opposition coming primarily from the mostly Republican congressmen from states where the gun is practically a home appliance. To encourage the continued support of these lawmakers, the NRA and other guns rights groups contributed $5.9 million to Republican congressional campaigns in 2016 and $106,000 to nine Democrats, according to the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics.

So what is a nation that, according to every poll, has consistently supported gun control, to do? It all depends on Congress.

A restoration of the 1994 law that banned certain semiautomatic weapons, without the loopholes that allowed manufacturers to modify them and make them legal, would be a start. So would extending checks on gun buyers to gun shows and the internet and ending a loophole that allows people to buy guns if a check isn’t completed in three days. 

But mostly, we need to keep track of guns and who’s buying them, and that has to be accomplished through registration. NRA propagandists claim registration would enable the government to seize guns — an argument as convincing as one that would claim auto registration would let the government seize cars. 

 

Simsbury resident Dick Ahles is a retired journalist. Email him at rahles1@outlook.com.