by Tom George
Two weeks after the Parkland school shooting in Florida, a poll was conducted by Quinnipiac University, revealing that 62% of Florida voters supported a nationwide ban on the sale of “assault weapons,” (we will define “assault weapons” as semi-automatic rifles with detachable magazines and pistol grips) and 53% of Florida voters supported a nationwide ban on the sale of all “semi-automatic rifles.” In the wake of the recent March For Our Lives protests–pro-gun reform demonstrations largely initiated by school students in response to the Parkland shooting–it seems support for such measures may only be increasing.
The above statistics may be attributed to excessive or fear-inducing news coverage, considering the proportion of shootings we have seen involving assault weapons compared to the total number of deaths involving other types of weapons. The FBI reported 15,070 homicides involving a variety of weapons/methods in 2016, not limited to poison, sharp objects, strangulation, asphyxiation, firearms, etc. While handguns were responsible for 47% of these homicides, 20% of firearms used were unnamed, 11% were attributable to knives, and rifles made up only 3%, which may include a variety of rifles such as bolt-action rifles, lever-action rifles, and semi-automatic rifles.
Figure 1: Pie chart representing data from FBI Criminal Justice Information Services Division
Figure 2: 9mm Mauser rifle used by Jillian Robbins on Sept 17th, 1996
As a Penn State graduate, the story of the “HUB shooter” was passed down to our Freshman class – a story that has been told every year since Jillian Robbins took aim at students from the Hub-Robeson Center lawn on September 17th, 1996. The rifle pictured above is a 7mm Mauser bolt-action rifle – the same rifle Robbins used that unsuspecting day. She pulled the trigger five times, injuring one student, and instantly killing another. Thankfully, Robbins was confronted by another student who was trained in martial arts, where after a brief altercation, the student was able to disarm Robbins. Robbins is currently serving a 30 to 60 year sentence at Muncy state prison.
Jillian Robbins could have easily walked into the most populated building on campus, carrying a bag of ammunition and started shooting students one after another. This kind of massacre can be achieved using the same hunting rifle she used. While an AR-15 can be used for a succession of rounds in a short amount of time, other non-semi-automatic rifles and handguns can achieve similar rounds in a short amount of time — which takes us three years later to April 20th, 1999 at Columbine High School.
The Columbine shooting involved two high school seniors who plotted a massacre at Columbine High School. The students’ motives remain unclear to this day, but the massacre involved an elaborate plan that consisted of extensive preparation. To summarize, the weapons used that day were:
- A Hi-Point model 995 carbine rifle (semi-automatic rifle)
- A sawed-off pump-action Savage-Springfield 67H shotgun
- A TEC-DC9 9-mm semi-automatic handgun
- A double-barrel Savage 311-D sawed-off shotgun
- 95 home-made bombs they used as part of their plan
The shooters walked around the school grounds taking aim at students, and entered the school library where they shot students one by one. Some students were taunted before they were shot point blank. Out of all the 188 rounds fired that day, 92 rounds were fired from the two shotguns and semi-automatic handgun. While half of all the shots fired that day were using the semi-automatic rifle, the other three guns fired 92 bullets, which could have killed 92 students. Had the teens not used the semi-automatic rifle that day, they still could have accomplished what they set out to accomplish that unforgettable day. Thankfully, the home-made bombs did not detonate, sparing the lives of several hundred students. However, Columbine High School was never the same after losing 13 of its own that day.
It is important to consider proportionality in these discussions. Second Amendment advocates argue that homicides by firearms make up a fraction of all accidental deaths in the United States. According to the Insurance Institute of High Safety, Highway Loss Data Institute, there were 37,461 deaths caused by motor vehicle accidents in 2016, yet there have only been 590 deaths from mass shootings in 2017 (mass shootings are defined as incidents of violence in which four or more people are shot). While the loss of every life is immeasurably tragic, our arguments must be logically consistent. If the rationale behind banning assault-style weapons is the number of deaths caused by its use, then it logically follows that vehicles should likewise be banned, considering the number of lives such a ban would save. No one will argue that the ban of motor vehicles will lead to a decrease in the number of annual deaths in the US.
One rebuttal to the above argument is the notion that “cars aren’t designed to kill people; semi-automatic rifles are.” If that is the argument, then activists should be consistent and argue that all handguns and hunting rifles should likewise be banned, since both types of firearms are designed to kill (animals or otherwise). Regardless of this notion, just because something is designed to kill does not mean it is designed for murder. Unsurprisingly, gun manufacturers condemn the use of their products for mass shootings. The decision to use such weapons in an unjustifiable manner lays solely on its user.
Considering the small proportion of homicides by mass shootings every year, we should re-evaluate the level of panic and the need to pass legislation following these mass shooting attacks. In addition, with hundreds of alternative weapons at one’s disposal, a prohibition of assault weapons will most likely have a statistically insignificant effect on annual homicide rates nation-wide.
Gun violence and mass shootings are a significant concern for 21st century America. Media reports fuel hysteria in the aftermath of these tragedies and the public wonders how they can keep their children safe. However, banning assault rifles is not a infallible solution to the problem with the vast availability of alternative weapons. It is time to consider other solutions to respond to the issue.
Tom George completed his bachelor’s degree in Crime, Law & Justice at Pennsylvania State University, and currently owns a real estate investment company in Northern California. His interests include conservative and libertarian ideas, religion, philosophy, and entrepreneurship.