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Banning assault weapons is not the answer
Yes, you read that right. I don't think banning assault weapons is the answer — not the answer to our abominably high gun murder rate, not the answer to a culture of violence. While I think that a ban on assault weapons would be a good, small step, I don't believe that such a ban would reduce the gun murder rate by very much. Here's why —
The FBI stats shows 8,775 homicides by firearm in 2010, with only 358 of those attributed to rifles and 373 to shotguns. The vast majority of gun murders — 6,009 — are committed with pistols. (There is also a category for "type not stated" with 1,939 murders in this category.)
A Mayors Against Illegal Guns report cited by MinnPost found that mass shootings represent less than one percent of gun murders, and that "assault weapons or high-capacity magazines" were used in at least 12 of the 43 mass shootings since 2009.
Is anyone proposing a ban on pistols? No — and it wouldn't have a snowball's chance in hell of passing. But there are other steps we must take to reduce violence that have more to do with social programs, jobs, and education than with guns.
V.J. Smith, president of MAD DADS, after meeting with President Obama in a community group this week, told MPR about the items at the top of his list:
"We need more support. We have small massacres that happen every day for us. We look around, there's a kid, five years that get killed here, three year old that get killed here, and teenagers that die on the streets. And so these massacres all add up to hundreds and thousands of mothers that are just grieving and traumatically affected in our community. Which adds on to more violence because ... we don't have the health care system and the kind of grief and trauma support that we need in our communities. ...
"How do we help our parents become better parents and our kids become better kids and also how do we help by supporting the mental health aspect ... and then what do we do with the kids that do want to go down the right track, that have changed their minds. We need job opportunities and educational opportunities to open up for them."
Smith agreed on getting behind the president's gun control agenda, especially background checks for all gun buyers. But, he told MPR, passing that agenda will not have enough impact on the poor urban communities where most of the gun violence happens.
"'We can't lose suburban kids, 20 kids at a time,' Smith said. 'We also can't keep losing the hundreds and thousands of African American, Latino and other Native American kids that we're losing right now in the massacre on the streets.'"
In his State of the State address last night (February 6), Governor Mark Dayton also drew a connection between stopping violence and helping kids:
"Doing everything possible to stop the terrible acts of violence, which end young lives and victimize innocent people, should be an urgent priority for all of us.
"Those strategies deserve and require more time than I have available tonight. Let me focus on one initiative, however, and enlist everyone’s support.
"Studies show that the highest incidences of juvenile delinquency and teenage pregnancy occur during the weekday hours after school. Years ago, there were more organized, supervised after-school programs for young people. The ones remaining do exceptional work; but there are not enough of them, and they struggle to find the funding to continue."
The role of assault weapons and the shootings in Sandy Hook and the Aurora, Colorado movie theater is easy to see. The role that after-school programs, health care, jobs, and education can play in ending violence is less obvious but, in the long run, absolutely vital to ending the "massacre on the streets."