Are We There Yet? Taking Local Action on Gun Violence

Are We There Yet? Taking Local Action on Gun Violence

Are we there yet?

It’s the plaintive cry of the young child in the back seat on a long road trip.

Are we there yet?

In somewhat different form, it is the hopeful pleading of the person suffering from a chronic or terminal illness, or someone who loves that sufferer dearly, when they see another headline about a promising new therapy or study.

Are we there yet?

It is also my plea as the nation stares again at the slaughter of innocents facilitated by weapons designed to be especially efficient means of delivering death.

I’m a city guy. I think of my city and I think of community or, more accurately, communities within community.

And I can’t begin to imagine what it must be like to see such slaughter of innocents in one’s community.

Because I believe in the power of working together, and because I believe that cities are (or at least have the potential to be) the most effective and most democratic of ways for us to work together on some issues, I think cities can and should be allowed to respond to these tragedies in ways that they believe will better secure the well-being and safety of their citizens.

The rifles and handguns that have been used in nearly all of the mass killings of recent tragic memory (including the Colorado movie theater killings, the Virginia Tech killings, the Sandy Hook Elementary killings, recent killings at Planned Parenthood, as well as the shootings in San Bernardino) have been semi-automatic. Also true in nearly all cases: the assailants used high-capacity magazines.

A semi-automatic weapon is a weapon that fires a round every time the trigger is pulled, without the shooter doing anything more than pull the trigger. The spent cartridge is ejected and a new round is chambered automatically with each shot. One can fire round after round as fast as one can pull the trigger . . . at least until the magazine is empty.

How many bullets, how fast?

A couple of different sources provided me a very wide range of answers to this question (from 15 to 180 rounds a minute). Most tend toward the higher numbers (and some sources go even higher than 180 rounds a minute, though those seem like technical limits, not practical ones).

That means that the size of the magazine matters a lot.

Combining a semi-automatic weapon with a large-capacity magazine gives an assailant the ability to hit a lot of targets with a simple point and shoot in the first moments of the attack. That makes it very difficult for people to hide, to flee or to fight back.

Since these mass shootings are nearly always a surprise to the victims, even armed victims would benefit from a limit on the size of the magazine available. Fewer rounds coming from one or two assailants in a short period of time means more time for some of the victims to gather their wits and return fire.

We know that aggressive bans on certain weapons can work. Fully automatic weapons are essentially banned in this country, and they rarely show up at a crime scene today.

We also know that such bans can be constitutional, even in the post Heller era.

Maybe banning large-capacity magazines won’t help. Maybe it’s a bad idea. I’m fine with that possibility.

And maybe some cities don’t want to go there, while others do. Why shouldn’t this (and other reasonable legislation regarding weapons) be a matter of home rule?

What I’m not fine with is doing nothing, and, even worse, believing that we can’t do anything, or that nothing we do will matter.

More than a dozen folks have died, and a score have been wounded, in just this latest assault. Make no mistake: there are obvious reasons why all of these mass shooters choose the weapons they choose. It’s why guns replaced everything else on the battlefield, and why semi-automatic and automatic weapons replaced single- and double-action firearms in turn. The weapons matter.

History teaches us this truth. Can we see it? Can we do something about it?

Are we there yet?