Some common sense legislation could reduce gun violence, but don’t hold your breath

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By Mike McGann, Editor, The Times

Well, here we are again.

Another (well, two, actually) mass shooting with dozens dead. And yes, there are some ancillary issues, such as a growing White Nationalist movement inspired by the most racist president since Andrew Johnson (which is saying something if you think about Woodrow Wilson) — and while that whole issue, revealing a growing racist streak in the GOP, one growing since 1968, is a revolting development, the mass shooting still brings us back to one topic: guns.

Not that I haven’t written about and suggested that some Republican voters actually support these outcomes (although in fairness, Chester County’s voters have begun to express their frustration at stonewalling of even simple, common sense gun safety provisions by voting out legislators and members of Congress) and that nothing would change until we vote out those who are more beholden to the National Rifle Association and the gun manufacturers than the public at large.

Sadly, I’ve been right.

Nothing. Has. Happened. Nothing.

The U.S. House of Representatives, on bipartisan (somewhat) votes, passed two measures to extend background checks and end a loophole on the waiting period. Both bills are flawed — as written the bills would appear to make private sales impossible — but generally have merit. Senate Majority Leader Mitch (#moscowmitch) McConnell has blocked the bills from going to committee, where compromises might fix the most egregious issues with the bills and allow them to come to the floor. Yes, that hashtag is probably gratuitous, and yet deeply deserved for McConnell’s refusal to allow voting security bills to come to the Senate floor, along with his apparent deep ties to Russian business interests.

Failing that, there’s legislation proposed by our own Sen. Pat Toomey — a Republican — and West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin, which would create “red flag” provisions to keep guns away from criminals and those with mental illness through enhanced background checks.

The two issued a statement and a renewed call for support for their bill, Monday.

“This morning, we both separately discussed with President Trump our support for passing our bipartisan legislation to strengthen background checks to keep guns out of the hands of criminals, the dangerously mentally ill, and terrorists while respecting the Second Amendment rights of law-abiding gun owners and all Americans. The president showed a willingness to work with us on the issue of strengthening background checks.

“Mass shootings and violent gun crimes are tragic American problems. It is past time for Congress to take action and the Manchin-Toomey background check legislation represents an opportunity to make actual bipartisan progress to help keep Americans safe.”

But that bill, too, seems to be dead on arrival in McConnell’s Senate.

Toomey, on Tuesday, came out with Delaware Sen. Chris Coons (D) to push for the NICS Denial Notification Act, which would alert local authorities when someone fails a background check while trying to buy a gun (it is usually illegal for a felon to even try to buy a gun) — a bill with broad bipartisan support. Yet, too, its future seems dubious.

Then, Toomey wrecked any credibility he might have had on the matter, later Tuesday, by suggesting “Assault Weapons” couldn’t be banned because they are “too popular.” On this issue and others, every time I feel like Toomey can contribute something useful to the public discourse, he opens his mouth to dissuade me.

The gift of late for elected GOP officials to say things that make most folks want to facepalm is unprecedented and regrettable.

If we want to see any progress — and literally since the Sandy Hook massacre, we’ve seen none — both sides need to work towards the doable.

Obviously, the gun show loophole needs to be closed. Why should some fly by night seller not be held to the same requirements as WalMart or Cabela’s? Anyone selling more than three guns per year must use background checks. An exception: someone selling a large collection can do so through a Federally Licensed Firearm Dealer (this would allow sales to a third party, but require the background checks).

The so-called “red flag” proposals must have teeth to take guns away from those with mental health issues, a history of abuse or a criminal background. Weapons should not be permanently taken away without due process hearings before a judge.

Okay, let’s tackle “assault rifles.” As much as it is a problematic term, it is too loosely defined to be meaningful. To really go beyond mindless, partisan talking points, we have to really understand these weapons.

So, we have to look at capacity, fire rate and muzzle velocity.

Many were shocked at the number of bullets fired by the Dayton shooter in just about 30 seconds. A couple of key points here: the actual weapon technically wasn’t a a rifle, it was an AR-15 pistol.

With the heavy modifications made by the shooter — including a 100-round cartridge, more on that below — it looked and performed largely like its cousin, the AR-15 rifle, which means rapid fire rate, high potential capacity and extreme muzzle velocity. Similarly, an AK-47 semi-automatic rifle  was used in the El Paso shootings.

Now this might shock you, but the average run of the mill Glock 19 handgun has a similar fire rate to an AR-15. Its lethality limiting factors (and yes, they have been used in mass shootings, so it is all relative) are lower muzzle velocity and limited clip or cartridge size.

So again, there are three variables to determine the net lethality of a weapon: fire rate, muzzle velocity and magazine capacity.

Let’s consider the Remington 700 rifle —  a staple of military snipers for decades and a favorite of hunters for more than 50 years. To be clear, this is one highly lethal weapon with very high muzzle velocity, accuracy and range. But it is bolt action — which means it fires slowly. Also, typically, it holds between three and six bullets (there are versions that hold 10). So, beyond the rare sniper in a bell tower scenario, it is a lousy weapon for mass shootings if someone is looking to rack up multiple, multiple kills.

Now, what about the Glock 19 handgun I mentioned earlier? Many of our local police carry it or a similar weapon. That weapon has a high fire rate, but lower muzzle velocity. Typically, it comes with a 10 to 15 bullet magazine, but larger ones (the largest I found held 33, but it’s possible there are larger ones) are available. In an enclosed space, it is highly lethal. It and similar handguns are very popular — and basically impossible to ban.

So, instead of using the pejorative “assault weapon” it is weapons with a specific combination of fire rate, muzzle velocity and capacity — i.e. a Lethality Index — that should be considered for regulation. As fully automatic weapons are currently (since 1986) illegal without a Class III License/Permit, it is Constitutional to place limits on weapons on the basis of performance/lethality.

Ban them? No. Restrict and require licensing and training to buy and own one? Yes.

Combine this with limits on magazine size, universal background checks and real “red flag” laws and we can really make some progress. It won’t eliminate these tragic events — but will reduce the number of deaths.

Will this stop gun violence? No. Will it cut it down? Yes.

When it comes to saving lives, any progress is worth fighting for. We as a nation, have too many guns and that will not change any time soon. Guns will still fall into the hands of the wrong people and innocents will die. But maybe, just maybe, we can cut down on those senseless deaths with just a little common sense.

It seems unlikely that the NRA and Sen. McConnell will allow for common sense gun laws, so the carnage will continue.

If you let it.

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