, Salem, MA


January 1, 2013

Watson: Gun culture myths distract from reform efforts

Last week, after the massacre in Newtown, Conn., I wrote about the need for additional gun laws. I wrote that it is time to reinstate the outright ban on all semi-automatic assault rifles, and institute major restrictions on semi-automatic pistols.

For it is important to understand that at close range a semi-automatic pistol equipped with a large magazine can be used to deliver the same quantity and lethality of firepower as a semi-automatic rifle.

Restrictions on magazines larger than 10 bullets should be considered. For it is the ability of a shooter to be able to fire repeatedly for long periods of time — without interrupting himself with a requirement to reload — that permits him to wound or murder many victims incredibly quickly. Smaller magazines won’t prevent attempts at mass killings, but there is a good chance that they’ll reduce the body count for any given incident.

Furthermore, the gun show and private sales loopholes should be closed, too, so any gun sale anywhere would require the same background checks, licensing and review by local law enforcement. With all of the attention being paid to the mental dysfunctions of past mass killers, and all of our knowledge about the dangers of permitting guns in irresponsible hands, it is pure recklessness to continue allowing gun sales to occur without background checks on the prospective buyers.

The vast majority of the approximately 75 million gun owners in America are responsible with their firearms. And the vast majority of guns — some 330 million of them — in private hands are not semi-automatic weapons equipped with large external magazines. Most owners hold guns for hunting, target shooting or personal defense. So our nation could increase the prohibitions on assault weapons and large magazines without constraining most gun ownership.

Although the intent of the Second Amendment can be debated quite handily and legitimately — its wording is awkward and unclear; it implies a connection between gun ownership and a “militia,” and the national context at the time has relevance — as a practical matter, it is neither productive nor realistic to attempt to ban all gun ownership. The Second Amendment is the law, and it is here to stay.

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