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Twelve days before the Parkland school massacre, we were driving near Orlando, Florida, and saw a sign. It pictured a woman shooting a machine gun and said, “Live Life Full Auto – Machine Gun America.” A few miles later we passed the store which sold automatic guns and ammunition.

banning automatic weapons

Today – barely two weeks after the massacre – Rick Scott, the Florida governor, is touting a plan to try to reduce such tragedies.
This effort includes:

  • Requiring anyone in the state wanting to purchase a firearm to be 21 years of age or older
  • Putting law enforcement officers in every public schools
  • Putting a "threat-assessment team" at every school
  • Hiring more mental health counselors and providing more mental health resources
  • Banning "bump stocks"
  • Creating an anonymous "see something, say something" statewide hotline
  • Preventing people struggling with a mental illness who are threatening themselves or others from acquiring a gun

Any little bit helps. But why not go whole hog and get rid of the really dangerous automatic weapons – the weapons that permit crazy people to “live life full auto” and fire 1,100 rounds of ammunition, killing 58 people and wounding 851 in ten minutes?

Machine Gun America, backed by the NRA, would fight the effort tooth and nail, but at this moment in our history our country is ready for this. After all, at one time we did have a law that banned automatic weapons.

Yes, it would take real political effort to ban automatic weapons. Machine Gun America, backed by the NRA, would fight the effort tooth and nail, but at this moment in our history our country is ready for this. After all, at one time we did have a law that banned automatic weapons.

“The Federal Assault Weapons Ban (AWB)—officially, the Public Safety and Recreational Firearms Use Protection Act—is a subsection of the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994, a United States federal law that included a prohibition on the manufacture for civilian use of certain semi-automatic firearms it defined as assault weapons, as well as certain ammunition magazines it defined as "large capacity".

“The ten-year ban was passed by the U.S. Congress on September 13, 1994, following a close 52–48 vote in the Senate, and signed into law by then President Bill Clinton the same day. The ban only applied to weapons manufactured after the date of the ban's enactment, and it expired on September 13, 2004, in accordance with its sunset provision.

“Several constitutional challenges were filed against provisions of the ban, but all were rejected by reviewing courts. There were multiple attempts to renew the ban, but none succeeded.

“Studies have shown the ban had little effect in criminal activity, although this may have been due to the ban's various loopholes. Other studies have shown large increases specifically in the rate of mass shootings that began when the ban was lifted

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“The federal assault weapons ban was never directly challenged under the Second Amendment. Since its expiration in 2004 there has been debate on how it would fare in light of cases decided in following years, especially District of Columbia v. Heller (2008). “

There were too many loopholes in this ban. It didn’t apply to guns in existence at the time the law was enacted, and the ban disappeared after 10 years. I would propose enacting a law with some real teeth.

The ban should apply to all automatic weapons, and particularly the AK-47 and AR-15. It should also include possession of ammunition for such weapons. Weapons like these become involved in craziness like this: “Hundreds of worshippers are gathered inside a Pennsylvania-based church at a blessing ceremony for couples featuring their AR-15 rifles.World Peace and Unification Sanctuary in Newfoundland believes the AR-15 symbolizes the “rod of iron” in the biblical book of Revelation, and encouraged couples to bring the weapons to the commitment ceremony Wednesday morning. The AR-15 is the gun used in the Florida high school massacre.”

There should be no sunset provision. The ban should apply to all existing and future automatic weapons. The ban should apply to all persons in the United States except members of the military and police forces while they are on the job.

If someone violates the law, they should be punished by imprisonment up to 20 years.

The government should offer to buy all such weapons during the first year after enactment of the law at a price which is reasonable, given that the weapons can no longer be used.

Would such a ban pass muster under District of Columbia v. Heller, 554 U.S. 570 (2008)? It would seem so. Heller says that “Like most rights, the Second Amendment right is not unlimited. It is not a right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner whatsoever and for whatever purpose: For example, concealed weapons prohibitions have been upheld under the Amendment or state analogues. The Court’s opinion should not be taken to cast doubt on longstanding prohibitions on the possession of firearms by felons and the mentally ill, or laws forbidding the carrying of firearms in sensitive places such as schools and government buildings, or laws imposing conditions and qualifications on the commercial sale of arms. Miller’s holding that the sorts of weapons protected are those “in common use at the time” finds support in the historical tradition of prohibiting the carrying of dangerous and unusual weapons.”

An absolute ban on these weapons, coupled with an offer by the government to buy them, would be a sure way of cutting down on the number of weapons in the society. Putting a heavy punishment on possession would give police forces good reason to look for such weapons and get rid of any in illegal possession. Banning possession would immediately stop gun show sales of such weapons.

michael hertz

If we really want to end large scale massacres, we cannot flinch at banning the means by which massacres are accomplished.

Michael T. Hertz