- - Thursday, August 8, 2019

In the wake of the deadly mass shootings in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, last weekend nearly all 2020 Democratic presidential contenders have called for the outright ban of so-called assault weapons.

It’s a common Democratic rephrase after a horrific tragedy, and at first glance seems to make sense. After all, why would somebody need to own a military-style gun used in war zones and associated with drug dealers and criminals by the media? Former President Barack Obama called for an assault weapon ban after Sandy Hook, saying such a measure would curb gun violence.

However, this is a misleading argument. Assault weapons, depending on how they’re defined, would most likely include a ban on the AR-15 which is a typical sporting rifle, which is module, meaning owners can add on to it, unlike other rifles. The AR-15 is “the most popular rifle in America; at a conservative estimate, there are between 8 and 15 million of them in private hands,” according to the National Review’s Charles Cooke. 

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Banning assault rifles would strip millions of law-abiding citizens of their Second Amendment right — and for what? Previous bans have proven ineffective in reducing U.S. gun violence.

A Department of Justice-funded evaluation of the Federal Assault Weapons law that barred the sale of assault weapons from 1994 to 2004 (and has since expired) concluded: “Should it [assault weapons ban] be renewed, the ban’s effects on gun violence are likely to be small at best and perhaps too small for reliable measurement.”

It turns out that shootings with rifles, including assault rifles, don’t kill the majority of those murdered in the United States: Handguns do. Last year handguns represented more than 70 percent of the firearms used in homicides, whereas assault rifles made up less than 3 percent.

An assault weapons ban would not help the hundreds of murders happening every day in our inner cities. Last weekend, Chicago faced one of its bloodiest weekends ever, with seven people killed and 46 wounded in two shootings. A shooting in Baltimore was listed as the city’s 200th homicide this weekend in what was supposed to be a “ceasefire weekend.”

A ban on assault rifles is a glossy, cosmetic fix, not meant to effect real change, but to give politicians a sound-bite that sounds reasonable to the national media that is unaware — or perhaps willing to overlook — the crimes that happen every day in urban centers but demand answers of politicians’ after mass shootings.

You need to look no further than the states that have implemented the ban to see just how ineffectual it is.

After Sandy Hook, Connecticut and New York both adopted assault weapons bans. Only 23,847 people registered their so-called assault weapons in New York, whereas 976,153 opted not to, according to statistics compiled by the National Shooting Sports Federation. In Connecticut, more than 300,000 residents decided not to register their guns. Many law enforcement agents have decided to give up and not enforce these laws because of the strain it puts on the system.

So, if banning assault rifles isn’t a real solution, what is? It’s hard, because there’s no single cause when it comes to gun violence, and the right to keep and bear arms is constitutionally protected.

Keeping guns out of the hands of the wrong people without aggravating the rights of citizens to possess firearms lawfully is a good start. 

Years of research funded by the Justice Department has found programs that target high-risk people or places is much more effective in stomping out gun violence than banning any one type of gun. Job opportunity, economic mobility, combating the drug epidemic and an emphasis on keeping families together are all important factors in regard to urban shootings.

Identifying high-risk individuals is also important. President Donald Trump is supportive of so-called red-flag laws, which would allow family members, law enforcement officials and others to ask a judge to confiscate a person’s firearms if they believe they are an imminent threat to themselves or others. Sen. Lindsey Graham and Sen. Richard Blumenthal are writing legislation that would encourage states to develop such laws.

The president is also looking at ways to strengthen our national background check system in a bipartisan manner. He did just that last year by signing into law the Fix NICS Act of 2018 that allowed more data sharing among state governments and federal law enforcement officers. This week, the president spoke with Sen. Pat Toomey and Sen. Joe Manchin about their background check legislation. 

Enforcement of existing laws is also key — if nothing more than to deter such shootings. Last year, the Trump administration prosecuted a record number of firearms offenses. In March 2017, Attorney General Jeff Sessions ordered U.S. attorneys to prioritize gun prosecutions by adopting them at the federal level. The president has also called for hate crimes to be punishable by the death penalty.

Like many complicated issues, there is no one single fix. But let’s focus our attention as a nation on the solutions that will deliver real change and discard the ideas that only provide talking points to self-serving politicians, and that could deny millions of law-abiding citizens their Second Amendment rights.

• Kelly Sadler is the communications director of America First, the official super PAC for President Donald J. Trump’s 2020 re-election bid.

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