By Hugh-Griffin Banerjee and Miranda Park
In the wake of so many heartbreaking massacres like the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School, where 20 children and six adults were murdered by a single deranged man, there’s been a lot of discourse in the nation’s capitol about limiting the sale—but not the ownership—of semiautomatic assault rifles like AR-15s to buyers 21 and over who can pass background checks.
According to CBS News, there were 417 mass shootings in the US in 2019, more than one per day, so it’s impossible to argue against the objective, but we in Near Canada are skeptical of any solution, or in this case semi-solution, that gets bandied about in the halls of Congress. We’d rather examine its possible efficacy through the lens of the most reliable numbers extant.
According to the National Shooting Sports Foundation, somewhere between five and 10 million AR-15 type firearms are owned by American citizens. We can’t speak for you, but our confidence doesn’t soar when the range of informed estimates is two to one. Regardless, let’s settle on the midpoint: 7.5 million rifles capable of being converted into semi-automatic weapons. The population of the US is around 330 million, which means that one in circa 40 of us owns an AR-15 or similar weapon.
Now that we’re equipped with the data, let’s revisit a few massacres where the killers were equipped with AR-15 type firearms:
- The population of Sutherland Springs, Texas, where 26 worshippers were murdered and ten were wounded, is around 600. If the averages hold, then the town’s residents owned 15 AR-15 type semiautomatic rifles at the time of the massacre. Fifteen, in a town of only 600!
- The population of Parkland, Florida, where 17 high-school students and teachers were murdered and 14 were wounded, is about 31,000. If the averages hold, then the city’s residents owned 750 AR-15s or equivalents at the time of the massacre.
- The population of the Las Vegas metropolitan area, where 58 concert goers were murdered and 851 were wounded, is approximately 2,000,000. If the averages hold, then area residents owned 50,000 AR-15 type rifles at the time.
Unfortunately, the banning of just the sale of AR-15 or similar firearms to Americans under the age of 21, whether they can pass background checks or not, will have no effect whatsoever on the millions of guns already in circulation. Forbidding the manufacture and sale of ammunition for semiautomatic rifles would do eventually do the trick, but ammunition for still-legal weapons would also have to be forbidden. In other words, it’s a nonstarter politically speaking.
Notably, civilian ownership of AR-15 type semiautomatic rifles was prohibited in the US until 2004, when the ban was lifted by a Republican-controlled Congress. No surprise there, eh? By the numbers, though, it’s brutally clear that nothing less than reinstatement and enforcement of the ban will make a serious dent in the frequency of mass shootings—and the body count.
We’re well aware that a significant percentage of AR-15s would not be turned in if the 2004 ban was reinstated. Many would be locked away in gun safes, and many more would disappear into black markets. But, according to John Maynard Keynes, Milton Friedman and Miranda, price increases when supply is constrained, which means that all but well-healed mass murderers would be forced to brandish less lethal weapons. Baby steps, but progress nonetheless.
We at The Near-Canada Gazette have every hope that the grass-roots movement started by the students of Marjory Stoneham Douglas High School will cause material, life-saving change, but we’re not holding our breaths. Given the current political climate, we expect that there will many more massacres before a less stone-hearted Congress will have the courage to defy the NRA and deny their gun-crazed members the ownership of AR-15 type weapons.