Support for new gun-control legislation has surged in the wake of Friday's shooting rampage at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., which left 20 first graders and six adults dead. Protesters called for tighter gun restrictions in front of the National Rifle Association's Capitol Hill office, and several prominent gun-rights advocates, most of them Democrats, said that, after the devastation in Newtown, they would support new gun-control laws. Still, any such measures would have a hard time getting past the powerful gun lobby and the Republican-controlled House. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) says that as soon as the new Congress convenes in January, she'll introduce an updated version of her 1994 ban on assault rifles — a law that expired in 2004. Would renewing the assault-weapons ban be a fitting reaction to the Sandy Hook tragedy?
It's the least Congress can do to prevent another massacre: Feinstein's bill won't "end mass murder," says the Los Angeles Times in an editorial. "Her last one didn't." But "no law-abiding citizen needs a gun capable of killing dozens of people in minutes without the need to reload. And there's no reason to make it easy for criminals to get them."
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Banning assault weapons solves nothing: The last assault-rifle ban didn't just fail to discourage mass murder — it didn't reduce "the number of 'mass shootings' or school shootings in any way," says Leif Babin at Politico. Columbine happened five years into that ban; the 2007 Virginia Tech massacre was committed with two handguns. A new law would "only affect the law abiding." Criminals would find ways to remain as heavily armed as ever.
And the old ban wouldn't have prevented this tragedy: An assault-rifle ban didn't stop Adam Lanza, says Jacob Sullum at Reason. "The rifle he used, a .223-caliber Bushmaster M4 carbine, was legal under Connecticut's 'assault weapon' ban, which is similar to the federal law that expired in 2004." This kind of gun is among the most popular in America, and its legitimate uses — target shooting, hunting, self-defense — "far outnumber criminal ones."
But we owe it to the victims to do something: Banning assault weapons and high-capacity magazines might not have stopped this child killer, says Richard Aborn at the New York Daily News, but who's to say it won't stop the next one. At the very least, such a law might reduce the death toll when some future monster strikes. We must "reduce the firepower" available to killers now to prevent whatever deaths we can. "There is now a solemn obligation to act and act fast."
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