Eric Sentell argues that regulating ammunition would be more effective—and acceptable to gun-owners—than regulating the guns themselves.
Each time a man massacres people, society hopelessly asks an unanswerable question: why, why, why. Then people answer the next question—what can we do—in one of two ways: they affirm gun rights and advocate conceal-and-carry, boasting in anger that they would have killed the killer; or they demand stricter regulations while denigrating gun-advocates as basically insane with idiotic machismo.
My first reaction upon hearing the news of the Aurora, Colorado, shooting was to decide to obtain a conceal-and-carry permit so that I could protect myself and my wife in such a horrific situation. I wanted to be able to come out of my movie theater seat blazing rather than waiting for James Holmes to happen upon us cowering behind that seat.
As some have pointed out, however, a second person with a gun could accidentally shoot innocent victims in a dark, crowded movie theater, or he could be shot by police as they arrive on the scene—or even another gun-carrying person. Answering violence with violence makes elementary sense, but it often fails when secondary and tertiary variables come into play.
Killing the killer may be necessary in some situations. It certainly sounds heroic. But arming ourselves to the teeth is not the best way for society to respond to the recent rash of mass shootings. It doesn’t prevent the violence, and it could make it worse.
Neither is restricting gun rights. Even if the gun show and online loopholes were closed, methodical lunatics like James Holmes would still figure out a way to obtain firearms. And wherever we draw the line between legal and illegal firearms, there will always be some pretty lethal weapons dancing all over it.
The best solution is to stop worrying about guns at all. Instead, we should worry about ammunition. If we want to prevent mass shootings while respecting gun rights, we need to regulate ammo and magazine sales.
No one needs to stockpile thousands of rounds of ammo unless they intend to massacre a large number of people. Recreational shooters don’t expend a thousand rounds per shooting range trip. Hunters don’t spray-and-pray through the woods, hoping they hit something edible. Ammo prices will surely rise along with inflation, but due to the NRA’s powerful lobbying, the government isn’t likely to cause any artificial price increases.
Some gun-advocates claim the second amendment enables citizens to protect themselves from their own government, so they should—they must—be able to buy thousands of rounds and 30-round clips for their automatic weapons. But let’s be honest: if our democracy turns into a dictatorship, all the assault rifles and 30-round clips in the world aren’t going to be much use against M1A1 Abrams battle tanks, F-23 fighter jets, Apache attack helicopters, and B-2 bombers. When people demand the right to purchase personal arsenals to defend themselves against the government, the public is endangered by people like Holmes just to satisfy the long-term, unfounded, purposeless paranoia of a few.
Even if we continue allowing massive ammo purchases, we still can—and should—regulate ammo magazines. If James Holmes had had a normal magazine for his gun rather than a 30-round banana clip, then he would have needed to reload several times to fire the number of rounds he almost instantly poured into the movie-goers. That’s several lulls in the shooting in which victims could have sought cover, escaped, or rushed him. That’s several delays with police en route.
No one except a terrorist, criminal, or mass murderer needs a 30-round magazine. I would probably draw the line at an eight or ten-round clip. This number would limit the damage people like James Holmes can inflict without inconveniencing gun-owners. Recreational shooters practice their aim, not how many rounds their gun can spew. Hunters, good ones anyway, don’t need more than a few rounds to bag their game.
In fact, many hunters prefer black powder muzzle-loaders because of the added challenge of extra reloading time—the first shot matters more, as I discovered during my first muzzle-loader hunting experience. (I missed and the deer stood there, laughing, while I fumbled to reload.) I suppose the freedom fighters of the apocalyptic future could use more than ten rounds per clip, but everything in life has some trade-off.
If we want to prevent—or at least minimize—future mass shootings while still respecting the rights of gun-owners and bowing to the realities of regulatory loopholes, then we need to shift our focus from the weapons to the bullets. Neither guns nor people kill people. Bullets do.
Image of stacked bullets courtesy of Shutterstock