Lifting the ban on assault weapons was a mistake. We can fix it.
Let’s imagine that Congress outlaws the use of military assault weapons.
This new law would allow the use of these weapons for “sporting purposes” to continue for another year so people get used to the new rules. Let’s include a buyback provision. People can’t be forced to surrender their property so continued ownership of assault weapons would be permitted, but the use of them would no longer be lawful. In Virginia, it’s permissible to own a traffic radar detector but not to use it. Same idea.
Over time, how would most people react?
In the short term, the national argument with all its venom would play out. NRA lawyers would wrap themselves in the Second Amendment; street protests would follow; we’d hear from a few particularly incensed gun owners about retreating into the wilderness to start “The Uprising.” All this would happen, but we’d move on.
We’d see a run on assault gun purchases. Some elected officials would fail in the next round. After the yearlong grace period, some gun owners would try to skirt the law. Arrests would follow. Some violence, injuries and a few fatalities would likely become chapters in the story of America ridding itself of assault weapons.
But most people adjust to new things. Gun owners wouldn’t like the new rules but would gradually come to accept them. Sportsmen were fine at the range and in the field with conventional guns before the assault weapons ban was lifted in the 1990s. Why would things be different if we went back to the old rules?
Generally, Americans are not lawbreakers. There would be the few who would sacrifice themselves on the altar of righteousness, but not many. Most of us are too busy keeping up with our lives and don’t have time for serious disruptions. Talk? Yes, but even most who strongly disagree would eventually come around.
With time, as these weapons collect dust, most owners would turn them in and take the money. Some would keep them in the closet to occasionally pass around the den with friends. With more time these curiosities would find their way out of active collections and become “collectibles” owned by gun connoisseurs.
Most Americans agree that Congress made a mistake when the assault weapons ban was lifted and we are paying the price today. Mistakes can be corrected.
In the 1970s, Connecticut reduced the age for buying alcoholic beverages from 21 to 18. This produced a tangle of new problems including increased traffic fatalities involving alcohol and teens. The law was a mistake. We fixed it. Many didn’t like the fix but we got used to it. Today we’re better.
This same kind of vision is needed in Washington today. Our national nightmare with these deadly weapons cannot be solved overnight, but it can over time. Good public policy is always a blend of imagination, courage and common sense. More of these qualities in Washington can fix this mistake.
King Street, Newtown February 26, 2018