Recently, President Biden took to the podium at the White House to speak about the tragic mass shooting that occurred just days earlier in Uvalde, TX. In his speech, he described several legislative actions – “commonsense gun laws” – that he would like to see voted on in Congress to stop these shootings. Among these proposed actions, the President mentioned bans on “assault weapons” and high-capacity magazines, expanded background checks, safe-storage laws, required trigger locks, red-flag laws, changing the minimum age for purchase of a rifle from 18 to 21, removing the liability shield from gun manufacturers, and codifying the ‘ghost gun’ ban.
Let’s look at the problem with those proposals one at a time.
“Assault weapons” and “Ghost Gun” Bans
I already covered why this idea wont work in my previous article. Suffice it to say, gun bans don’t work for a number of reasons, none of which are ever addressed by the powers that continue to scream for their eradication.
“High-Capacity” Magazine Bans
What the administration calls “high capacity” magazines are simply standard capacity magazines that are common use with a WIDE variety of firearms. This particular proposal is far more dangerous to gun owners considering that nearly every semi-automatic handgun has a mag cap that exceeds the federal proposal of 5-10 rounds.
Why won’t this ban affect mass shootings? It boils down to the simple fact that a 10-round magazine can be changed in a matter of 1-3 seconds, depending on the level of training of the shooter. The difference between shooting 30 rounds from one magazine and 30 rounds from three magazines is about five seconds.
Another problem is that there are hundreds of millions of these magazines in private hands. Banning them won’t erase their presence in the public arena. It’s just another law that will make the list of charges against the shooter, assuming he doesn’t die during his rampage.
Expanded Background Checks
Good idea. I can actually get on board with this idea. Currently, 22 states and the District of Columbia have comprehensive background checks for all firearm purchases. The federal legislature could indeed pass sweeping legislation that enacts similar background checks in all 50 states.
There are a couple of problems here as far as mass-shooting prevention go.
First, the would-be shooter has to have a profile that prohibits firearms purchases that shows up on a federal background check. Both the Uvalde and Buffalo (2022) shooters cleared federal NICS background checks prior to their rampages. The Sutherland Springs church shooter was supposed to be prohibited from purchasing his rifle due to a history of domestic violence and a dishonorable discharge from the US Air Force. Background checks are only as good as the information available at the time they are carried out.
Second, if a shooter is denied purchase at the gun store, he can simply find an alternative source for the gun – a family member, a family friend, or someone who isn’t as concerned about the law as they are making a quick buck. Again, if the will of the active shooter is strong enough, the background check law isn’t a barrier.
Safe Storage and Trigger Lock Laws
I’m an advocate for safe storage, particularly in homes where small hands can find these weapons. As a codified law for the prevention of mass shootings, however, there are some issues.
These laws sound good on their face, but the only people actually affected by this law are people who are unrelated to the actual shooting. Many people keep a weapon out of their safe or gun cabinet as a readily available defensive weapon. When a bad guy kicks in the door at 3:00 AM, the last thing the homeowner wants to be doing is trying to open their safe or unlock the trigger to get access to their defensive gun. The homeowner is less safe as a result of these laws.
And considering that a lot of school shooters aren’t just grabbing their dad’s rifle and heading out to kill schoolchildren, locking them up isn’t a deterrent as much as it is a small hurdle to be jumped.
This proposed law is probably the most problematic for legal firearm owners because it circumvents the Fifth Amendment requirement for due process and proving that someone is a threat before stripping them of constitutionally-protected rights. If there are too few controls on the reporting and execution of the red flag warrant, a lot of people can lose their firearms to acts of vengeance by people who just don’t like guns.
Imagine having a neighbor who is adamantly opposed to gun rights. They see you leaving for a hunt in the morning with your shotgun or trusty .30-06. A phone call later about how you were brandishing a firearm in the backyard, and the local PD shows up to execute a red flag warrant on every gun you own.
Never mind the fact that the potential for death is always present during these raids.
But will they stop active shooters? As a general practice, no. Again, shooters have shown time and again that getting ahold of a gun isn’t particularly hard. This ease of acquiring a gun would be a reality even after everything the shooter owns has been confiscated.
One caveat to the law could eradicate the problems listed above: the legislation should be written in such a way that any individual who makes a clear threat of violence in a public or private communication should be subject to being charged with communicating threats and have their weapons confiscated.
Minimum Age Laws
There would be zero effect of this law on firearms purchases by would-be active shooters. In 1998, two pre-teen boys carried a collection of guns they stole from a family member onto a hillside in Jonesboro, AR and killed five people at their middle school. The Columbine shooters asked friends to purchase their weapons. The Thurston High School shooter in Springfield, OR was 15 when he bought a stolen gun from a friend at school. There are many more cases in which people who were too young to buy weapons managed to get a gun and kill school children.
The opposite is just as problematic. The Las Vegas mass shooter was 64 when he killed 60 people and injured or caused injury to 871 others. The 2002 Appalachian Law School shooting in Grundy, VA was carried out by a 42-year-old former graduate student. The shooter at the Amish school in West Nickel Mines, PA was 32.
If the age to purchase a gun were raised from 18 to 21, the net effect on mass shootings would be immeasurably small if it existed at all.
Remove the Liability Shield from Firearms Manufacturers
I’m not sure how this is being held up as a possible deterrent to mass shootings. It’s not as if mass shooters worry about what happens to the company who made their guns, especially when these shooters end up either dead or in jail after the fact.
This law is simply a government attempt to punish gun manufacturers in the hopes of driving them into bankruptcy. If we want to save lives by punishing companies whose products cause gross levels of death, let’s start with the pharmaceutical industry and the automotive industry. More people die from overdose or car accidents due to speeding or reckless driving than are killed by guns in an average year.
Then Why Have Laws At All?
I get this question often. “If criminals aren’t going to obey the law, then why have laws at all?” Usually, there is a considerable level of sarcasm and “gotcha” to go along with the question.
Laws aren’t a deterrent. They don’t stop crime. They never have, as evidenced by the number of crimes we see carried out on any given day of the week in this country. So why have them?
1 – to codify socially accepted behavioral norms, and
2 – to assign punishment for violating those norms
If laws prevented crime, then we should be living in a near-utopic state of existence. But we don’t. We see crimes committed in practically insignificant ways (speeding, for instance) all the way up to heinous crimes (such as what we saw in Uvalde).
At a minimum, a shooter violates the following laws when carrying out a mass killing:
- carrying a firearm onto school property
- going armed to the terror of the public
- firing at an occupied dwelling
- discharge of a weapon within city limits
- assault with a deadly weapon inflicting serious injury
- assault with a deadly weapon with intent to kill
- attempted murder
If a school shooter is willing to break these laws, why would he worry himself with any of the laws proposed by President Biden in response to Uvalde? The shooter already knows that he will end up either dead or in prison when the curtain closes on his rampage. Worrying about violating a magazine capacity violation or assault weapon ban isn’t going to be a discouragement.
It’s necessary to reiterate: the only people new laws will affect are those who already obey the law. Criminals, by definition, hold nothing but contempt for the law and the entities who enforce those laws. President Biden’s suggested legislation will only make the law-abiding citizen less safe while emboldening the criminal.
There are practical approaches to reducing the frequency and deadliness of school shootings. Unfortunately, those ideas get buried in the avalanche of anti-gun rhetoric that always follows a tragedy. I covered them in my last post on gun bans (linked at the top of this article). Below is the list that I produced in that article.
1 – Harden schools and classrooms – I’m a classroom teacher myself. After the 2015 Umpqua Community College shooting, I decided to really invest myself in learning about these types of events and, most important, how to prevent or stop them. I learned a lot about hardening schools, but some ideas require little research at all.
One of the most obvious basic protections is to lock doors. Both exterior and interior doors should remain locked during the school day. Students and staff should be trained to refuse entry to unknown persons. During morning ingress, class changes, and end-of-day egress, trained staff should be on watch for any potential threats.
Additional hardening can include installing buzz-entry systems, anti-shatter window films, and single-point of entry systems for guests. Schools with bigger budgets can install camera systems to track shooters, firearm-detection software, automatic locking doors, smoke distraction devices, and ‘safe rooms’ within classrooms.
2 – Train Teachers – I highly recommend that teachers and administrators read two books. The first is Warning Signs by Dr. Peter Langman. The second is Stop the Killing, by Katherine Schweit. Both provide specific information on spotting behavior that hints that a student is contemplating or planning an active shooter event against his (or another school). Teachers, especially those teaching late elementary, middle, and secondary students need this information. I teach a lot of the information from these books (with proper attribution, of course) in my teacher training sessions. (You can order Warning Signs on Amazon through this Defcon link).
In the classroom, teachers can be trained in creating cover for students (usually using desks and tables) and providing improvised weapons to students to effectuate the teacher engaging a shooter should he make entry into the locked room. Personally, I have provided my students with a box of supplies on each table (I have round tables in my classroom as opposed to individual student desks). These items include pencils, pens, markers, erasers, rulers, sticky notes, and a few other items. They can throw that stuff, including the plastic box itself, at an intruder to create the necessary distraction I need to approach and tackle the threat.
Teachers should also be taught to engage the shooter. Hopefully it will be wasted training, since the teacher is working in a locked classroom. However, should the threat enter the room, the only option is to fight back. Teachers need to know how to do that.
I’ve provided this training to my school colleagues. I once watched a 5′ 2″ woman literally pick my 150 lb training dummy up from a standing position and slam it into the floor like a rag doll. It was a thing of beauty.
A lot of the training for teachers is free to them. I volunteer with the National Train-a-Teacher Day organization, which provides annual training to anyone who works with youth. You can check out the National Train-a-Teacher Day website for training events in your area.
Ryan Hoover is the mastermind behind Fit to Fight®. He has been a leader in the active shooter training arena for years. I spent a day in one of his affiliate seminars in 2018, and the training was worth every minute I spent there. He has affiliate sites all over the country. I highly recommend finding one and signing up.
3 – Restore Second Amendment Rights to Teachers – note that I’m not asserting that teachers should be armed. However, if a teacher has a concealed carry license and can pass a psychological evaluation, (s)he should be permitted to exercise their 2A rights on the job. There would be a few caveats to this practice of course, including (but not limited to) keeping the firearm concealed and on their person at all times; using it only in the defense of self or students; and NOT leaving a classroom behind to seek out, engage, and eliminate a threat. The firearm is for in-class defense or use during an out-of-class threat (i.e. during lunch or a school assembly).