On Oct. 1 our hearts broke again. Amid a joyful celebration of country music, 58 people were killed and nearly 500 injured. As we have been repeatedly reminded, it was the worst slaughter in modern U.S. history.
In response, we are hearing tentative rumblings about the possibility that Congress might consider some restrictions on the sale of bump stocks. Bump stocks are devices that make semi-automatic machine guns fully automatic. They enable rapid fire shooting of multiple ammunition rounds with a single pull of the trigger. The Las Vegas gunman’s 12 semi-automatic machine guns modified with bump stocks likely contributed to the death toll of that massacre.
It would certainly be appropriate to curb sales of $50 gadgets that could assist those who wield assault weapons in spraying rapid-fire carnage and which may have helped empower a mad man to gun down a throng of concertgoers. By all means, let’s do it. I support bipartisan efforts in that regard. Let’s do it now.
But let us not allow the moment, should it come to pass, to become a shield behind which those who fear meaningful gun safety reform can cower. First, all military-style assault rifles with large-capacity magazines, whether fully or semi-automatic, and with or without bump stocks, have the chilling capability of killing on a massive scale. Second, on that terrible first weekend in October when 58 innocent people lost their lives, 145 others died in “ordinary” gun homicides across the country. Five of those deaths were elsewhere in Nevada; 18 were in my home state of Maryland. All were tragic, leaving behind grieving mothers, fathers, siblings, spouses and children.
And most were entirely preventable. The numbers are staggering. Every year in this country, 81,000 people are injured from gun violence and 34,000 people die from it— 12,000 homicides and nearly twice as many suicides. Over 2,600 of those killed annually are children. Our gun homicides dwarf those of almost every other developed country; we have 16 times more than Germany. We average more than one mass shooting each day in which four or more people die.
What will it finally take before we come together? Not to prevent every one of the 34,000 deaths. Not to endanger the Second Amendment rights of millions of lawful gun owners. But rather to put in place reasonable, but meaningful, measures to ensure that those with histories of serious criminal offenses or dangerous mental illness are protected from harming themselves and others. Reasonable but meaningful laws to ensure that when dangerous people do get their hands on guns, they cannot fire hundreds of bullets per minute. Checks that will raise a red flag when someone buys 33 guns in one year.
These measures work. States with higher rates of gun ownership have more gun homicides, more suicides and more police officers killed on duty. States and other countries with tighter gun safety laws have fewer gun-related deaths. Thirty-four thousand deaths a year from guns are unacceptable, but knowing we could prevent so many of them shocks the conscience.
In the wake of Las Vegas, let us honor the memories of those we lost by showing the leadership necessary to change course. Background checks, sensible purchase limits, and bans on military-style assault weapons and large capacity magazines are the minimum necessary to slow the gun violence that poisons our communities.
With the optimism of someone who has seen the American spirit accomplish great things, I am convinced we can act reasonably and rationally to save lives. Our children should be able to enjoy an outdoor country music concert. Our law enforcement officers must know they can do their jobs without dread of being out-gunned. We all want to walk our neighborhood streets without fear. Sure, let’s outlaw bump stocks. But we act at our peril to think, even for a moment, that such action is enough. Let us have the courage to take the other steps necessary to make our nation safer and to ensure that a massacre like the one in Las Vegas never happens again.
Brian E. Frosh is Maryland’s attorney general. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.