Don't delay restrictions on assault weapons

Memo to the U.S. Senate: A couple of your members have suggested that we need a national commission to study mass shootings in this country. Not necessary. You can find what you need in support of new firearms regulation right here in Baltimore.

I offer two things — a smart, concise and recent report from the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research, and the circumstances of a shooting in one of our suburban high schools. The latter, though a terrible event, would have been far worse had the firearm involved been an assault weapon. I'll go over that story first.

There was a shooting in Perry Hall High School on the first day of classes in Baltimore County.

On Aug. 27, in the crowded school lunchroom,17-year-old Daniel Borowy was shot in the back with a Western Field double-barrel shotgun that, police said, had been disassembled, smuggled into the school, and fired at random.

Guidance counselor Jesse Wasmer managed to subdue the shooter and wrestle the shotgun from him before it could be fired again. Police said the shooter had brought 21 rounds of 16-guage ammunition to school that day.

Borowy, treated at the Maryland Shock Trauma Center, survived the shooting. The alleged shooter, a 15-year-old student, has been charged as an adult with attempted murder, first-degree assault, reckless endangerment and two gun charges.

The point is this: Had the gun in this case been of the type used by the killer of children in Newtown last Friday ... . Well, I don't even have to finish that thought, do I?

You get the point.

There's a huge difference between a classic shotgun, favored by hunters and defenders of livestock and households, and a .223-caliber Bushmaster semiautomatic carbine favored by armies for its firepower in assaults.

These types of firearms do not belong in civilian hands.

Reduce their numbers and eventually we reduce the chance of criminals and deeply troubled or mentally ill people getting their hands on them.

"If perpetrators [of mass shootings] had used firearms that were not equipped with large-capacity magazines, it seems very likely that fewer people would have been injured or killed."

That's from my other offering to the honorable senators.

"The Case for Gun Policy Reforms in America" was published just a couple of months ago by the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

The people who work at the Center for Gun Policy and Research — Daniel Webster, Jon Vernick, Katherine Vittes, Emma McGinty, Stephen Teret, Shannon Frattaroli — went to a lot of trouble to put this report together. It's concise but heavily sourced — easy reading for members of Congress. Some key findings:

•Banning the sale of guns to people under 21, people with histories of drug abuse and alcoholism, as well as expanding the restrictions on people who have criminal records, will save numerous lives.

•Closing loopholes on background checks of gun buyers will save even more lives.

•Allowing more guns to get into the hands of more people will likely lead to more violent crime, not less. Many gun rights supporters claim more guns are needed — and that even teachers should be armed at school. They cite one study, from 1997, that found reductions in violent crime in states with liberal "right to carry" laws. But that report was seriously flawed, according to the Hopkins researchers. In fact, they said, the most consistent finding in studies has been that right-to-carry laws are associated with an increase in assaults, not a decrease.

•The assault weapons ban that Congress passed in 1994, and allowed to expire in 2004, was fraught with limitations that rendered it ineffective. The most glaring problem was its grandfather clause — assault weapons and large-capacity magazines manufactured before 1994 were exempted. No wonder the law was considered a failure. "In contrast," says the Hopkins report, "the Australian government developed a process for the government to buy banned weapons from citizens when the country banned semi-automatic and pump-action rifles and shotguns in response to a mass shooting. In the decade following enactment of the policy, there was not a single mass shooting and declines in homicide rates accelerated."

•Mass shootings with military-style weapons have become more frequent, but they still do not account for the majority of gun deaths in the U.S., estimated at about 31,000 a year. The report said that "focusing solely on the 'body' count glosses over the considerable psychological trauma and other social costs resulting from mass shootings. We have decided to regulate the design of numerous consumer products [such as baby cribs] in order to prevent far fewer deaths than could be prevented with a ban on large-capacity magazines. Opponents of such bans do not have a compelling reason why citizens need to have firearms with unlimited ammunition capacity."

There you go, senators. Please read the rest over the holidays. No need for a commission or a new, costly study. Let's move on, shall we?

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