Rep. Eric Swalwell: Assault Weapons 'Bans' Are Meaningless Without Buyback

Rep. Eric Swalwell: Assault Weapons 'Bans' Are Meaningless Without Buyback

Guns sit on a table during a City of Miami gun buyback event on March 17, 2018. The city bought over 100 guns, the best ever from a buyback event.

SourceRHONA WISE/AFP/Getty

Why you should care

Because this is a matter of life or death.

Whether it’s military-style semiautomatic assault weapons or the large-capacity magazines that make such weapons deadlier, a ban on future sales without a buyback is really no ban at all.

America “banned” assault weapons and large-capacity magazines once, after horrors including the murders of five kids in a Stockton, California, schoolyard in 1989 and nine people in a San Francisco law office in 1993. But it wasn’t a true ban — from 1994 until the law expired in 2004, it was illegal to make, sell or buy these weapons and magazines, but all those already in circulation simply remained.

And when the law expired, gun manufacturers resumed marketing these weapons designed for battlefields to the civilian market. Today, there are an estimated 15 million assault weapons in America and more than 250 million large-capacity magazines.

If we ban making and selling these weapons and magazines again, it still will take decades for today’s supply to cycle out.

Mass shootings declined during the ban but increased after it expired. These weapons and magazines became tools of the trade for mass murders in places like Sandy Hook, Orlando, Las Vegas, Gilroy, El Paso, Dayton, Odessa and dozens more. With low recoil, pistol grips and usually dozens of rounds to fire without reloading, they’re made for massacres. And ask any trauma surgeon about how much more damage a high-velocity rifle bullet does to human tissue compared to most other kinds of ammunition.

The Dayton shooter used a 100-round drum magazine. He fired 41 shots in less than a minute, killing nine people and injuring 17 others. This is America in 2019.

It doesn’t have to be.

If we ban making and selling these weapons and magazines again — as most current proposals would — it still will take decades for today’s supply to cycle out. Millennials’ great-grandchildren will still be doing active-shooter drills in their classrooms.

Merely banning future sales also sets up gun-safety advocates for a messaging fail. As massacres continue with weapons already in circulation, the National Rifle Association — gunmakers’ mouthpiece, with funding from Vladimir Putin’s Russia — will argue that the ban is ineffective and that we must arm everyone, everywhere, all the time.

Why let more people die? And why hand the NRA a neatly packaged propaganda victory?

Why let more people die? And why hand the NRA a neatly packaged propaganda victory? We can stop this madness now if we ban and buy back, removing most of these weapons and magazines from our communities within two years.

I’ve introduced H.R. 2959, the Freedom From Assault Weapons Act, to carry out the weapons buyback. Owners will have two years in which to sell their weapons to the government at a fair market price; after that, possessing them will be illegal unless they’re securely stored at a shooting range or hunting club.

When I first suggested this 16 months ago, I got the predictable blowback from the NRA and the Republican lawmakers in its pocket. I also got some quiet winces from my own side of the aisle; one U.S. Senate candidate even canceled an appearance with me.

But 17 NRA-supported Republican incumbents lost their seats last November. The NRA is in a tailspin, torn apart by its own corruption. And as many as seven prominent presidential candidates now support a buyback. Even though I won’t be on the debate stage Thursday night, having ended my own presidential campaign to continue my work in Congress, I’m pleased to see this idea gaining steam.

Congress has been slower to act. The House Judiciary Committee on Tuesday marked up a bill to ban making, selling or buying magazines that can hold more than 10 rounds. I’m an original cosponsor of the bill, and I voted to send it to the House floor, but I’d rather see it have a buyback component too.

Like background-check bills that the House passed in February, these bills probably won’t get Senate hearings or votes while GOP Leader Mitch McConnell keeps doing the NRA’s bidding. And President Donald Trump, despite lip service he gave to gun reform this summer before he backpedaled, probably won’t sign them.

So we need a Senate and a White House that obey the American public. Seventy percent of Americans favor an assault weapons ban and 72 percent support a high-capacity magazine ban, a recent poll found.

Even our most conservative jurists haven’t interpreted the Second Amendment to mean anyone is entitled to own any kind of weapon. If they had, the NRA would have us knee-deep in rocket-propelled grenades by now. And no single law will end gun violence; we need a broad array of stiffer laws and investments in downtrodden communities. But each part moves us closer to the goal.

Other nations grapple with mental health issues, violent video games and movies, and family problems. America’s gun violence rate far exceeds that of any other wealthy nation — and many poor ones too — because we have about 5 percent of the world’s population but about 45 percent of the world’s civilian firearms.

Capping the number of assault weapons and high-capacity magazines isn’t enough; we must eliminate as many of them as we can, as fast as we can. This is how we save ourselves and our kids, not just our great-grandchildren.

Rep. Eric Swalwell, D-Calif., serves on the House Judiciary and Intelligence committees and co-chairs the House Democratic Steering and Policy Committee. Follow him on Twitter at @RepSwalwell.

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