The perpetual tragedy of mass shootings such as those in the Atlanta area last week and in Boulder, Colorado, on Monday — aside from the broken lives and families left in their wake — are the lessons never learned.
The pandemic lockdown of the past year granted a reprieve in America from public mass shootings — but not from gun violence overall.
Before COVID-19 quarantines, there were 245 mass shootings since 2009, according to the Everytown for Gun Safety Support Fund. And so many of them offered a simple instruction — commonsense changes in the law that, if enacted, could have saved lives without violating individual Second Amendment rights to gun ownership.
These latest mass killings were no exception.
Wait time before gun purchase
The man charged in the Atlanta-area shootings, Robert Aaron Long, 21, bought a 9mm handgun just hours before he went on a shooting spree at three spas, killing eight people, including six Asian women, according to police. He walked into a firearms dealership in Cherokee County and walked out in a matter of minutes. (A Slate analysis points out that it takes at least 24 hours to obtain an abortion in Georgia, the delay designed at least in part to dissuade the applicant.)
Police have released details that Long struggled with feelings of guilt in association with religious tenets. Whether any decision to get a gun and begin to kill was a factor of impulse remains to be seen.
But research has shown that a legally mandated “cooling off” period before gun purchases (up to 10 days in California), leads to a drop in firearm homicides by 17%. And there’s a similar impact on suicide.
Gun-rights advocates will complain that rights delayed are rights denied. That fits on a bumper sticker. But it doesn’t make true sense if someone acquires a purchased firearm a few days after paying for it. There’s no practical difference.
Assault-style rifle ban
Colorado authorities say a gunman shot 10 people in a King Soopers supermarket in Boulder onand killed every single one of them. No one was left alive with bullet wounds, according to initial reports. This might seem shocking but for the fact that the assault-style rifle used is one of the most efficient killing weapons available to purchase in most states. Police identified the weapon in this shooting as a Ruger AR-556 and the suspect as Ahmad Al Aliwi Alissa, 21, the only person injured.
Assault-style rifles can be fired quickly and steadily with minimal recoil, launching a high-velocity round that can cut a broad corridor of destruction through the human body, leaving eviscerated organs and massive hemorrhaging. There’s no constitutional right to own such weaponry.
The late Justice Antonin Scalia famously wrote in 2008 the the freedom granted under the Second Amendment is “not unlimited. It is not a right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever.”
Gun-rights advocates will say assault-style rifles are fun and popular, vital for target practice, self-defense and hunting. Any and all of that is outweighed by their potent capacity as a killing tool. (A citywide ban on the sales of assault-style weapons in Boulder was lifted by a judge 10 days before the shooting, about the time the gun used at the King Sooper was bought. It’s not clear in what jurisdiction the weapon was purchased.)
With a nation awash in firearms, mass shootings won’t end. And they won’t stop teaching all of us lessons on how to prevent or at least reduce firearm deaths.
That is, they won’t stop until we as a society begin to listen.