Editorial: America's gun problem is the National Rifle Association

St. Louis Post-Dispatch on

Published in Op Eds

America has a gun problem. It's called the National Rifle Association. Whenever a mass shooting event awakens the nation anew to the horrific dangers of unbridled gun ownership, the NRA steps in to defend an indefensible status quo. Whenever legislators try to enact common-sense laws to prevent future mass killings, the NRA stops them cold.

The Republican-dominated Florida Legislature last week approved a fairly tepid package of gun control measures in response to the Feb. 14 high school massacre in Parkland, Fla., in which a 19-year-old used an assault rifle to kill 17 people. The law, signed Friday by Republican Gov. Rick Scott, was largely designed to show Florida voters that lawmakers would not allow the killings to go unanswered.

The NRA immediately filed a lawsuit to block the law, common sense be damned.

The bill raises Florida's minimum age to purchase firearms from 18 to 21. Federal law already forbids federal gun licensees from selling handguns to buyers under age 21. But the deadliest guns on the market aren't included in the restriction, meaning younger people can still buy military-style assault rifles that accommodate high-capacity magazines for maximum human-killing power.

And, yes, these semiautomatic weapons are designed for killing humans, just like the fully automatic versions issued by the U.S. military for combat. The civilian versions can be modified using so-called bump stocks to make them function nearly the same as the military versions, as was the case in the Oct. 1 slaughter of 58 people in Las Vegas by gunman Stephen Paddock.

Which brings us back to America's gun problem. Congress immediately began discussing a ban on bump stocks after the Las Vegas massacre. President Donald Trump supported it. But the NRA opposed it, and nothing has happened since.

Congress tried to respond after the 2012 massacre of young schoolchildren in Connecticut with dozens of gun-safety bills, but the NRA stood in the way, blocking all of them.

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In Florida, the NRA's lawsuit argues that the new age limits violate Second and 14th Amendment rights. It used the same argument in 2013 when it sought U.S. Supreme Court intervention to block the federal ban on handgun sales to people under 21. The court rejected the appeal.

Would an age ban have stopped Paddock? No, but a bump-stock ban might have limited the damage. It makes perfect sense to prevent people under 21 from purchasing guns just as it does to ban them from drinking alcohol. Even if such a ban prevented only one or two mass shootings, that would be a start.

A Harvard CAPS-Harris poll last month indicated that 84 percent of Americans favor such a ban. Sixty-one percent favor banning assault rifles altogether. Even some NRA members have favored such actions. Sadly, the organization's leadership simply cannot countenance anything smacking of common sense.

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