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Why an AR-15 Ban is Good for Scoring Political Points but Bad for Solving US Mass Shootings

© AP Photo / Seth Perlman / John Jackson, co-owner of Capitol City Arms Supply shows off an AR-15 assault rifle for sale Wednesday, Jan. 16, 2013 at his business in Springfield, Ill.
John Jackson, co-owner of Capitol City Arms Supply shows off an AR-15 assault rifle for sale Wednesday, Jan. 16, 2013 at his business in Springfield, Ill.  - Sputnik International, 1920, 30.05.2022
Following the 24 May mass shooting at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, which claimed the lives of 19 children and two teachers, the Democrats and some Republicans stepped up their calls to ban assault weapons. The tragedy came on the heels of an attack against black-skinned shoppers at a Buffalo supermarket on 14 May, in which 10 were killed.
"You know what an assault weapon is? You know how an assault weapon was designed?" Vice President Kamala Harris told reporters on 28 May while attending the funeral of a victim of the Buffalo shooting.
"It was designed for a specific purpose – to kill a lot of human beings quickly. An assault weapon is a weapon of war with no place, no place in a civil society", she continued.
According to Harris, a ban on assault weapons is one of the solutions to the mass shooting problem. The next day, Republican Rep. Adam Kinzinger of Illinois signalled that he was ready to support a federal ban on assault rifles: "I have opposed a ban, you know, fairly recently. I think I'm open to a ban now," he said.
The assault weapon at the centre of the debate is the semi-automatic AR-15 rifle. It is the "most popular rifle sold in America" and a "commonly-owned firearm," as National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF) CEO Joseph Bartozzi stated in November 2020. Around 19.8 million AR-15 style rifles are currently in circulation in the US, according to the foundation.
Both the Buffalo market and Uvalde school shooters used AR-15-style rifles. But that is not all: "So did the shooter at a music festival in Las Vegas; and at a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado; and at a synagogue in Pittsburgh; and at a church in Sutherland Springs, Texas; and at a FedEx in Indianapolis; and at a high school in Parkland, Florida; and at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut", summarised The Wall Street Journal's Kate Linebaugh on 26 May.
While one would argue that the popular rifle is the root of all of the US’ problems, it's unlikely that a ban on AR-15s would solve the mass shooting dilemma, according to Jonathan Turley, Shapiro Professor of Public Interest Law at George Washington University.
"With almost 400 million guns in the country, politicians do not want to admit that no legislative measure is likely to stop such massacres by loners like the Texas gunman", the lawyer wrote in his recent blog post. "He likely could have killed the same number of victims with a semi-automatic handgun."
At the same time, the federal prohibition of one type of gun would require the confiscation of millions of rifles. Turley noted that some politicians, including former Texas Congressman Beto O’Rourke, flirted with the idea of mass confiscations in the past without presenting a clear implementation plan.
This photo taken on Thursday, June 27, 2013, shows a rack of rifles at Firing-Line gun store in Aurora, Colo. - Sputnik International, 1920, 20.02.2021
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However, there is also a legal problem associated with such a ban, according to the lawyer.
"I have previously written about the failure of politicians to acknowledge the limits posed by the Second Amendment and controlling case law," Turley wrote. "While there are good-faith objections to how the Second Amendment has been interpreted, the current case law makes such bans very difficult to defend."
To illustrate his point, the professor referred to the Supreme Court’s 2008 ruling in the District of Columbia v. Heller case in which it decided that a District of Columbia law strictly regulating gun ownership was unconstitutional. The court recognised the Second Amendment as encompassing an individual’s right to bear arms, emphasised Turley.
"Most recently, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit struck down a California ban on adults under 21s from purchasing semi-automatic weapons like the AR-15," the lawyer noted. "The Supreme Court has a pending Second Amendment case, New York State Rifle & Pistol Association Inc. v. Bruen, that is likely to further strengthen gun rights this term."
US politicians are ignoring important legal precedents while pushing legislation that is likely to fail in the courts, argues the lawyer. However, while the recent debate over an AR-15 ban may help Democrats and some GOP politicians score political points, mere rhetoric is unlikely to lead to any practical solutions.
"There are things that we can do like address the lack of funding for mental illness treatments in this country. That will require politicians who are willing to work on the basis of the realities rather than the rhetoric surrounding this national crisis," Turley concluded.
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