How long does it take to get over a mass shooting?
Well, for the families and friends of victims of the Buffalo supermarket disaster, where 10 people were killed by a gunman with a semiautomatic rifle, obviously forever. But when it comes to the rest of the country, one man who ought to know says the public has already started to move on.
“That’s the pattern,” said Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut. “Despite gun violence rates going through the roof, the country only pays attention when there’s a mass shooting, and then the country only pays attention for 24 to 48 hours.”
Murphy was formerly the congressman from the district where 20-year-old Adam Lanza killed 26 people, including 20 children, with a semiautomatic rifle at Sandy Hook Elementary in 2012. Murphy later moved on to the Senate, where in 2016 he staged an old-school filibuster, speaking for over 14 hours to protest the fact that his colleagues weren’t planning to do anything after the Pulse nightclub shooting that killed 49 in Florida.
The gunman at the Pulse nightclub used a semiautomatic rifle. See a pattern here, anybody? And what do you think we should do about it?
A) Toughen background check laws
B) Limit the sale of semiautomatics to people with hunting licenses
C) Good Lord, just get rid of them
Yeah, C does simplify things, doesn’t it? After we learned that Payton Gendron, the 18-year-old suspect in the Buffalo shooting, had been able to buy an AR-15-style assault rifle with just a little more effort than it’d take to buy a burrito, inquiring minds wanted to know why.
It turns out that in many states, semiautomatic rifles are basically regarded as weapons of sport — the kind of thing you’d use to go hunting deer or target shooting.
“The industry has gone to an extreme effort to argue it’s a needed hunting gun. I think they doth protest too much,” said Ryan Busse, a former executive in the gun industry who’s now become a critic. (A memoir of his transformation, “Gunfight,” was published last year.)
Claiming that you need a semiautomatic rifle for hunting, Busse said, is like arguing that you need a Formula One racecar to go shopping. “There’s a lot of safer and more effective ways to get to the stores.”
Congress did indeed ban semiautomatic rifles in 1994, in a law with a 10-year expiration date. After the ban expired, the number of mass shootings increased. And Congress responded by … pretty much ignoring the matter completely. Hey, the Republicans had taken control.
Same thing now, of course. Nobody believes anything as controversial as banning semiautomatic rifles is going to get through the current Senate. Joe Biden would love to take action, but he hasn’t come up with anything more dramatic than nominating a permanent director for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
A permanent director would be a post-Trump triumph. But not exactly the goal we had in mind.
Guns like the infamous semiautomatic AR-15 aren’t really needed for sport. (OK, we might permit an exemption for the folks down South who need to cut back on the herds of very speedy 300-pound wild pigs.)
In Connecticut, which has some of the most restrictive gun laws in the country, Murphy says tons of his constituents hunt and he never hears complaints about their inability to mow down deer without a rapid-fire rifle.
In some ways, the assault rifle is now a symbol on both sides. “The AR-15 to most people in the firearms industry — it’s a statement. It’s a middle finger,” said Busse, who noted that during the Jan. 6 charge on the Capitol there were AR-15 “Come and Take It” flags waving.
And the ban-that-rifle corps has to admit that getting rid of assault rifles won’t solve the gun problem as long as people in many states are allowed to own pistols and carry them when they stroll about the town.
(We will pause here to recall that the Supreme Court is reviewing New York’s law prohibiting people from toting handguns around without a compelling reason. Any jurist who vents about the sanctity of human life during abortion cases had better examine his or her conscience before ruling in that one.)
The get-up Gendron was wearing — body armor, video equipment attached to a helmet — is becoming more common. A sign of the times, I guess. Fifteen years ago, Busse notes, the firearms industry wouldn’t have allowed gear like that to be displayed at its trade shows. “But if you go there today, the marketing campaigns are terrific,” he said, adding he’s also run into “the most frightening video games you’ve ever been in.”
We are not going to devolve into a discussion about how everything’s getting worse. Really, people, everything can’t be worse about everything. Let’s think positive, and if you want to get attention, a simple battle is the best bet.
Get rid of assault rifles. All assault rifles. Ban them. Hunters can work on becoming better shots. The gun industry can diversify — and maybe start marketing swords and medieval knight costumes at its trade shows. I know swords can do a lot of damage, but we live in an age when one victim at a time would definitely be progress.