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Tennis ’14: Waste no time banning automatic-style weapons

Opinions Editor

In the past year, close to 100 people died as the result of mass shootings. The sites of these killings included universities, high schools, movie theaters, malls, a Sikh temple, a soccer tournament and even a funeral home. Of these victims, 20 were elementary school students, gunned down as systematically as if they were targets in a video game.

Adam Lanza killed these children, and I will name each and every victim, because I refuse to give their murderer more attention here than I give them. And if we keep these victims in the spotlight, we will be motivated to continue our discussion of the event that killed them until measures are taken to prevent it from happening ever again. Charlotte Bacon, Daniel Barden, Rachel D’Avino, Olivia Engel, Josephine Gay, Dylan Hockley, Dawn Hochsprung, Madeleine Hsu, Catherine Hubbard, Chase Kowalski, Jesse Lewis, Ana Marquez-Greene, James Mattioli, Grace McDonnell, Anne Marie Murphy, Emilie Parker, Jack Pinto, Noah Pozner, Caroline Previdi, Jessica Rekos, Avielle Richman, Lauren Rousseau, Mary Sherlach, Victoria Soto, Benjamin Wheeler and Allison Wyatt died Dec. 14, 2012, in what should have been the second safest place for them on earth, after their homes.

The Sandy Hook tragedy brought increased attention to the issues of public shootings and violence in the United States. But too soon, the discussion shifted from matters of gun control to those of mental health and the cultural normalization of violence.

Forget about banning guns, people say. The real solution, many believe, is to improve mental health care. Others dismiss gun availability as the cause of mass shootings and instead blame popular culture — namely video games, rap music, television and film — for glamorizing violence. I agree that both inadequate health care for the mentally ill and our culture’s obsession with violence are key problems that often contribute to heartbreaking tragedies like that of Sandy Hook. But to fixate on these issues undermines the discussion and actions that could ultimately put a stop to mass shootings.

Let’s be frank. It is a given that even the best mental health care system is occasionally going to allow a sick person to slip through its cracks. And although we can strengthen regulations on games and movies and music, it is impossible to erase all violent aspects of popular culture, especially in a society that so deplores censorship of any kind. Remember that little thing called the First Amendment? It’s even more prominent than the Second.

No, the action that will make the most progress in ending public, large-scale shootings is banning automatic- and semiautomatic-style weapons for good. Forget poor health care and a violent society. Fixing these problems does nothing so long as these kinds of weapons are legal. Because even that one mentally ill person who slides by the best mental health experts can’t kill 20 children in a matter of seconds without one.

Maybe if Lanza’s weapon had been a knife, or even a non-automatic pistol or rifle, more of the Sandy Hook victims would have survived. It would not have been possible for him to burst through doors, there would have been more time for teachers and children to hide, and there would have been more time for the police to arrive. But when he was wielding a semiautomatic? Those children and their teachers did not stand a chance.

Though I personally believe it is possible to make a case for banning all guns, I’m not sure it’s prudent to argue for that at this time. But no civilian citizen needs an automatic or semiautomatic weapon. These weapons are not necessary to fulfill the requirements of gun supporters, because they are not necessary for hunting or self-protection and should not be protected by the Second Amendment right to bear arms. These kinds of weapons did not exist when the Second Amendment was passed. And I would challenge the commonly held notion that the Second Amendment legitimizes gun ownership — a person’s right to bear arms does not surpass a child’s right to grow up. Yet, regardless of how one interprets the Right to Arms Clause, there is simply no viable argument against banning the types of weapons that killed the victims listed above.

As a nation, we are certainly talking about the tragedies of the past year. Photographs of the victims — and, unfortunately, of their murderers — are everywhere. Donations continue to pour in for the families and friends of the Sandy Hook victims, and for those of the victims of similar events all over the country. But it is not enough. Yes, we can bemoan the losses and cry and shake our heads. We can complete 26 acts of kindness in honor of the victims, and we can rant about whatever cause we blame for the massacre. But until we seriously advocate a nation-wide ban on automatic-style weapons, and until we pass the necessary legislation, the deaths of the past year occurred in vain. We will have to live with the knowledge that, while the self-indulgent cling to their supposed rights, children will lose their lives.


Maggie Tennis ’14 knows that “people kill people” but thinks automatic weapons make it too easy.

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  1. They aren’t “supposed rights”; they are Constitutionally-guaranteed rights which you would know if not your classically liberal selective reading of the Constitution. I recommend reading the Heller decision, in which the SCOTUS affirmed the 2nd Amendment as an individual right. You don’t get to decide what is or is not “necessary”.

    Also please learn what :”semi-automatic” means before opining, and exactly what impact that has for your desired weapons legislation. Finally, any reference to automatic weapons (ie, the tag line at the end of the piece) shows your complete ignorance on the subject, as these weapons have been banned since 1934.

    Any time someone says “It’s for the children!” they want either money or liberty confiscated from other people.

    • Actually, looking again I can’t believe I even brought up the tag line, when the very title of the piece itself betrayed the author’s lack of knowledge. Commenter fail.

    • I agree that this article is somewhat ill-informed, and the interchanged use of the terms “automatic” and “semi-automatic” are pretty much uniformly incorrect.

      However, I question you as well. What does a Supreme Court decision mean? It sets a precedent, but it does not make anything permanent. Our government was created with provisions for modifying the Constitution. I find it irritating that you argue ad-hominem against our (unfortunately misinformed) author, rather than address the ideas presented. Why is the Second Amendment so necessary? Is it a precaution against tyranny, personal self-defense, or “just because the Constitution says so”?

      Anyone who says we need guns to “protect ourselves from tyranny” is forgetting that we have the largest military budget, and the most sophisticated military and weaponry, in the world. No guns are going to stop a tank, a fighter jet, or a predator drone — and if anyone thinks we should make anti-tank weapons legal, he or she is out of his or her mind.

      Weapons for self-defense makes more sense. However, how many bullets does one need before self-defense is really futile anyway? The number of cases in which high-capacity magazines in semi-auto weapons have been used to kill absolutely dwarf the number of cases where the same setup has been used in self-defense. I agree that *any* weapon can (and will) be used to kill. Our concern here is limiting the possible damage. I’d also like to point out that nobody is trying to take away bullet-proof vests in the wake of Sandy Hook, because it really serves the sole purpose of self-defense.

      I don’t think I need to address the “just because the Constitution says so” standpoint. That’s ridiculous.

      Lastly, I’d like to address your closing statement:
      ‘Any time someone says “It’s for the children!” they want either money or liberty confiscated from other people.’

      You say this like it’s a bad thing. There are many beneficial services the government provides to children with tax revenue, including and especially public education. Finally, you say “other people” — as if the people who are clamoring to improve the domestic safety of this country 1) don’t have the best interest of the country in mind and 2) won’t have the same money (and liberty…?) “confiscated” from themselves.

      • “No guns are going to stop a tank, a fighter jet, or a predator drone”

        We had tanks and jets in vietnam, but for some reason a bunch of rifleman in black PJ’s kicked our ass.

      • Joe,

        Your argument regarding the utility of the 2nd Amendment as a check against the government is a common criticism. I would submit, however, that any government which would turn these weapons against it’s own people deserves to be destroyed (assuming our soldiers would obey such orders, which is not by any means a certainty). Such resistance is impossible- even if success is unlikely- in a disarmed country. I believe those in power will always act to protect that power, and gun control is am easy means to that end- especially when they can use dead kids to accomplish it. Despotic regimes throughout history started with gun control, then registration, then confiscation.

        I also don’t accept the common assertion that “the Founders couldn’t have foreseen semi-automatic weapons”. Well, they didn’t foresee the Internet, either. But I’m certain they wouldn’t have supported restrictions on the First Amendment just because technology advanced. I think it’s pretty naive to assume they thought nothing would change. Remember, when the 2nd Amendment was written, the weapons they were authorizing via the Amendment for individual ownership were the most advanced firearms of their time. If they didn’t want the people to be able to check the government by force of arms, if necessary, they would have restricted these weapons and thus provided precedent for the government to have the advantage by force of law.

        “You say this like it’s a bad thing. There are many beneficial services the government provides to children with tax revenue, including and especially public education.”

        A very simplistic view of my point, and I think you know that.

  2. Maggie, great article. i think you should do a piece on the 2nd amendment and how it’s true intent had been twisted by the NRA.

  3. names should be unnecessary says:

    Yeah, I suspect you misused “semi-automatic” – gotta get the terms straight if you want to be taken seriously. But a few questions: will anti-gun laws appreciably deter a psychopath from committing a mass shooting? Will it close the gun-show loophole, or prevent the legal modifications that change semi-automatic weapons to automatic weapons from taking place?

    • 1. There is no gun show loophole. It’s a myth, certainly in terms of the dangerousness of any supposed “hole”. Hint: criminals don’t need a gun show to get a gun. Best estimates are that 2% of all weapons sold at gun shows are ultimately used in a crime- and none that I’m aware of have been mass shootings such as seen recently. Illegal gun transactions between criminals have killed and maimed many thousands more than those at any gun show, and always will.

      2. There are no legal modifications that will convert a semi-automatic weapon into an automatic one. They act itself, while *theoretically* possible for an expert machinist, is illegal, and BATF regulations require that any semi-automatic weapon made in the US be manufactured to specifically prevent modification in this manner. The idea that the US is awash in automatic weapons is the political equivalent of the monsters under a toddler’s bed.

  4. Timothy McVeigh killed 168 people, including 19 children and injured 800 more. He didn’t use an assault rifle, semi automatic weapon, or any gun. He built a home made bomb. A bomb comprised of readily available, over the counter, legal chemicals.

    The point I am trying to make is that Crazy is always crazy. Take away the gun and all you accomplish is making the crazy people more creative. Both the school and theater shooters were DETERMINED to kill people. The theater shooter planned his attack for MONTHS. Let’s say guns had already been banned…. do you think he would have just said “oh well, guess I’ll just play Legend of Zelda instead” Or do you think his twisted, unstable mind would have shifted to other means of taking life? Mass shootings are never spur of the moment. They are always planned out WELL ahead of time. First thought is KILL, second thought is HOW.

    Banning guns…. any type of gun…. will do NOTHING. The problem with these crazy people is that they are crazy. That’s the heart of the problem. Banning guns is like putting a band aide on a broken leg. You’ve got to get at the heart of the problem to make any difference.

  5. Some may think that gun owners are “self-indulgent” to cling to our CONSTITUTIONAL RIGHTS

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