Is now the wrong time to address gun control? Does history tell us that laws formed in response to a particular incident of mass violence tend to be incomplete and address violence through the limited scope of the single incident?
In 1929 Al Capone and his fellow mobsters executed seven of their rival Chicago mobsters utilizing Thompson submachine guns in what came to be known as the St. Valentine’s Day massacre. Congress and President Franklin Roosevelt soon took action by passing the National Firearms Act in an attempt to limit “gangster weapons” such as machine guns and short barrel shot guns by adding a $200 tax to their transfer. Thus the first of many legislative actions to limit gun ownership following a mass shooting was initiated. However, by 1968 the United States Supreme court had all but gutted the National Firearms Act in a case known as Haynes v. United States.
Still, as back to back assassinations filled the nightly news in the 1960’s with the deaths of President Kennedy then Martin Luther King Jr. and finally Robert Kennedy, Congress and then President Lyndon B. Johnson took action. This time the Gun Control Act of 1968 was signed into law. Today it still requires that gun manufactures and sellers be federally licensed and that prohibits interstate sales of guns.
Despite the Gun Control Act of 1968, just 69 days into President Reagan’s term of office, John Hinckley Jr. attempted to assassinate him and paralyzed his press secretary, James Brady. In 1993 the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act was signed by President Bill Clinton requiring that background checks be conducted before a firearm can be purchased from a federally licensed dealer or manufacturer.
In 1993, the same year that the Brady Act was passed, a 55 year old man walked into a law firm in California carrying three semi-automatic weapons and opened fire. He killed eight individuals and wounded six others before killing himself. Thirteen months later Congress passed an assault weapons ban outlawing the particular weapon he had been carrying along with 17 other assault weapons. The 1994 assault weapons ban expired in 2005 and five attempts to renew it have failed.
In 1999, while the 1994 assault weapon’s ban was still active, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold carried a 9mm semi-automatic handgun, a sawed down 12-guage double-barrel shotgun, a 10-shot Hi-Point model 955 carbine rifle, and a sawed off 67H 12-guage pump shotgun into Columbine High School and killed 12 classmates and one teacher before committing suicide. A month later the Senate attempted to pass a bill requiring background checks for firearm sales at gun shows and the sale of child safety locks with guns. However the bill never passed the House.
In 2007, with the Brady Act and the Gun Control Act of 1968 still in place, Seung Hui Cho, a senior at Virginia Tech University shot and killed 32 of his classmates with a gun that he had purchased within a month after being deemed “mentally ill” and “an imminent danger to self and others”. In response Congress passed a law in 2007 creating the National Instant Background Check System.
Thus, it is clear from history that Congress has precedent of acting rapidly after incidents of violence to creating firearms legislation. But, is this an effective way to prevent future violence? Or, would it be more effective to allow time to pass and find a solution that is based in a systematic analysis and not in grief?