Monday’s horrific mass shooting at the Washington, D.C. Navy Yard left 12 victims (plus the shooter) dead and more than a dozen people wounded. It has raised immediate, impassioned, and understandable—if ultimately misguided—calls for increased levels of gun control now.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), a longtime proponent of assault-weapons bans whose effectiveness is questionable at best, announced that the killer was armed with a “military-style assault weapon” and asked, “When will enough be enough?” She argued for restricting sales of AR-15 rifles even though the shooter was not armed with that weapon.
Joining Feinstein in specifically denouncing the AR-15 was CNN host Piers Morgan, who said on his show that the Navy Yard installation had been “infiltrated by a man with a legally purchased AR-15, who just committed the same kind of atrocity as we saw at Sandy Hook and Aurora.” After learning that Aaron Alexis had in fact been unable to purchase such a weapon due to existing laws, Morgan tweeted, “Lots of confusion over exactly what guns Wash Navy Yard shooter used. But do you think it matters to the victims? #GunControlNow”
Feinstein’s and Morgan’s imprecise reactions suggest exactly why legislation shouldn’t be crafted, much less passed, in the heat of a crisis. Whether it’s truly awful drug laws pushed in the wake of high-profile celebrity deaths, national-security measures rushed unread through Congress after the 9/11 attacks, or transformative bailouts to the banking and auto industries essentially cobbled together over a long weekend, laws should be the product of serious and dispassionate deliberation. We feel with our hearts, yes, but we should govern with our minds.
Any calls for new gun legislation need to be squared with two long-term trends that are directly relevant to the unspeakable crime at the Navy Yard. The first is that mass shootings are not increasing. Northeastern University’s James Alan Fox, co-author of the 2011 book Extreme Killing, defines mass killings as those in which four or more people die and says there is no increase in such events in recent years. As he told Bloomberg, “Our tendency is to go overboard and overreach in terms of trying to increase levels of security…[but] this is not an epidemic.”
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