The Right To Bear Semi-Automatic Assault Rifles?


The recent deadly shooting spree in Aurora, Colorado, in which a mentally unstable person killed 12 people and wounded 58 more, is the latest in a long and tragic string of such incidents.  In the aftermath of this event, many Americans are debating what steps could be taken to prevent the next similar tragedy from happening. The answer that a number of people have come up with is that we need to have stronger gun control laws.

The National Rifle Association and its supporters argue that stronger gun control would infringe upon the rights awarded to all Americans by the second amendment. What they are overlooking is the fact that when the Bill of Rights was written and the second amendment was put in place, the devastating weapons that are available today did not exist. Our forefathers were writing about single-shot muskets, rather than modern assault rifles designed to fire more than 100 rounds per minute, pierce metal, and shoot a target from hundreds of feet away.

Since people in our country have virtually unfettered access to these more destructive weapons, many Americans agree that we need stronger restrictions on gun ownership. This does not mean taking away the rights of people who want to own guns; it simply means making sure that people who want to own guns are qualified to do so and trained in how to store and use them safely.

In our country today, it is easier to own a gun than it is to get a driver’s license. There is no written or practical test for gun ownership, and no requirement to have one’s gun registration renewed. If the same or similar laws required to obtain a driver’s license were applied to owning a gun, people who want to purchase guns would at least have to demonstrate knowledge of gun safety. Gun owners would also need to have their registration renewed every few years. Too often, as in the Aurora, Colorado shooting, tragedy occurs because someone with a history of criminal or other dangerous behavior, or a certain behavioral disorder, is permitted to buy and keep a gun despite the danger that person may present to others. The current laws for gun ownership contain no scientifically sound screening procedures to alert the authorities to these potential dangers. Future tragedies might be prevented if the government had a way to identify the warning signs of violent behavior.

Having such relaxed laws for gun ownership is one of the main things that contributes to, or at least allows, mass shootings. There is virtually no filtering system for gun ownership. Practically any person, regardless of the risk they pose to society and their knowledge of gun safety, can own a gun and use it as they see fit. With the weapons that we have today and the number of people who now own them, we need to take steps to ensure that only people who are able to take responsibility for using guns safely are able to purchase them. The right to bear arms, as provided for in our Constitution, is a legal right, and should be protected. But the right to life is a natural, inalienable, and universal right which must take precedence.


Key statistics

*Last year 8,770 Americans were killed by guns. In Great Britain, during the same period, 39 people were killed by guns. There were 17,000 handgun deaths in the United States, and only 12 in England.

*In the 44 years since the Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King assassinations, counting accidental discharges, there have been more than one million firearms deaths in the United States.

*There are nearly as many guns in America today as there are people.

*There have been 60 mass shootings in the United States since the January 8, 2011 shootings in Tucson, Arizona in which Congressman Gabbie Gifford was shot. Below are several from the last few months. Some of these include:

*Chicago, IL: Four youngsters were among the latest victims caught in Chicago’s gun violence epidemic, including two middle school-aged girls who were wounded in a neighborhood park on the Far South Side.

*Dover, DE: At a weekend soccer tournament in Delaware, three people died and two were wounded. The dead included the tournament organizer, a 16-year-old boy participating in the tournament and one of three suspects alleged to have initiated the deadly violence Sunday afternoon at a park near downtown Wilmington.

*Seattle, WA: 40-year-old Ian Stawicki entered a Seattle cafe on Wednesday and opened fire, killing four people. He then left the cafe and killed another person during a carjacking before taking his own life.

*Pittsburgh, PA: A gunman opened fire in the lobby of a psychiatric hospital in Pittsburgh, killing one person and wounding seven, including a police officer. The gunman also died.



Nick Palazzetti
Executive Director,
Three Rivers Community Foundation

Anne Lynch
Manager of Administrative Operations and Special Projects,
Three Rivers Community Foundation

Victoria Pruitt
Public Relations Intern,
Three Rivers Community Foundation

Stephanie Brown
Writing Intern,
Three Rivers Community Foundation



Lucy Spruill
Director of Public Policy and Community Relations,
United Cerebral Palsy/Community Living and Support Services (UCP/CLASS)