The Las Vegas Massacre and the Bump Stock Diversion
A Message from the President of Americans Against Gun Violence
After the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School mass shooting, the gun lobby was able to insidiously and effectively divert attention away from the fact that the United States is the only high income country in the world in which, as a result of our lax gun control laws and the extraordinarily high number of guns in private hands, mass shootings occur on a regular basis. Instead, attention was focused on the fact that the shooter, Adam Lanza, was reported to be autistic. His alleged mental illness, not his ready access to semi-automatic rifles, became the issue. Following the Sandy Hook massacre, no new gun control laws were passed by Congress; mass shootings continued to occur in our country on a regular basis; the number of guns in circulation continued to increase; and overall rates of gun violence in the United States, already 10 times higher than the average in other high income democratic countries, continued to rise.
After the 2015 Emmanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church mass shooting in Charleston, South Carolina, attention was focused on the fact that the shooter, Dylann Roof, was overtly racist. The confederate flag was taken down from the state capitol, but no new federal gun control laws were passed; mass shootings continued to occur on a regular basis; the number of guns in circulation continued to increase; and overall rates of gun violence in the United States continued to rise.
After the Pulse nightclub mass shooting in Orlando, Florida, in June of 2016, attention was focused on the fact that the shooter, Omar Mateen, professed allegiance to ISIS and had at one point been on the terrorist watch list. Some members of Congress proposed banning individuals on the terrorist watch list from owning guns, but the measure never came to a vote. As usual, no new federal gun control laws were passed; mass shootings continued to occur on a regular basis; the number of guns in circulation continued to increase; and preliminary data from the CDC indicate that the rate of gun violence in the United States began rising even more steeply than before.
After the mass shooting on a baseball field in June of this year in which U.S. Representative Steve Scalise was critically injured, attention was focused on vitriolic partisan rhetoric. Members of the two opposing parties became more collegial – for a couple of days – but, once again, no new gun control laws were passed. On the contrary, when Representative Scalise returned to Congress on crutches a few days ago, he stated that getting shot had made him more opposed to gun control than ever.
Now, after the worst mass shooting in U.S. history, in which at least 58 people were killed and hundreds more wounded by a single gunman in Las Vegas, attention is being focused on the fact that the perpetrator, Stephen Paddock, may have used semi-automatic rifles equipped with “bump stocks,” devices that allow semi-automatic firearms to be fired almost as rapidly as fully automatic ones. In what is clearly a diversionary tactic, NRA leaders stated following the shooting that they support “additional regulations” on such devices. They were quick to add, though, that they oppose any other new gun control laws. Legislation has been introduced in Congress to regulate the sale of “bump stocks,” but no other new federal gun control legislation has been proposed.
Should bump stocks be outlawed? Of course. But will a ban on “bump stocks” prevent the regular occurrence of mass shootings, significantly reduce the number of victims killed and wounded in each individual mass shooting, or significantly reduce the extraordinarily high rate of daily gun violence? Certainly not.
“Bump stocks” have not been used in any of the scores of other mass shootings in the United States, nor have they been reported to be used in any significant fraction of the 99 gun deaths that occur on an average day in our country. I know from my own military combat experience in shooting M-16 rifles, which can be converted from semi-automatic to fully automatic mode by the flip of a switch, that the number of bullets that an individual can fire in a given period of time is far more dependent on the capacity of the magazines feeding the rifle and the number of rounds of ammunition a person can carry than on whether the weapon is in semi-automatic or fully automatic mode.
The shockingly high number of fatal and non-fatal injuries in the Las Vegas mass shooting was due to the fact that the gunman was firing down on thousands of people in an open field from a 32nd floor hotel suite in which he had amassed an arsenal of firearms and ammunition. The fact that the semi-automatic rifles he used may have been equipped with “bump stocks” probably made little difference in the carnage that he was able to wreak. With or without “bump stocks,” high power semi-automatic rifles are designed to be used to kill and maim large numbers of people in a short period of time, which is exactly purpose for which Stephen Paddock employed them so effectively. Americans Against Gun Violence believes that there is no legitimate civilian use for such weapons.
The regular occurrence of mass shootings is preventable, but not by banning “bump stocks.” Mass shootings occur rarely, if at all, in other high income democratic countries of the world, all of which have far more stringent gun control regulations than the United States. Civilian ownership of all automatic and semi-automatic rifles is either stringently regulated or completely banned in these other countries.
Following a mass shooting in 1996 in the resort town of Port Arthur, Australia, in which 35 people were killed and 23 wounded by a single gunman using semi-automatic rifles, it took the Australian government just 13 days to agree to ban all such weapons. The Australian government subsequently bought back approximately 1 million semi-automatic rifles and melted them down. There have been no more mass shootings in Australia since the ban went into effect, and overall rates of firearm related deaths and injuries, which were already much lower than in the United States, have continued to fall.
In 2015, we invited Rebecca Peters, who received the Australian Human Rights Award for the key role that she played in the enactment of the Australian gun ban, to be our keynote speaker at our annual Fall dinner of the Sacramento Chapter of Physicians for Social Responsibility. At the time, PSR/Sacramento was the only organization in the entire United States that openly advocated a complete ban on semi-automatic rifles comparable to the Australian ban. In her keynote address, Rebecca said, “You Americans are clever people. If we can do it in Australia, you can do it in the States.”
It was largely due to the inspiration provided by Rebecca Peters, along with the fact that we couldn’t find any other national organization that advocated a complete ban on semi-automatic rifles and handguns, that we formed Americans Against Gun Violence in 2016 in order to extend PSR/Sacramento’s work on gun violence prevention to the national level. To the best of my knowledge, PSR/Sacramento and Americans Against Gun Violence remain the only two organizations in the entire country that openly advocate the adoption of definitive gun control laws in the United States comparable to the stringent gun control laws that have long been in effect in Australia and all other high income democratic countries.
We will be holding our first annual dinner for Americans Against Gun Violence, in conjunction with PSR/Sacramento, on the evening of Sunday, October 22, in Sacramento. We have another outstanding keynote speaker, Joshua Sugarmann, lined up for the dinner. Josh is the Executive Director of the Violence Policy Center, based in Washington DC. Josh has spent most of his professional lifetime working on the gun violence issue, and the Violence Policy Center has long been one of our country’s most credible sources of information on the many facets of gun violence. Josh has written innumerable articles and reports on the subject, and he’s the author of two books, NRA: Money, Firepower and Fear, and Every Handgun is Aimed at You: The Case for Banning Handguns.
Like Rebecca Peters, Josh understands the need for organizations in the United States that advocate the adoption of definitive gun control laws. In his book, Every Handgun is Aimed at You, he wrote of the other gun violence prevention organizations in our country:
Driven by the fear that merely discussing [definitive gun control measures] would alienate the political mainstream…they nibble around the edges of half solutions and good intentions dramatically out of sync with the reality of gun violence in America.
At the annual dinner on October 22, Josh will expand on this theme in his keynote address, Gun Violence in America: A Preventable Epidemic.
If you haven’t already made reservations for the annual dinner, please click on this link for more information and to make your reservations now. (This link was deactivated following the deadline to make reservations on October 18.) And please encourage colleagues, family members, and friends to attend the dinner as well. Please also contact your members of Congress and let them know that you demand the enactment of definitive gun control laws in our country comparable to the stringent laws that have long been in effect in every other high income democratic country of the world – countries in which mass shootings are rare or non-existent and in which overall rates of gun violence are much lower than in the United States. Finally, if you haven’t already done so, please become an official paid member of Americans Against Gun Violence via the Join/Donate page of this website, and please make an additional donation if you’re able.
We can prevent mass shootings in our country, and we can lower levels of gun violence in the United States to levels comparable to the levels in other high income democratic countries by adopting comparably stringent gun control laws. But in order to achieve the political will to do so, we must first force our elected leaders and fellow members of the American public to focus on the real problem – lax gun control laws and the associated plethora of guns in our country – instead of “nibbling around the edges” on peripheral issues like “bump stocks.”
I look forward to working with you in our efforts to stop the shameful epidemic of gun violence that afflicts our country, and I hope to see you at the annual dinner on October 22.
Bill Durston, M.D.
Note: Dr. Durston is a retired emergency physician and a Marine Corps combat veteran of the Vietnam War, decorated for courage under fire.