America hasn’t addressed its brutal gun violence crisis because of cowardly, callous leadership. It’s time for someone to be courageous.

moms demand acton gun violence protest
Moms Demand Action hosted a Recess Rally and community gathering at Foley Square to honor the victims of gun violence

  • The US has been plagued by an epidemic of gun violence, and deaths have been soaring recently.
  • Despite this our political leaders have done nothing substantial to curb the decades-long problem.
  • It’s time for Joe Biden and the Democrats to be courageous and tackle gun safety once and for all.
  • This is an opinion column. The thoughts expressed are those of the author.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Two months ago my column focused on the need to take action to address America’s gun crisis. I was worried mass shootings would speed up as the COVID pandemic slowed down. But none of us could have imagined how tragic the following weeks would be.

There is not enough room in this column to do justice to the 45 mass shootings we have experienced in the United States over the past six weeks. This outbreak of violence started in Atlanta and the shootings have not abated since then. Eight people, including four members of the Sikh community, were killed in Indianapolis on April 15. On April 6, a respected community doctor and his family were killed in South Carolina. On March 26, 10 people were murdered while grocery shopping in Boulder, Colorado. The list goes on, and on, and on.

So far, our lawmakers have provided the usual pablum. The Republicans have, as usual, offered their thoughts and prayers, while offering nothing substantive besides making it easier to obtain a gun. While Democrats from various states have proposed and even passed gun control measures in the wake of these shootings, and Joe Biden has released a list of proposals to help curb the violence, nothing has been done to truly end the epidemic of gun deaths ravaging this country.

What level of tragedy would finally force this country to make real change?

What’s it going to take?

Since the first modern mass shooting at Columbine High School, the US has failed to move in a substantial way on gun safety. While there have been red flag laws passed in some (mostly Democratic) states, just as many states have loosened their firearm laws to allow for open and concealed carry. Federal legislation has gone nowhere, and the Supreme Court has ruled in the District of Columbia vs. Heller that Americans have a fundamental right to possess firearms.

We’ve had Newtown, Parkland, and many others – anyone of which should’ve spurred us into action. We have had 180 shootings in schools alone over the past 10 years, with 356 victims who all had long and happy lives ahead of them. Yet we have done nothing. And there is no reason for hope that the Supreme Court will make our children any safer as it pledges to take on a new Second Amendment case.

The opportunity of crisis

As people across the US have started to get vaccinated against COVID, the veneer of protection against gun deaths is fading and there is no vaccine-like solution on the horizon.

And much like misinformation that drove up the case and death toll during the pandemic, the increase in mass shootings and corresponding inaction of Congress tie directly back to the rise of the extreme right media on cable and social media.

Tucker Carlson claimed that Biden wants to take guns away from law-abiding citizens, which is a claim more at home at a Republican rally than a purported news site. The GOP’s official position is that background checks are outrageous and evil, despite 84% percent of Americans supporting them. There is hardly an issue in 2021 that most Americans agree on, but expanded background checks is one of them. Yet Republicans continue to stand in the way.

Other countries don’t have the same problem. After a horrific mass shooting in 1996, Australia outlawed assault-style weapons. Despite what Republicans might have you believe, Australia has not turned into a despotic dictatorship over the intervening 25 years. In fact, most every other country on Earth has fewer guns and fewer gun deaths than the United States.

Now or never

President Joe Biden has juggled a number of crises in his short time in office, but he has not prioritized gun safety. He urged Congress to reinstate a ban on assault weapons and high capacity magazines, which like background checks is very popular with voters. Perhaps he can come up with a different, uniquely American solution to this uniquely American problem.

It is understandable that Joe Biden doesn’t want to lose his frighteningly narrow majorities in Congress, but his party must take action now while they have the opportunity to get it done. The Democrats have the ideas, they have the public’s support, and they have numbers. The only thing, it would seem, that they are missing is the political will to make a change.

After a full year of one kind of devastating tragedy, we have been faced with a month of another. One that in some ways feels more tangible than a virus. In the 100 days since Biden’s inauguration, he has shown he is up to the task of fighting the invisible killer that has been plaguing America for the past year. Now he must step up and fight the killer that has damaged and taken the lives of thousands of Americans for the past 30.

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A breakdown of gun terminology to help you in discussions on mass shootings and debates over gun control

AR 15
AR-15 rifles are displayed for sale at the Guntoberfest gun show in Oaks, Pennsylvania, on October 6, 2017.

  • The language surrounding firearms can be tricky.
  • “Assault-weapons,” for example, is among the most divisive phrases in debates over gun control.
  • There’s been a renewed discussion over gun control following recent mass shootings.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Given the ongoing and divisive debate over gun control in the US, it’s helpful to understand the breakdown of some of the most important terms that frequently come up after mass shootings.

Some of these terms might appear inconsequential, but they relate strongly to discussions on what type of guns and firearm accessories should be regulated more strictly or even banned. And some in the pro-Second Amendment camp have been known to mock people calling for new gun laws when they use incorrect terminology in reference to firearms.

In the renewed discussion surrounding gun control following two high-profile mass shootings in Atlanta and Boulder, Colorado, that occurred less than a week apart, familiar disagreements are arising over terminology surrounding firearms.

Here’s a summary of some of the more common and contentious terms linked to guns and the broader discourse surrounding them in the US.

Semi-automatic vs. automatic

Semi automatic
Customers view semi-automatic guns on display at a gun shop in Los Angeles, California, on December 19, 2012.

A semi-automatic firearm refers to a gun that fires a single round or bullet each time the trigger is squeezed or pulled, and then automatically reloads the chamber between shots. 

An automatic firearm is essentially what many Americans likely think of as a machine gun, or a firearm that continuously fires while the trigger is squeezed or pulled and reloads the chamber automatically.

The vast majority of firearms in the US are semi-automatic and include rifles and handguns. Semi-automatic firearms are available across the US with few restrictions. 

Automatic weapons are heavily regulated and expensive.

The manufacture and importation of new automatic firearms has been prohibited since the Firearm Owners’ Protection Act of 1986. But this still allows for the purchase of automatic firearms made before a certain date in 1986, meaning automatics are technically legal in certain circumstances.

Magazine vs. clip

Magazine
A gun and a magazine is pictured in this evidence photo released by the Connecticut State Police on December 27, 2013.

“Magazine” and “clip” are often used interchangeably, though they aren’t the same thing. 

A magazine is a container that holds cartridges or rounds of ammunition and feeds them into the firing chamber of a gun. Some magazines are internal, while others are detachable. 

A clip holds multiple rounds of ammunition together, often on a metal strip, to be fed into a magazine. Most guns have magazines (revolvers and some types of shotguns do not have magazines), but not all firearms use clips. 

 

 

 

Assault-weapons

Assault weapons
Frank Loane, owner of Pasadena Pawn and Gun, stands in front of a wall of assault rifles at his store in Pasadena, Maryland, on Thursday, Sept. 26, 2013.

“Assault-weapons” is among the most contentious phrases in discussions on gun control.

There’s not a universal definition of what an assault weapon is, which is part of the reason this subject tends to antagonize the gun lobby or pro-gun advocates. 

But in 1994, after the now-expired assault-weapons ban passed, the Justice Department said, “In general, assault weapons are semiautomatic firearms with a large magazine of ammunition that were designed and configured for rapid fire and combat use.”

The gun industry often defines an assault rifle as a firearm with “select fire capabilities,” or the ability to adjust or switch the firearm between semi-automatic and automatic settings or modes.

In short, pro-Second Amendment groups typically say a firearm should only be called an assault-weapon when it’s capable of fully automatic fire — or they reject the terminology altogether. 

“None of the so-called ‘assault rifles’ legally owned by US civilians are assault rifles as the term is used in military contexts,” Florida State University criminal justice professor emeritus Gary Kleck, told PolitiFact.

Kleck added, “Assault rifles used by members of the military can all fire full automatic, like machine guns, as well as one shot at a time, whereas none of the so-called ‘assault rifles’ legally owned by US civilians can fire full automatic.”

Based on the idiosyncrasies of this issue and the broader debate surrounding it, many gun control advocates tend to refer to semi-automatic firearms that have been used in mass shootings as “assault-style” or “military-style” weapons. 

Polling has consistently shown that the vast majority of Americans would support an assault-weapons ban. 

AR-15

AR 15
AR-15 rifles are displayed for sale at the Guntoberfest gun show in Oaks, Pennsylvania, on October 6, 2017.

The AR-15 is a semi-automatic rifle and has been referred to by the National Rifle Association as “America’s most popular rifle.” 

The “AR” in AR-15 does not stand for “assault rifle,” but is linked to the original manufacturer of the firearm: ArmaLite, Inc. The name stands for ArmaLite Rifle. 

The AR-15 was originally developed by ArmaLite to be a military rifle, designing it for fast reloading in combat situations, but the company hit financial troubles. By 1959, ArmaLite sold the design of the AR-15 to Colt, which had success in pitching it to the US military.

The rifle’s automatic version, the M-16, was used during the Vietnam War. Meanwhile, Colt sold the semi-automatic version, the AR-15, to the public and police. 

“If you’re a hunter, camper, or collector, you’ll want the AR-15 Sporter,” a 1963 advertisement for the firearm said.

Colt’s patent on the rifle’s operating system expired in 1977, opening the door for other manufacturers to copy the technology and make their own models. 

The AR-15 was prohibited from 1994 to 2004 via the assault weapons ban. Gun manufacturers promptly reintroduced the AR-15 after the ban expired, and sales went way up. 

There are “well over 11 million” AR-15 style rifles in the hands of Americans, according to an investigation by CBS News’s “60 Minutes,” which also notes handguns kill “far more people.”

But AR-15 style rifles have frequently been used in mass shootings, placing the firearm at the center of the debate over gun control — particularly in relation to whether an assault weapons ban should be reimposed. 

High-capacity magazines

High capacity magazines
Democratic Sen. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut speaks at a news conference on a proposed amendment to ban high-capacity magazines in guns in Washington, DC, on February 12, 2019.

High or large-capacity magazines are typically defined as ammunition-feeding devices holding more than 10 rounds. Nine states currently ban high-capacity magazines.

High-capacity magazines are capable of holding up to 100 rounds of ammunition, allowing for dozens of shots to be fired off before reloading. The rifle used in a 2019 mass shooting in Dayton, Ohio, was affixed with a 100-round drum magazine.

 

Bump stock

Bump stock
A bump fire stock that attaches to a semi-automatic rifle to increase the firing rate is seen at Good Guys Gun Shop in Orem, Utah, on October 4, 2017.

A bump stock is an attachment that allows a semi-automatic weapon to fire at a more rapid rate. 

It replaces the standard stock of a rifle, or the part of the firearm that rests against the shoulder. A bump stock uses the recoil effect to bounce the rifle off of the shoulder of the shooter, which in turn causes the trigger to continuously bump back into the shooter’s trigger finger. 

In effect, bump stocks allow semi-automatic weapons to fire like machine guns. 

Bump stocks were banned by the Trump administration in a large part due to the Las Vegas shooting in 2017, which was the deadliest mass shooting in US history.

 

Red flag law

FILE PHOTO: A woman holds a sign during a rally against guns and white supremacy in the wake of mass shootings in Dayton and El Paso in front of the White House in Washington, U.S., August 6, 2019.  REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque/File Photo
Rally against guns and white supremacy in front of the White House in Washington

Red flag laws, also known as Extreme Risk laws, allow judges to temporarily confiscate a person’s firearms if they’re considered a danger to themselves or others. 

Nineteen states and Washington, DC, have implemented some form of a red flag law, according to Everytown for Gun Safety: California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, and Washington.

Gun show loophole

gun show
In this Jan. 26, 2013 file photo, a customer looks over shotguns on display at the annual New York State Arms Collectors Association Albany Gun Show at the Empire State Plaza Convention Center in Albany, New York.

The so-called “gun show loophole” is among the most discussed topics in relation to calls for gun reform advocates for expanded background checks.

“Gun show loophole” is a catch-all phrase referring to the sale of firearms by unlicensed, private sellers at gun shows and other venues — including the internet — without the involvement of background checks. 

Federally licensed gun dealers are required to run background checks, but not all sellers are required to be licensed — laws vary from state to state. In this sense, there is a “loophole” that allows private sellers to sell firearms without conducting background checks. 

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) is the federal agency that licenses gun dealers.

“As a general rule, you will need a license if you repetitively buy and sell firearms with the principal motive of making a profit,” the ATF states. “In contrast, if you only make occasional sales of firearms from your personal collection, you do not need to be licensed.”

The implementation of a federal law requiring universal background checks, or background checks for all gun sales, has been at the top of the wish list for gun control advocates for years.

It’s also a policy that the vast majority of Americans support. According to polling conducted by Pew Research Center in late 2018, 91% of Democrats and 79% of Republicans favor background checks for private gun sales and sales at gun shows.

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2020 saw more gun deaths in the US than any year in over two decades, showing even a pandemic couldn’t stop the violence

gun violence
New York Police Department installs tape around crime scene on August 16, 2020, near Prospect Park in Brooklyn where fatal shooting occurred.

  • There were a record number of gun violence deaths in 2020: 19,379.
  • This represents a huge leap from recent years, and the highest number in over two decades.
  • By one definition, there were also 611 mass shootings in 2020.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Last year saw the highest number of gun violence deaths in the US in more than 20 years, even as the pandemic coincided with a relative absence of high-profile mass shootings on the scale of recent incidents in Atlanta and Boulder.

There were 19,379 gun violence deaths in the US in 2020, according to data from the nonprofit Gun Violence Archive. This statistic excludes suicides involving guns, which consistently account for a majority (roughly two-thirds) of annual US gun deaths. In 2020, Gun Violence Archive found there were 24,090 gun suicides.

Since Gun Violence Archive started tracking firearm violence in 2013, annual gun violence deaths generally fluctuated between 12,000 and 15,000. The next highest year after 2020 was 2017, when there were 15,718 gun violence deaths.

The recent shootings in Georgia and Colorado, which both occured less than a week apart, led many on social media to suggest that the easing of COVID-19 restrictions and gradual return to normalcy would translate into a spike in mass shootings in 2021.

Former President Barack Obama, for example, in a statement responding to the Atlanta and Boulder shootings said, “A once-in-a-century pandemic cannot be the only thing that slows mass shootings in this country.”

But mass shootings actually increased in 2020 as compared to 2019, according to Gun Violence Archive, which defines mass shootings as four or more people being shot or killed in a single incident (excluding the shooter). There were 611 mass shootings in 2020, up from 417 in 2019.

That said, there is not a universally agreed upon definition of mass shootings. Gun Violence Archive’s standard is fairly broad compared to those used by other databases that define mass shootings as an incident in which four or more are fatally shot, not including the shooter.

But many experts say that defining mass shootings based on how many are shot rather than the number killed offers a fuller picture of the scale of gun violence in the US. It also helps highlight incidents that generally don’t make headlines and disproportionately impact Black Americans and people of color. Public mass shootings also account for just a fraction of total gun deaths in the US, and focusing on them can lead to myopic perspectives on gun violence.

“The difference between a fatality and a survivor might be simply a matter of marksmanship,” Dr. Garen Wintemute, an emergency medicine physician and director of the University of California Firearm Violence Research Center, recently told ABC News. “There’s no such thing as an insignificant life. We pay extra attention when a bunch of lives are lost all at once in a single event. We’re less aware of all the people who die or are shot or survive one at a time.”

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