The latest tragic mass shooting occurred around a week and a half ago. This has led to a discussion around gun control, a discussion which has grown as of late increasingly polarized, with the NRA arguing for next to no regulation, and gun control advocates arguing any opposed are either innately immoral, or have been bought out by the gun lobby.
However, in this debate, a lot of things have been missed. As 538 has pointed out, mass shootings are a poor way to understand the problem with gun violence that the US faces. In fact, most gun deaths are suicides, and most gun crime (in terms of robbery/murder, etc) are done with handguns, not rifles. What is colloquially called an assault rifle is at its core a high muzzle velocity lower caliber weapon. They are indeed very similar to weapons used in war today, although they do not have select fire or fully automatic modes. This is the clear distinction that defines an ‘assault rifle’ if you were to speak to military sources.
The assault-weapons ban, implemented in the nineties, bans weapons based on a variety of criteria. However, many of these very aesthetic, and don’t actually address the core danger in these ‘assault-style weapons’, namely that they are semi-automatic.
On one hand, I do applaud the activism displayed by the students impacted by the shooting. On the other hand, it would be irresponsible to say that these children are good drivers of policy, just due to the fact they were victims of this horrible attack.
Too many who aim to drive gun restrictions and gun policy could not reasonably articulate what gun caliber means. All too often I’ve seen ‘assault weapons’ listed as being powerful, when in reality a semi-automatic hunting rifle, in larger caliber and with a larger cartridge, has a lot more power behind it, and would be worse to be shot by.
We really do need to implement stricter limitations on gun ownership, at very least some sort of gun licensing scheme. However, the current argument in favor of gun control misses a lot of the important details you’d need to implement if you were to ban AR-15 type weapons.
As one final aside, the AR-15 is a weapon of choice for these mass shootings, and by all accounts is a weapon that is well suited for them. However, there are many other weapons which would be well suited for perpetrating such atrocities which would be very unlikely to be banned, largely based on their appearance. If we believe that school shooters will stop shooting because weapons which they find to be aesthetically suiting or tactical looking are not available, that is one thing. However, the assault weapons ban, as implemented in the nineties or as would be likely to be implemented at present, does not do much to actually prevent ownership of weapons that could be used in such attacks.