More guns, more violence: Lax laws allow shooters to legally buy powerful firearms

The days when pretty much only illegally owned guns were used in shootings are long gone.

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A makeshift memorial is set up Wednesday on the steps of the Old National Bank, site of the April 10 shooting in Louisville.

A makeshift memorial is set up Wednesday on the steps of the Old National Bank, site of the April 10 shooting in Louisville.

Leandro Lozada/AFP /AFP via Getty Image

Time was when then-Chicago Police Supt. Garry McCarthy told us that in a long career he had rarely seen a violent crime committed with a legally owned gun. The weapon almost always turned out to be illegally owned.

Now, although the illegal gun market still causes the most casualties, legally purchased guns also pose a threat to every American every day. To guard against rampant violence, America’s restrictions should be tightened on who can buy guns and the types of firearms they can purchase. That would also help police officers, who in so many cases are sent to confront a potentially fatal situation that could have been avoided.

Just on Monday, Connor Sturgeon killed five people in a Louisville bank with an AR-15-style gun he bought legally on April 4 from a local dealership. With no known serious criminal record, although his family said he had “mental health challenges” that were being addressed, he was what gun rights groups would call a Good Guy With a Gun. Until he started shooting, that is.

Just two weeks earlier, Audrey Hale used three of seven legally purchased firearms to kill three children and three adults in a Nashville school.

The shooters did not appear to be people who had ready access to the illegal gun market. Stronger laws could have saved lives.

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“If we are talking about stopping these kinds of mass shootings that get committed by individuals who aren’t career criminals or gang members or drug pushers, a lawful ban has an impact,” said John Schmidt, a former U.S. associate attorney general and a member of the executive board of the Gun Violence Prevention PAC.

The tragic litany of legally purchased guns used to kill is beginning to feel as though it has no end. Highland Park’s 4th of July parade. Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland. The Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh. The Walmart in El Paso. The Tops supermarket in Buffalo. Last year, the National Institute of Justice reported that from 1966 to 2019, 77 % of mass shooters legally obtained the weapons they used.

What’s changed since the days when McCarthy was police superintendent?

Gunmakers are producing and advertising ever-more powerful weapons and many lawmakers and courts have been loosening gun restrictions to the point that it’s common to hear someone legally purchased a powerful weapon shortly before shooting victims. No wonder most adults or their family members in the United States have been affected by a gun-related incident, according to a survey released Friday by the Kaiser Family Foundation.

Yet too many lawmakers are busily trying to make it easier to put more guns in more hands.

On March 28, less than two weeks before the Louisville mass shooting, Kentucky banned local law enforcement agencies from enforcing federal gun laws. Kentucky is also considering allowing people over 21 to carry concealed firearms in schools and on college campuses, and it has voted to become a Second Amendment sanctuary state.

In Tennessee, the state GOP passed a bill to allow anyone over 21 to openly carry handguns and is pushing to allow 18- and 19-year-olds to openly carry any type of firearm without a permit, though Tennessee Gov. Gov. Bill Lee signed an executive order on Tuesday to strengthen background checks and called for a law that would allow the temporary removal of guns from people who are a danger to themselves or others.

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How would these laws make anyone safer? They wouldn’t. The United States already has far more gun deaths per capita than its peer nations. Already this year, as of Wednesday, there have been 11,772 gun-related deaths, including suicides, and 147 mass shootings around the nation. Just last weekend, two people were killed and 18 were wounded in shootings across Chicago.

Elsewhere, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis on April 3 signed a law removing the permit requirement for carrying concealed guns. Officials in a Missouri county are saying the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives isn’t constitutional, and they won’t work with it. Even some Illinois lawmakers have introduced bills to make the state less safe, although Illinois did enact a ban on the sale of assault weapons, which has won the first round after being challenged in court.

Most states get an “F” on gun safety, according to this year’s Gifford Law Center annual gun law scorecard. The states with the most gun deaths per capita got the worst grades. No surprise there.

Addressing gun violence requires action on multiple fronts, each of which can help reduce gun violence. Preventing people from legally buying powerful firearms and then turning them on fellow Americans is an obvious place to start.

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