If major gun control proposals pending in Congress had been law since 1999, four gunmen under 21 would have been blocked from legally buying the rifles they used in mass shootings. At least four other assailants would have been subject to a required background check. Ten might have been unable to steal weapons because of efforts to require or encourage safer gun storage.
Twenty might not have been allowed legally to purchase large-capacity magazines they used to upgrade their guns, helping them kill, on average, 16 people each, reports the New York Times.
Those four measures might have changed the course of at least 35 mass shootings — a third of such episodes in the U.S. since the 1999 massacre at Columbine High School in Colorado Those 35 shootings killed 446 people.
The majority of mass killings might have been unaffected if assailants obtained their guns illegally or they were older adults using weapons that wouldn’t have been subject to any proposed restrictions.
Another proposed measure, a ban on the sale of military-style semiautomatic assault weapons, could have had greater impact. Congress banned the sale of such guns in 1994, but the law expired 10 years later, and the weapons have surged in popularity.
Weapons covered under the expired ban were used in 30 percent of the shootings in more than two decades, causing nearly 400 deaths. President Biden asked Congress to renew the ban.
Republicans have dismissed many of the proposals as unfair or unconstitutional curtailments of law-abiding gun owners’ civil rights without clear evidence they would improve public safety.
“We all want to keep children safe in school, but [pending legislation] wouldn’t do that,” said Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH), last week.
Researchers that deterring a third of mass shootings would be a substantial success, given widespread gun ownership. “There’s no such thing as a perfect, 100 percent effective policy or suite of policies,” said Garen Wintemute of the Violence Prevention Research Program at the University of California at Davis. “But there is a chance to make a real difference.”
Mass shootings account for a tiny share of the 100 Americans who die on average every day from gun violence.
Several measures under discussion are designed to close gaps in existing federal gun laws, which stop 18-year-olds from buying handguns but not assault rifles, and require background checks for guns bought from a licensed dealer but not those bought from private sellers.
Other proposals, like regulations for gun storage and high-capacity magazines, don’t exist in federal law.
Many states have already passed some or all proposed federal policies, but the patchwork of laws limits the effectiveness of such restrictions because gun purchasers can travel to a neighboring state with fewer rules.
The authors of the House legislation cite the value of national laws that would apply uniformly. “They go to the states where it’s easy to buy guns, where there are practically no limitations, and then they take those guns to other states,” said Rep. Ted Deutch (D-FL). “And this will just ensure that this can’t happen.”