Letter to the editor: The U.S. once banned semi-automatic weapons and it can again
Students in Florida have a real sense of urgency to ban all semi-automatic firearms. We should all have that same urgency and know it is possible to ban these weapons because we have done it before.
For ten years (1994-2004), we had a federal ban on semi-automatic weapons and I believe we can accomplish this again. There is even Supreme Court language supporting bans on weapons.
Semi-automatic weapons have one purpose and that is to kill people. No one except the military and law enforcement needs these weapons. Semi-automatic weapons are disproportionately involved in murders and wounding of multiple innocent people. Vermont law prohibits hunters from using machine guns and auto-loading rifles (defined as rifles using magazines with over six rounds).
In 1994, a Democratic Congress and a Democratic President amended the Public Safety and Recreational Firearms Use Protection Act to “prohibit the manufacture, transfer or possession of a semiautomatic assault weapon as defined or listed under this Act.” The law also prohibited large capacity ammunition magazines. The law did not apply to already purchased firearms. Two former Republican presidents, Gerald Ford and Ronald Reagan, supported the legislation.
Constitutional challenges to the Act were not successful. In 2004, the law automatically sunset. Unfortunately, the Republic Congress and Republican President George W. Bush did not renew it.
In 2008, the Supreme Court (District of Columbia vs Heller), by a 5-4 vote, overturned the D.C. ban on handguns. However, the court acknowledged that certain types of weapons could be banned. “Like most rights, the Second Amendment right is not unlimited. It is not a right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner whatsoever and for whatever purpose: For example, concealed weapons prohibitions have been upheld under the Amendment or state analogues (similarities).”
The Court went on to say that its opinion to overturn the D.C. handgun ban “should not be taken to cast doubt on longstanding prohibitions on the possession of firearms by felons and the mentally ill, or laws forbidding the carrying of firearms in sensitive places such as schools and government buildings, or laws imposing conditions and qualifications on the commercial sale of arms.”
Justice Breyer, in a minority opinion, concluded that “firearm laws (need to) be reviewed by balancing the interests of the Second Amendment protections against the government’s compelling interest of preventing crime.”
Our neighboring states, Massachusetts and New York, prohibit the sale of “large capacity weapons,” as do five other states. What is Vermont doing? Regrettably, still only talking about it!
There is significant support in the country and Vermont for banning semi-automatic firearms. The Supreme Court has signaled that weapon bans can be constitutional. Applying common sense to gun safety is a complicated issue that needs to be addressed in different ways.
What is the downside to banning the manufacture and sale of semi-automatic firearms? None. Let us stand with the students!
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