[Editor’s note: The following was issued by JACL Public Affairs VP Seia Watanabe and JACL Education & Communications Coordinator Matthew Weisbly and was lightly edited only to adhere to AP Style.]
Two hundred and ten. That is the number of mass shootings that have occurred across the country this year according to the Gun Violence Archive, which defines a mass shooting as one where four or more people are either shot or killed.
Eleven mass shootings have happened in the five days since a gunman in Allen, Texas, took the lives of eight people, four of whom were Asian American, three of whom from a single family, leaving a 6-year-old without his family and in the hospital critically injured.
The Allen, Texas, shooting, like so many mass shootings, follows a pattern of extremist ideology combined with the use of an AR-15 rifle to inflict maximum damage upon victims targeted because of their race or other identification to be extinguished by white supremacist ideology.
But it is not just these extreme situations where AR-15s are being used to inflict maximum damage. Too many other shooters are utilizing assault weapons in their efforts to inflict pain on others, making what might be a personal vendetta a mass killing event.
AR-15-style rifles and pistols oftentimes are used with extended or high-capacity magazines. This weapon has become ubiquitous in mass shootings, and yet in many places, it’s possible to buy one easily at outdoor/sporting goods stores, pawn shops and even some major retailers.
These rifles and over 650 others were banned under the Federal Assault Weapons Ban of 1994. While the ban was in place from 1994-2004, research shows that there was a 70 percent decrease in mass shooting fatalities. While not perfect, the 10-year period in which the ban was in place showed some progress in combating gun violence. Unfortunately, Congress allowed the ban to expire, and we are now seeing the tragic results of a proliferation of mass shootings with extreme mortality rates due to the lethality of assault weapons.
Due to Congress’ failure to act, some states are taking action. Washington state, for example, recently passed a bill to ban the sale and manufacture of assault weapons, joining only nine other states with similar bans. In Tennessee, recently touched by the Covenant School shooting that claimed the lives of six people including three children, two lawmakers have filed legislation calling for the ban on the purchase of assault weapons.
However, state-level action will do little to stem the tide of assault weapons falling into the hands of too many who wish to inflict harm. So long as guns can be purchased in states with lax gun laws, we are all at risk.
If we are to make any significant changes to the landscape of our nation’s obsession with guns, sensible measures, including a full federal ban on assault weapons, are of critical importance. How many more massacres must take place, and how many more families must be broken before the United States Congress takes any real actionable steps to implement and enforce policies directed toward stamping out gun violence?
Until a federal ban on the sale and manufacture of assault weapons takes place, we will continue to see a rise in fatalities and collective trauma in our communities.
Second Amendment rights must not supersede our unalienable rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.