Urgent! We Must Reinstate a National Assault Weapon Ban

HOW MANY MORE MUST DIE-Our thoughts and prayers go out to the nearly 600 victims and their families of the largest mass shooting in U.S. history last Sunday night in Las Vegas. The mass carnage made that city into what can only be described as a war zone. But our response needs to include more than prayers and moments of silence. We need to act to prevent more mass shootings, which are now occurring at an average of more than one per day. 

The weapons of choice for such mass shootings are known as assault weapons. They were designed for the battlefield, which is the only place where they should be allowed. They can rapidly fire bullets as fast as the shooter can pull the trigger. In Las Vegas, they were easily adapted by the shooter to become automatic weapons in which a single pull of the trigger could spray bullets with no pause. 

The hopeful news in taking on such a monumental but urgent challenge is that New Jersey has banned such weapons since 1991, and they were banned nationally from 1994-2004. Tragically, that ban had a sunset clause after ten years, so it automatically expired when then President George W. Bush refused to seek its renewal. 

New Jersey’s Assault Weapons Ban provides a good basis to examine the feasibility of a renewed national ban. In 1991 the NRA helped elect an anti-assault-weapons ban majority in the N.J. legislature; in 1993, that majority voted to rescind New Jersey’s Ban. Then Governor Florio vetoed the rescission, but a vote to over-ride that veto easily succeeded in the N.J. Assembly.

Three weeks later, a vote was scheduled in the N.J. Senate. We in Ceasefire N.J. mobilized intensively in the faith community and elsewhere. Many of the 70% of New Jerseyans who wanted to keep the ban urgently contacted their N.J. Senators. 

What followed was the closest thing I’ve ever seen to a legislative miracle: not a single N.J. Senator voted to rescind the ban! When the Senator who represented our district, who supported the NRA, was asked why he voted to keep the ban, he said it was because he got 2,000 phone calls and 90% urged keeping the ban. 

The fact that we were successful in breaking the NRA’s stranglehold in New Jersey at least partly inspired the successful effort the next year to pass the National Assault Weapons Ban. Even though, unlike the New Jersey Ban, the national effort included a grandfather clause, reputable studies showed that the National Ban resulted in a nearly a 2/3 reduction in shootings with assault weapons. 

We must seek to pass a National Assault Weapons Ban again. And there should be pressure exerted to introduce and vote on it before the 2018 Congressional elections. In the 2006 mid-terms, the Coalition for Peace Action, of which Ceasefire NJ is a Project, helped make the Iraq War a litmus test issue, and the majority of those elected at that time were opposed to that war. 

Readers interested in learning more or getting involved with an assault weapons ban effort are urged to visit peacecoalition.org [[[  https://www.peacecoalition.org/ ]]]  and click on the Ceasefire NJ icon on the right.

(The Rev. Robert Moore is Executive Director of the Princeton-based Coalition for Peace Action, of which Ceasefire NJ is a Project. This piece appeared in PeaceVoice.)   Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.