President Trump has said he will be “talking gun laws” in the coming days amid cries from Democratic lawmakers to pass more stringent federal gun control laws. We’re getting bits and pieces of the story about how the Vegas shooter obtained his weapons, and more about how he may have altered some of them to allow roughly the equivalent of a fully automatic firing rifle. It should be noted that police have said he did not actually posses a fully automatic weapon, but may have used modifiers to make his semi-automatic rifle firing more quickly which allowed for more rounds per minute.


So, here we are in the days following a mass shooting. There will be discussion about gun laws, but what new laws could have actually prevented this shooting from happening? Let’s examine some of the proposals seriously, and with a purely objective eye. If legislation is going to be passed as a result of an event or occurrence, then it is important to ensure that such legislation would actually be successful in making a difference.

Assault Weapons Ban (AWB)

Democratic Senator Ed Markey, of Massachusetts, has proposed bringing back the Assault Weapons ban originally enacted by President Clinton. The ban was left to sunset during the Bush administration.

According to the Washington Post, the Vegas shooter used a variety of guns which would be considered “assault weapons” based on the definition in the original AWB:

So far, at least one has been identified as an AK-47 type rifle, outfitted with a stand to steady it and improve accuracy, said people close to the ongoing probe. Clark County Sheriff Joseph Lombardo said the weapons that have been recovered range in caliber from .223, which is associated with AR-15 style rifles, and .308, which is a caliber commonly used in hunting rifles. Lombardo was unsure if any of the weapons were automatic. Scopes were also recovered on the scene, and at least one firearm was a handgun.

In theory, at least, if he was denied the ability to purchase these weapons from a gun store, maybe he wouldn’t have been able to stock up on them. However, even the AWB signed in 1994 simply banned the sale of new “assault style” weapons, which meant there were plenty of them left in the public. In this case, even if an AWB was implemented today similar to 1994, there are easily over 5 million AR-15 rifles in circulation, and that estimate is low since it only includes rifles manufactured from 2000 to 2014. Keep in mind the 5 million number is just AR-15 based rifles and doesn’t include AK-47 rifles or countless other hunting and sporting types. With the Vegas shooter being a multi-millionaire, it’s entirely likely these could be obtained privately despite the cost even if the AWB was in place.

High-Capacity Magazine Ban

Democratic Senator Bob Casey, of Pennsylvania, has proposed a ban on “high capacity magazines,” which some define as magazines which hold more than 10 rounds.

According to WTNH, several high capacity magazines were found in his Mandalay Bay hotel room:

Multiple loaded high-capacity magazines were found in the hotel room, law enforcement sources said earlier on Monday.

Similar to the matter of having so many “assault style” rifles already in circulation, the number of high-capacity magazines in circulation is probably in the tens of millions, or more. Being fairly cheap, at around $12 per magazine, it’s easy to stock up. Unless the effort was made to confiscate such items, they’re out there, and they’re everywhere. Some states, such as New York, have placed a magazine limit at 10 rounds, and actually made it illegal to posses anything larger. Citizens of New York who owned high-capacity magazines, which usually hold 30 or 40 rounds, were forced to sell them out of state or dispose them. However, being an unenforceable law, nobody really knows how many still remain in the state since there is no registration for magazines.

Expanded Background Checks

Senator Casey has also called for expanded background checks:

According to Newsweek, the shooter purchased the firearms legally, and passed all the background checks with no red flags:

The man who shot more than 50 people from a Las Vegas hotel window Sunday night, acquired his arsenal of firearms legally and without raising any “red flags” during a background check, two gun shop owners said Monday.

Stephen Paddock, who had nearly two dozen weapons with him when he opened fire, never appeared suspicious to the owner of Guns and Guitars in Mesquite, Nevada, where he lived, USA Today reported.

“Mr. Paddock was a customer and purchased firearms from our store; however, all necessary background checks and procedures were followed, as required by local, state and federal law,” Chris Sullivan said. “He never gave any indication or reason to believe he was unstable or unfit at any time.”

A gun store owner in St. George, Utah—which is less than two hours from Las Vegas—told the Salt Lake Tribune he, too, had sold a weapon to Paddock. Chris Michel, of Dixie GunWorx, said Paddock bought a shotgun earlier this year. He passed the background checks.

“There were no red flags at all,” Michel added.

Keep in mind these are all dealer sales, which required a federal and sometime state background check. With no red flags noticed by any gun dealer, and no prior criminal or mental health record, it is difficult to see how expanded background checks would have made a difference.

Forced Gun Buybacks/Confiscation

Some activists, such as Kenneth Roth, of Human Rights Watch, have advocated for the United States to adopt similar laws to that of Australia, which implemented a mandatory gun buy-back program following a mass shooting in 1996:

Australia has seen a great reduction in gun crimes, including murders and suicides. There is data to support the claim that fully implementing a gun confiscation program or forced buy-back would improve the gun violence situation. It would take time, probably many many years, but by eventually by pulling all weapons off the street and out of homes, the access to weapons would go down.

The biggest hurdle to such a move in the United States is currently the Second Amendment of the Constitution, which courts have upheld as guaranteeing an individual the right to own firearms. Yes, the Constitution can be changed, but that’s not going to happen anytime soon, nor does it seem even many Democratic politicians wish to see a rollback of the Second Amendment to allow more stringent gun laws.

During a Gun Control Town Hall, back in January of 2016, President Obama was asked about confiscating the 65 million guns in circulation:

The President answers a little more than the video, and here’s the transcript:

OBAMA: Well, look, I mean, I’m only going to be here for another year. I don’t know — when — when would I have started on this enterprise, right?

I come from the state of Illinois, which we’ve been talking about Chicago, but downstate Illinois is closer to Kentucky than it is to Chicago. And everybody hunts down there. And a lot of folks own guns. And so this is not, like, alien territory to me. I’ve got a lot of friends, like Mark, who are hunters. I just came back from Alaska where I ate a moose that had just been shot, and it was pretty good.

So, yes, it is — it is a false notion that I believe is circulated for either political reasons or commercial reasons in order to prevent a coming-together among people of goodwill to develop commonsense rules that will make us safer while preserving the Second Amendment.

In other words, even President Obama, a staunch gun control proponent, concedes that gun confiscation in a country with 320 million people and 65 million guns is not practical, or achievable.


So, what works and what doesn’t? Some of these provisions could be enacted, but they may or may not have changed much in this nightmare scenario. We have to work with where we are today. And where we are is a country with millions of privately owned guns, a reasonable amount of gun control at the federal level, and states left to implement their own more stringent gun control level if needed. Furthermore, we have millions of citizens who will not simply hand over their guns peacefully under any circumstances or due to any law. Once again, we have the urban-rural-divide.

How do we actually stop the Stephen Paddock’s of the world with no prior criminal history, no mental health history, and no advance notice of any kind that he was about to launch mass murder on an unspeakable scale?

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Nate Ashworth is the Founder and Senior Editor of Election Central. He's been blogging elections and politics for almost a decade. He started covering the 2008 Presidential Election which turned into a full-time political blog in 2012 and 2016.

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