Commentary: Retrace our history of gun control before urging more bans

As a gun-owning Texan for 50 years, I have watched the evolution of firearms ownership in this country longer than most.

As a lawyer with a graduate degree in police science, I think I have some credentials to speak on the subject. I remember when in 1966 Charles Whitman killed and wounded dozens of people from the University of Texas tower with a scoped bolt-action deer rifle and an M1 carbine.

There is no question that with the advent of the large-capacity, detachable-magazine intermediate cartridge production in the 1970s — primarily with the AR-15, spinoffs or foreign-made equivalents — individual shooters have become increasingly lethal. Back then, the price of these semi-auto variants of assault weapons was high, but increasing demand led to increased production and lower prices. Large-capacity, detachable-magazine pistols now are a weapon of second choice; the ease in obtaining AR-15’s and variants based on the same type action has relegated them to lesser use in mass murders, especially when the murderers are younger and more exposed to the enjoyment and ease of firing these military-grade, semi-automatic weapons.

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There is also no question that semi-automatic weapons are more lethal than the machine-gun version. This is an irony that is carefully ignored by the National Rifle Association and politicians with substantial gun-owning constituents — and oddly, it’s not even recognized by anti-gun organizations. As “rifles,” they are more readily obtainable than handguns.

Yet, machine guns — even the clunky, heavy, high-maintenance machine guns of World War I — are heavily regulated to the point of absurdity. In the late 1920s and 1930s, abuse of machine guns by gangsters lead to strict regulation. Then, in 1986, machine guns were banned for the general public. Yet, none of these machine guns are as lethal as an AR-15.

With the 1934 Gun Control Act, it took less than a decade to get gangster use of “sub-machine guns” under control — the primary reason being that abuse of a machine gun became a federal 0ffense. That meant murder went from a state-level offense to a federal crime. It didn’t take long for gangsters to figure out that having a fully automatic weapon was a magnet for law enforcement authorities.

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What goes around comes around. A new menace to the public has been developed and refined. Though we can all agree that relatively few of these weapons are used in crimes, the fact is that even this use is too much for a civilized, freedom-loving society to tolerate.

Clearly, it is not at all necessary to ban all guns — or even to ban all semi-auto variants of assault weapons. The time for federal regulation and registration of all semi-automatic, detachable-magazine weapons has become necessary — and production should cease. This is not a violation of the Second Amendment. There is no confiscation.

Of course, there can be rational exceptions. No one will be going after firearms that are exclusively hunting weapons for moderate- to large-size game. No one will be going after .22-caliber rifles — even the few with detachable magazines.

We can get together on this, though we must set aside this entrenched unproductive bickering of both sides that has turned into hysteria. We must grow up and think about what is best for this country and all its people while not abusing our interpretation of the Second Amendment.

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The solution will not be immediate, but it will be certain. Unbalanced people will suddenly find themselves without an easy source of these far-too-deadly weapons — while sportspersons, enthusiasts and collectors will still have them readily accessible. It is not them committing these heinous crimes. Disagree with me? That is fine — but let’s discuss this problem rationally and with good will.

Sumrall is a retired attorney in Buda.

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