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  • Uzoma Obi, Esquire

Semi-Automatic Guns Need More Policing

The Mandalay Bay Las Vegas Shooting is well documented: On September 28, 2017, Stephen Paddock (64 years) checked into the Mandalay Bay Hotel with 10 suitcases containing 23 guns – including at least 10 rifles/semi-automatic weapons (Police would later find another cache of 24 guns stashed in his house, making it a total of 47 guns along with explosives and several thousand rounds of ammunition in Paddock’s Mesquite, Nevada, home). From his room, he punched holes through the window from where he shot and killed 58 people while injuring over 500 and taking his own life making it the deadliest in modern U.S. history.

The obvious question apart from why a person feels the need to stockpile 47 guns in order to exercise his second amendment right to bear arms is aren’t automatic weapons supposed to be illegal in America? Yes and no. Fully automatic weapons – that reload automatically and fire continuously with one trigger pull – have been banned since 1986 but semi-automatic weapons are legal. However, there is a ‘but’.  Semi-automatic rifles can be retrofitted with legal accessories to convert and provide their weapons with fully automatic shooting capabilities thus effectively circumventing the fully auto rifle ban. Perhaps this explains why the most deadly gun shootings in recent memory have rarely ever involved fully automatic weapons but definitely all involved semi-automatic weapons such as:

  1. Las Vegas, NV(Mandalay Bay), 10/1/17 – 58 killed by Stephen Paddock

  2. Orlando, FL (Pulse Nightclub), 6/12/16 – 49 killed by Omar Mateen

  3. Newton, CT (Sandy Hook Elementary School), 12/14/12 – 26 killed by Adam Lanza

  4. Blacksburg, VA (Virginia Tech Univ), 4/16/07 – 32 killed by Seung-Hui Cho (student)


There are many more examples. Details are developing but we know that Mr. Paddock had 10 semi-automatic rifles in his hotel room and at least one of them had been modified with a legal “bump stock” style device that allows the shooter to rapidly fire off rounds without actually converting it to a fully automatic weapon. Apparently, all weapons were purchased after all necessary background checks and procedures were followed, as required by local, state, and federal law and he did not otherwise give any indication or reason to believe he was unstable or unfit at any time. Simply put, Mr. Paddock complied with applicable laws and we still ended up with 58 dead. Even his own brother was in shock adding that Mr. Paddock was a law wealthy abiding citizen who didn’t even have a parking ticket. His profile does not fit the script compared to previous mass shooting murderers. Surely this couldn’t have been the intended outcome of the 2nd amendment of the US Constitution when it was originally signed in 1787?

According to the 2nd amendment, “A well-regulated militia [is] necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.” This has been and continues to be a very contentious matter that has put gun control and gun rights groups against each other for decades but the cut and dry of it is the 2nd amendment was drafted by James Madison as part of the 10 amendment bill of rights partly to serve as a check and balance to discourage the then-nascent federal government from switching to a British style dictatorship that would oppress its citizens. Therefore it gave the people the right to set up militias to defend democracy to prevent the onset of a tyrannical government. The 2nd amendment was influenced by the English Bill of Rights of 1689 that was established following an uprising of Protestants in England that overthrew King James II which made James the last English monarch with absolute power while birthing a new English parliamentary democracy that sustains till today.

As it applied to America over 230 years ago, the main threat then was ironical, colonial grip by the British. America had fought and earned independence from Great Britain following the American Revolutionary War. During that period, there wasn’t much of a police force to protect civilians from crime and the threat of invasion from foreign powers was a real concern. Therefore, there were valid needs for self-defense/community policing, checkmate the possibility of a tyrannical President and also to provide added support to the military to fight off invaders. However, today we are living in super civilized and modernized world. We have a capable police force. They are not perfect but said imperfection is not something that will be solved by a militia or people taking up arms. America’s democracy is one of the strongest in the world – over 200 years strong. Again, it is not perfect but backed by a tried and tested three-tier separation of powers enshrined in the constitution, said democracy has been adequately insured against the onset of a tyrannical ruler. Also, notwithstanding that there are external threats from countries like North Korea, Iran, and Russia to mention a few, I’m not sure about how much support a militia will provide the US Armed Forces in defending the country during this period from air, land, and water missile and super nuclear weapon threats.

Gun rights advocates rebut by arguing that crime is less in lax gun control states than states that have the tightest gun control; guns are used for defense of self and community policing efforts; that the those who carry guns do not necessarily commit more crimes than those who do not and that a person will more likely perish from an automobile accident or other personal injuries than from murder by a gun. Basically, gun control advocates assert that the small sample of gun violence victims is so minuscule relative to the population at large that it does not justify any restriction on their 2nd amendment right to keep and bear arms.

The begging question is what gives? Is the 2nd amendment right to keep and bear arms relevant today? Yes. Is this right unrestricted? No. We know that given fully automatic guns are banned. Therefore, the 2nd amendment right should be weighed against citizens’ inalienable and natural rights to ‘life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness’ that is also protected by the same US Constitution. The original intent of the 2nd amendment was to protect ourselves from internal and external threats and not kill each other. There should be some restriction in line with the fully automatic machine guns are already regulated and restricted. In light of these senseless shootings, Congress can and should do more. I wonder what James Madison would say today had he been opportune to speak with the families of the victims of the Mandalay Bay, Sandy Hook, Columbine and Virginia Tech University shootings to mention a few. In light of the pros and cons, a restriction on the process of purchasing semi-automatic rifles similar to fully automatic machine guns should be considered. This wouldn’t end shooting crimes or deaths but a reduction of lives lost is certainly worth the try while recognizing the rights to keep and bear arms – non-auto or non semi-auto handguns and rifles. A middle ground compromise seems like the sensible option to pursue. May the souls of the victims rest in peace.

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