A nation with very few guns, exceedingly tight firearms restrictions and little interest in such weaponry would not experience these atrocities as often as ours does. But in a society with hundreds of millions of guns and huge demand for them, as well as high rates of violent crime of all sorts, the challenge borders on the insurmountable.
The tactics of the alleged killer in this case serve gun control supporters as a roadmap to what should be done. He had an AR-15 "assault weapon," proving we should prohibit these guns. He had a magazine that can hold 100 cartridges, dramatizing the need to restrict magazine capacity. He bought some 6,000 rounds over the Internet, suggesting that the government should outlaw large purchases or monitor anyone who makes them.
All these conclusions sound perfectly plausible. And none of them offers any prospect of averting the next massacre.
Take the danger posed by "assault weapons." It turns out the one recovered in Aurora, Colo., might have been illegal under the federal ban that was in effect from 1994 to 2004. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., calls for reviving that law on the ground that "these are weapons that you are only going to be using to kill a lot of people in close combat."
What she and many others don't realize is that "assault weapons" are functionally indistinguishable from ordinary semi-automatic hunting rifles. They don't fire more rapidly, they don't deliver more lethal rounds, and they don't "spray" bullets. They only look like military arms.
The features that disqualified a gun under the federal ban were ones that didn't affect destructiveness, such as pistol grips and bayonet mounts. If accused killer James Holmes had been prevented from buying this gun, he could have found plenty of others that would have served his purpose just as well.
Almost everyone who buys an AR-15 uses it to hunt small game or perforate targets. The number of customers who obtain guns like this only "to kill a lot of people in close combat" is just slightly above zero -- a market that would be far too small to induce a company to make them.
Holmes reportedly equipped his rifle with a 100-round magazine -- compared to the maximum of 10 allowed under the old federal law. But limiting magazine size would most likely be an exercise in futility.