Steve Chapman

Political trends come and go in response to events. Gun control was the rage during the Clinton administration, but over the past decade or so it became an obsolete cause. After the horrific crimes in Newtown and Aurora, though, it's staging a comeback.

One thing hasn't changed: The agenda includes mostly measures that will have little or no effect on the problems they are supposed to address. They are Potemkin remedies -- presentable fa?ades with empty space behind them.

This is something that supporters as well as opponents labor to conceal. Treating them as serious allows them both to posture for their own advantage.

So on Wednesday, President Barack Obama unveiled a raft of executive actions and proposed changes in federal law intended to prevent both mass shootings and chronic gun violence. A few are innocuous and reasonably promising, like improving databases for background checks and helping "ensure that young people get the mental health treatment they need."

But the most notable ones fall into three categories. In the category of "useless" is the ban on "assault weapons," which has been tried before with no evident effect. The administration is fond of demonizing a style of firearm that the gun industry likes to glamorize.

What they are talking about, though, are ordinary rifles tricked out and blinged up to resemble something else: military arms designed for the battlefield. The "weapons of war" Obama wants to ban do nothing that other legal weapons won't do just as quickly and just as destructively.

Most criminals have no need of them. In 2011, reports The New York Times, 6,220 people were killed with handguns -- compared to 323 by rifles of any kind, including "assault weapons."

In the "probably useless" realm is a ban on ammunition magazines holding more than 10 rounds, which was part of the 1994 assault weapons ban. A mass shooter can overcome the restriction by carrying multiple magazines or multiple guns -- as many of them do anyway. The notion that an attacker can be subdued when he stops to reload works better in movies than in real life, where it is virtually unknown.

Enforcing a limit on magazine size may be harder than you think. Recently a company called Defense Distributed showed it could use a 3D printer to make a plastic 30-round magazine. "The Internet happened since the last assault weapons ban," founder Cody Wilson told Forbes. "This is a fledgling tech, but look at what we're able to do."


Steve Chapman

Steve Chapman is a columnist and editorial writer for the Chicago Tribune.
 

 
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