A decade after the ban expired, gun control groups say that focusing on other policies will save more American lives
The morning after the Sandy Hook shootings, Shannon Watts, a mother of five and a former public relations executive, started a Facebook page called "One Million Moms for Gun Control." It proved wildly popular and members quickly focused on renewing the federal ban on military style assault weapons.
"We all were outraged about the fact that this man could use an AR-15, which seemed like a military grade weapon, and go into an elementary school and wipe out 26 human beings in less than five minutes," Watts said.
Nearly two years later, Watts works full-time as the head of the group, now named Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, is a significant player in a coalition financed by former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg. But while polls suggest a majority of Americans still support an assault weapons ban, it is no longer one of Watts' top priorities.
"We've very much changed our strategy to focus on public safety measures that will save the most lives," she told ProPublica.
It's not just that the ban proved to be what Watts calls a "nonstarter" politically, gaining fewer votes in the Senate post-Sandy Hook than background check legislation. It was also that as Watts spoke to experts and learned more about gun violence in the United States, she realized that pushing for a ban isn't the best way to prevent gun deaths.
A 2004 Justice Department-funded evaluation found no clear evidence that the decade-long ban saved any lives. The guns categorized as "assault weapons" had only been used in about 2 percent of gun crimes before the ban. "Should it be renewed," the report concluded, "the ban's effects on gun violence are likely to be small at best and perhaps too small for reliable measurement."
With more information, Watts decided that focusing on access to guns, not types of guns, was a smarter approach. She came to the same conclusion that other gun control groups had reached even before the Sandy Hook shootings: "Ultimately," she said, "what's going to save the most lives are background checks."
While many gun control groups still officially support the assault weapons ban — "we haven't abandoned the issue," as Watts said — they're no longer actively fighting for it.
"There's certainly a lot of public sentiment around high capacity magazines and assault weapons," Dan Gross, the president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, said in an interview this summer. "It's easy to understand why people feel so passionate about it."
But, he said, "when you look at this issue in terms of the greatest opportunity to keep guns out of the hands of dangerous people and prevent gun violence, background checks are a bigger opportunity to do that."
Bloomberg's umbrella group, Everytown for Gun Safety, has also deemphasized an assault weapons ban. A 10-question survey the group gave to federal candidates to measure their stances on gun policy did not even ask about a ban.
"We acknowledge that assault weapons put the 'mass' in mass shootings," Erika Soto Lamb, the group's communications director, said. But "we feel like it's a more productive use of our time, effort, money, voices, and votes [to focus] on the policies that are going to save the most lives."
The most common criticism of the weapons ban – which was signed into law Sept. 13, 1994 -- was that it focused too much on the cosmetic "military-style" features of guns, like pistol grips or folding rifle stocks, which made it easy for manufacturers to turn banned guns into legal guns by tweaking a few features. During the ban, some manufacturers added "PCR" to the name of these redesigned guns, for " politically correct rifle."
But the more profound criticism of the ban is that "assault weapons," a politically charged and imprecise term, have never been the weapons that contribute the most to American gun violence. Gun rights groups have pointed out for years that the campaign against assault weapons ignores the data. (The National Rifle Association did not respond to our requests for comment.)
While assault weapons do appear to be used more frequently in mass shootings, like the ones in Newtown and Aurora, Colorado, such shootings are themselves rare events that are only responsible for a tiny fraction of gun homicides each year. The category of guns that are used in the majority of gun murders are handguns.
Despite this data — and perhaps because many Americans do not have an accurate understanding of gun violence statistics — an assault weapons ban has continued to have broad public and political support.
In January 2014, a Rassmussen poll found that 59 percent of likely voters still favored an assault weapons ban, even after the measure failed in the Senate in April 2013, along with the rest of the White House's push for tougher gun laws.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., the author of the original ban, has repeatedly re-introduced it, most recently in 2013, after the Sandy Hook shootings. Obama made the policy part of his post-Sandy Hook platform for gun violence prevention, though the White House's central focus was on passing universal background checks.
Experts say that a smarter way to approach the assault weapons ban might be to focus on the ammunition, not the design of the guns themselves. The 1994 gun ban included a ban on magazines with more than 10 rounds of ammunition. Unlike "assault weapons," high-capacity magazines were used in as much as 26 percent of gun crimes before the ban. Limiting magazines to a smaller number of rounds might mean shooters,
particularly in mass shooting situations, could not hit as many victims as quickly.
But even this focus on banning high-capacity magazines, rather than guns, suffers from a lack of data. "It is not clear how often the outcomes of gun attacks depend on the ability of offenders to fire more than 10 shots (the current magazine capacity limit) without reloading," the 2004 evaluation concluded.
There is some evidence that the ban was preventing violence outside the U.S.: Mexican politicians have long blamed the end of the assault weapons ban for contributing to drug-related violence in Mexico. In a 2013 study, three American academics found that the end of the ban brought about "at least 238 additional deaths annually" in areas of Mexico near the U.S. border.
Meanwhile, as gun control groups have moved their focus away from gun bans, Americans are buying fewer assault weapons than they did when a ban seemed imminent, Bloomberg News reported last month.
Nifty is headed for further short-term decline
In Tuesday’s closing report, we had mentioned that if the NSE's CNX Nifty heads below 8,130, we would see a deeper short-term decline. On Wednesday, for the major part of the session the NSE's 50-share index traded below this level. The benchmark closed in the negative for the second consecutive session after trading in a narrow range. In line with most of the other Asian indices the Indian benchmark also moved lower on concern that China's growth is slowing and speculation that US interest rates will rise sooner than estimated.
S&P BSE Sensex opened at 27,231 while CNX Nifty opened at 8,136. The Sensex moved in the range of 27,018 and 27,251 and closed at 27,057 (down 208 points or 0.76%). Nifty moved between 8,082 and 8,136 and closed at 8,094 (down 59 points or 0.72%).
The NSE recorded a volume of 98.98 crore shares. India VIX rose 1.35% to close at 12.9300.
Except for Media (2.23%), Realty (0.71%) and Smallcap (0.34%) all the other indices on the NSE closed in the negative. The top five losers were FMCG (1.56%), CPSE (1.28%), IT (1.15%), Energy (1.10%) and Nifty Junior (0.99%).
Of the 50 stocks on the Nifty, 17 ended in the green. The top five gainers were IDFC (2.57%), ICICI Bank (2.02%), Sesa Sterlite (1.88%), Power Grid (1.83%) and DLF (1.64%). The top five losers were Cairn (2.53%), BPCL (2.30%), Hero MotoCorp (2.24%), Coal India (2.10%) and ITC (1.95%).
Of the 1,620 companies on the NSE, 886 companies closed in the green, 686 companies closed in the red while 48 companies closed flat.
Finance Minister Arun Jaitley will miss a meeting of finance ministers from the Group of 20 nations in Australia next week, as he is still in hospital undergoing treatment to manage a diabetic condition.
Trade Minister Nirmala Sitharaman said the government is not considering an immediate gold import duty cut despite the current account deficit coming down. The government had raised the import duty on gold in 2013 to 10%.
Among other news, Sitharaman said India will ask China to set up manufacturing units for exports as it seeks to restore economic momentum and create jobs. The government is also mulling dual usage of SEZ land to help developers earn faster returns. A decision on modification of MAT and dividend distribution tax is on the cards to encourage SEZs, said Sitharaman.
Sesa Sterlite (1.62%) was the top gainer in the Sensex 30 pack. Bombay High Court has put on hold the eviction order issued by Ratnagiri District Court in August last year asking it to vacate 500 acres of land allocated to it for a copper smelting plant in Ratnagiri. In 1993 the company had received a letter from the district collector directing it to suspend construction work because of the local agitation.
ITC (1.85%) was among the top two losers in the Sensex 30 stock. There are reports that government is considering a proposal to ban the sale of loose cigarettes. This will affect major portion of the retail sales. Other suggestions by an expert panel include raising the age limit for consumption and increasing the fine for smoking in public spaces to Rs20,000 from Rs200, apart from making this a cognizable offence.
Suzlon Energy (9.93%) was the top gainer in ‘A’ group on the BSE. It recently informed that it has approved the allotment of 27,03,85,303 equity shares of Rs2 each on conversion of 69,409 bonds worth USD 69,409,000, at a conversion price of Rs15.46 per equity share.
Godrej Consumer (5.06%) was the top loser in the ‘A’ group on the BSE. The stock fell today after hitting its 52-week high on Tuesday.
Except for Nikkei 225 (0.25%) all the other trading Asian indices closed in the red. Hang Seng (1.93%) was the top loser. South Korean stock market will reopen on Thursday after a three-day break for the Harvest Moon festival.
China's money-supply growth in August eased to the slowest pace in five months. M2, the government's broadest measure, rose 12.8% in August from a year earlier, lower than 13.5% rise in July.
European indices were showing mixed performance while US Futures were trading marginally lower.
Representatives of 28 European Union governments will meet in Brussels today to discuss tougher economic sanctions on Russia for its involvement in the Ukraine crisis.
The land is situated next to 'elite' Poona Club Golf Course. The government will appoint an administrator and begin sending children to other homes
The trustees and the director of the Save Our Soul (SOS) Children’s Village (SOS Balgram) in Pune have yet to receive any official directive of its closure from the Maharashtra government. However, when former children of the orphanage, invoked Right to Information (RTI) Act and procured a recently written letter by a section officer of women and welfare department, they were in a rude shock. The letter directs Commissioner Rajendra Chavan to begin proceedings to close Pune's SOS Balgram, which houses over 160 children of various ages between 5 and 18 years, shift them to other remand homes, and most curiously, explore the possibility of reclaiming the land back to the department.
In a letter issued on 22nd August, which was procured under RTI, a few days back, the signatory who is not even the chief of the department, has ordered the Commissioner, Women and Child Welfare department to appoint an administrator and that, under no condition, should the custody of children be given to the present trustees of SOS Balgram.
The SOS Balgram controversy, which was at its peak in latter half of 2013, was because of the state government’s unusual stance of closing the unique orphanage, which runs in a family-like fashion, with 'mothers' staying with 9 or 10 children in each of the cottages, spread over nine acres. The elite Poona Club Golf Course shares a common boundary wall with this orphanage, leading to the suspicion that it was vested interest at the highest level that is interested in usurping the prime land. Moneylife had run a series of articles on this issue. The reason given by the minister of women and child welfare, Varsha Gaikwad were two incidents, one of molestation and another of a death of a nine-year-old orphan that merited closure of the orphanage. However, the trustees had asked for one more chance while contesting the incidents, as the SOS Balgram maintained an impeccable record for the last 36 years of its existence.
After a hunger strike and a sustained campaign by the former students of the SOS Balgram and media outrage, which included a series of articles in Moneylife, there had been a lull for eight months, with the trustees being allowed to run the orphanage, with assurances that the children would not be moved out.
However, suddenly tables seem to have turned. Deputy Commissioner of women and child welfare department, Rahul More admitted that, “the state government has asked us to take immediate action on its directives issued in the 22nd August letter, I am on tour and it requires the Commissioner’s approval before the process begins.” He also admitted that the department has been asked to explore the possibility of reclaiming the land.
Very strangely, the 30-year lease of the SOS Balgram land expired in 2006 but according to insiders renewal of the lease was 'deliberately' being postponed, time and again. They were asked to pay the annual rent of Rs8,500 per year, directly to the revenue department. Since the last two years, at least eight reminders have been sent to the revenue department for renewal of lease, but there have been no replies to the letters, says a reliable source. Now, in an official letter, the women and child welfare department has been asked to reclaim land, at the earliest.
Very clearly, this move is suspicious. Ashok Ghadge, director of SOS Balgram, says, “I am surprised at the hasty move to close the Balgram. We have already spent near to half a crore on the children after the commissioner in February and August revoked the order to move the children out. The women and child welfare department has already ordered the child committee to begin the process of sending children to other homes. No reasoning has been given as to why they have taken this action suddenly. They have not asked for any report of the performance in the last eight months. This letter belies any logic and reasoning and legal standing.’’
The Bombay High Court too had directed the women and welfare department to look into the issue, which had encouraged the trustees and administration to believe that the license would be revoked. Thereafter, Gaikwad had called for a meeting and it seemed the story would amiably end. (Read: Pune's SOS Balgram to be given a second chance?)
Ghadge has issued a letter to women and child welfare ministry, requesting that the SOS Balgram authorities be given an opportunity to put forward their side of the issue and give an explanation for this knee jerk action.’’ However, it seems, this time, the state government is firm on driving out a social home for the sake of alleged high society needs.
(Vinita Deshmukh is consulting editor of Moneylife, an RTI activist and convener of the Pune Metro Jagruti Abhiyaan. She is the recipient of prestigious awards like the Statesman Award for Rural Reporting which she won twice in 1998 and 2005 and the Chameli Devi Jain award for outstanding media person for her investigation series on Dow Chemicals. She co-authored the book “To The Last Bullet - The Inspiring Story of A Braveheart - Ashok Kamte” with Vinita Kamte and is the author of “The Mighty Fall”.)