WASHINGTON, DC - APRIL 05: U.S. President Barack Obama delivers a statement on economy at the James Brady Press Briefing of the White House April 5, 2016 in Washington, DC. President Obama made a statement in response to the Treasury Department announcement on corporate tax inversions that would stop companies from avoid U.S. taxes by moving their tax base overseas. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

How a Recent Conversation With President Obama Sheds Light on Orlando Shooting.

 

Did President Obama allude to the problem?

President Obama earlier in the month had addressed gun shop owner Doug Rhude’s fair question

 “why then do you and Hillary want to control and restrict and limit gun manufacturers, gun owners, and responsible use of guns and ammunition to the rest of us, the good guys, instead of holding the bad guys accountable for their actions?” Rhude asked.

 

Obama’s response profiled the Orlando shooter well,

 

“What I have said is precisely what you suggested, which is, why don’t we treat this like every other thing that we use? I just came from a meeting today in the Situation Room in which I got people who we know have been on ISIL Web sites, living here in the United States, U.S. citizens, and we’re allowed to put them on the no-fly list when it comes to airlines, but because of the National Rifle Association, I cannot prohibit those people from buying a gun.”

 

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President Obama gives listeners a peek behind the curtain with his answer. Meetings are taking place identifying people who are threats to the public safety and nothing can be done to ensure that they are not able to buy weapons.

Any true discussion of gun violence in the United States has to first understand several things, many of which are subject to numerous misconceptions in public discourse.

Are Weapons Obtained Legally?

Sixteen shooters were investigated on if they obtained their weapons legally, Adam Lanza, the shooter of Sandy Hook Elementary, was the only one who did not legally buy the weapons he used in his attack. However, his mother did legally buy those weapons and Adam Lanza was taught how to use them under her supervision. His expertise is an important detail in this case because in the report by Connecticut State’s Attorney’s Stephen J. Sedensky III, police found two empty 30-round magazines duct-taped together in a tactical configuration at the scene, and he conducted drive-by runs and wrote detailed plans based on other shootings. But as findings have reported since then, no laws in place or those that politicians have put forward would have prevented Sandy Hook Elementary’s tragedy.

What are Mass Shootings?

Importantly, the term “mass shooting” isn’t defined. Therefore any news outlet, study, or politician can use the word “mass shooting” as freely as they would like, whether they want describe two people killed by a gunman or one hundred people, they can all be considered mass shootings because of a lack of definition. This makes information on mass shootings highly varied.  This is an even bigger problem when the CDC has banned studies on gun violence despite the White House specifically telling them to study it.

Why has no official definition been created for such an important tragedy? The FBI and Congressional Research Service oddly describe mass killings and “mass shootings” as similar. They describe both as a killing of four or more people with a firearm, not including the killer. The result of this lackluster definition is that the amount of deaths and incidents is highly variable. There could be 29 mass killings and 22 mass shootings or there could be 29 mass shootings and 29 mass killings or 43 mass shootings or 16 mass shootings. None of these numbers can change the fact that more than 155 people have died. This is a problem.

What is an Assault Rifle?

Equally important is the free use of the word “assault rifle”. This phrase does have a specific definition. However, media outlets, politicians, and others do not use the legal definition of an assault rifle while also misidentifying the AR-15 as an assault rifle. It is not an assault rifle and AR stands for ArmaLite Rifle, the developer of the weapon. Interestingly, this poses a similar problem to not having a definition. The constant misuse of the AR-15 as an assault rifle has maybe made the weapon seem more dangerous. Although the AR-15 can be modified to become automatic, as they were in the Aurora and San Bernardino shooting, they cannot be purchased like that. Meanwhile, it is actually legal to purchase a real automatic weapon and machine guns, after proper licensing and background checks.

This word problem is especially evident in passing laws or talking about what weapon is lawful and what is illegal. California passed a ban in 1989 called the Roberti-Roos Assault Weapons Control Act of 1989 and Connecticut did the same in 1994 using the term “assault weapon”. Those laws focused on the guns’ cosmetics when describing an “assault weapon” and not the function. An “assault weapon” in those laws was determined by grips, bayonets, and sights instead of functions like rate of fire. As David Kopel of the Wall Street Journal pointed out

“What some people call ‘assault weapons’ function like every other normal firearm—they fire only one bullet each time the trigger is pressed. Unlike automatics (machine guns), they do not fire continuously as long as the trigger is held. They are ‘semi-automatic’ because they eject the empty shell case and load the next round into the firing chamber.”

Our inability to describe what is and is not an assault weapon and what is and is not an assault rifle is a reflection of the failure to protect anyone who has died as a result of gun violence.

What you can do about America’s Shootings

We can’t do anything to change these past tragedies. The lives that were lost during these shootings will remain lost. What we can do is continue to become educated on weapons and their uses and misuses, we can make informed decisions and go out and cast our vote for our beliefs, we can write our politicians and we can reach out to those who have suffered at the hands of gun violence.

For Orlando you can donate blood, especially O negative, O positive, and AB plasma; Equality Florida has set up a donation page for families and victims that has already raised half a million dollars. Planting Peace has another donation drive for funeral and medical costs and Mayor Buddy Dyer has said there is a hotline for victims and their families (407) 246-4357. Follow this link for a page that is updated with local information

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