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Monday, December 5, 2016

Apparently, there will be no ban on assault weapons.

Never mind that Adam Lanza used a Bushmaster AR-15 assault-type rifle to rip apart the bodies of children at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT. Forget the fact that James E. Holmes, the alleged Aurora, CO, movie theater shooter, fired, among other weapons, an AR-15.

Nor does it seem to make any difference that Jared Loughner — the man who shot Gabby Giffords and killed six others, including a 9-year-old girl — used a high-capacity magazine that the Clinton-era assault-weapons ban rendered illegal. A high-capacity magazine also enabled the massacre committed by Seung-Hui Cho, who killed 32 people at Virginia Tech.

The political climate has changed since the 1994 ban: Democrats have cowered before the gun lobby; the National Rifle Association has grown even more extreme; the U.S. Supreme Court has moved much further to the right. And, in the 20 years since Congress banned assault-type weapons and high-capacity magazines, Americans have heard a steady drumbeat of pro-firearms rhetoric that fetishizes the Second Amendment. In other words, the climate around firearms has gotten crazier.

Even before the current debate over more restrictive gun laws began, most political observers knew it would be difficult to get Congress to stand up to the firearms lobby. So it’s no great surprise that Majority Leader Harry Reid, who runs from the shadow of the National Rifle Association, slammed the door on Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s effort to re-up the assault-weapons ban.

Still, I find myself once again wondering just how bad things have to get before the fever breaks — before the country comes to its senses on firearms. We’re in the throes of a kind of madness, a mass delusion that assigns to firearms the significance of religious totems.

Many critics of an assault-weapons ban note that it would not provide any magical cure-all for the mass shootings that have plagued us over the years since Columbine. That’s certainly true. But banning at least some assault-type weapons and the high-capacity magazines that feed them would be a step in the right direction. Why can’t we take that step?