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The following is a lightly edited transcript of remarks made by John Rosenthal during a Newsweek podcast debate on guns in America. You can listen to the podcast here:
I am a gun owner. I've been the lead advocate for gun violence prevention here in Massachusetts. In 1994, I realized that 19 kids under 20 years old were dying every day, and 106 Americans dying every day, from firearms. So I built a 250-foot billboard of the Massachusetts Turnpike near Fenway Park and put up messages around gun safety. Since that point in Massachusetts, we've reduced gun deaths by 40 percent. We're an urban state with the lowest gun death rate in the nation and the lowest cost of gun violence. We've done it without banning most guns. I believe that there is a way to work within the Second Amendment and save lives without infringing on law-abiding gun owners.
We put in place laws and regulations that require accountability and responsibility on the part of gun owners, gun dealers, gun manufacturers and law enforcement. In Massachusetts, we have renewable gun licensing, we require safe storage and safety training—just like automobiles. We became the first state in the nation to require that gun manufacturers put minimum safety features into their guns like trigger locks and magazine disconnects. We regulate real guns like the National Consumer Product Safety Commission regulates toy guns. We created an opportunity where it's discretionary licensing based on your history. We only ban military-style assault weapons and large-capacity ammunition magazines. Law enforcement are given 13 to 17 rounds in their service weapons, so where's the logic in giving the general public 35- to 100-round magazines? We've proven that gun laws work without banning most guns.
The Second Amendment says "a well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed." Until 2008, with the D.C. v. Heller Supreme Court decision, that meant you have the right to a militia, which is a national guard.
Justice Antonin Scalia wrote for the Heller majority in 2008 that you can't ban guns in common use in the time of the Founders, but he was not talking about military-style assault weapons like the AR-15. I had this conversation with Scalia before that decision, at a dinner. He thought it was rational to regulate military weapons, and that they shouldn't be in the hands of civilians.
There have been 374 mass shootings this year alone. Without an AR-15 and a large-capacity ammunition magazine, you're going to have a very hard time killing a lot of people quickly and out-gunning police. In Las Vegas, 558 people were shot in minutes with an AR-15. You're not going to do that with a handgun and a 10-round clip; you're going to do it with military-style assault weapons.
In Massachusetts, where we ban military-style assault weapons, ban large-capacity ammunition magazines and require criminal background checks for every gun sale—we have had less gun violence. We have reduced suicides, because we've made it harder for people to get guns who have a history of mental health problems. We have more gun violence in America than the other 26 industrialized nations combined. The big difference is easy access to firearms. Every country has mentally ill people. We happen to arm them undetected with high-powered weapons. That's why we have an epidemic of gun violence.
John E. Rosenthal is a gun owner, sport shooter, businessperson and co-founder of Massachusetts-based Stop Handgun Violence.
The views expressed in this article are the writer's own.
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