As we stand in shock at the recent horror unleashed in Aurora, Colo., where, yet again, a single individual legally armed with an arsenal of weapons opened fire on innocent adults and children, we shake our heads. What is it about our country that leads to so many mass shootings? Part of the answer is that we make it easy for shooters — so easy that mass shootings

occur almost monthly, some of the 100,000 shootings that occur in this country each year.

We’ve just grown accustomed to the smaller slaughters, like those in Seattle


Whether we are talking about Aurora this month (12 dead, 58 injured), Geneva County, Alabama (2009; 11 dead, six injured) or Columbine High School (1999;

13 dead, 26 injured), one frequent commonality between many mass shootings is the choice of firearm: semi-automatic assault rifles and now high-capacity magazines that carry dozens of rounds of ammunition.

These weapons are meant for war. Trench warfare in World War I led to the development of a compact firearm that could fire many bullets quickly at short range. Subcompact machine guns, like the “Tommy Gun,” were quickly adopted by U.S. criminals and outlawed in 1934.

The Nazis perfected assault weapons with the “father of all assault rifles,” the STG 44, which gave rise to machine guns like the M-16 or AK-47. Forty years later, the semi-automatic descendants of these weapons, such as the AR-15 assault rifle and UZI assault pistol, were being used by criminals to terrorize American streets.

In response, Congress passed the Federal Assault Weapons Ban in 1994, prohibiting new manufacture of a wide number of assault weapons, with strong support from the International Association of Chiefs of Police, whose officers were being killed by the weapons.

But the gun lobby inserted an expiration date in the ban, and it expired in 2004. Now the weapons of war are back on our streets, and the war is on us.

To kill people

Stopping the spread of ever-more lethal weapons and ever-larger ammunition magazines will take more than a law. It will take determined enforcement and widespread public support for a new ban.

The sole purpose of assault weapons is to kill as many people as possible very quickly. And the weapons get more lethal every year. Since 1934, most assault weapons in the United States have been semi-automatic, firing each time the trigger is pulled. But fully automatic machine guns are available, and converting semi-auto assault rifles to fully automatic is illegal but easily done.

The domestic arms industry is delighted to develop and sell ever-more-deadly weapons. Some are compact enough to be hidden in long coats. Now 100-round magazines are available on the Internet to anyone with a credit card.

By adding accessories, you can make the weapon even deadlier and provide gun manufacturers with even greater profits.

The NRA and its supporters don’t like the term “assault rifle.” Instead, they dub them “sport rifles” and suggest they are important for self-defense or hunting. But neither self-defense nor deer hunting requires a 30-round magazine.

Here’s what one 78-year-old hunter said: “I am a hunter and have been all my life. My family hunts as well. . . . I am not against the gun business. But I don’t see any reason why anybody would want to buy an AK-47 or a Glock with a magazine of 33 or 38 shots. I don’t know what you do with that except kill people... I would propose that we think about something along the line of eliminating those kind of sales in the U.S. But it is going to be a very difficult thing to do.”

Those are the words of legendary baseball coach Dallas Green, whose 9-year-old granddaughter was one of those killed in Tucson in 2011.

On July 25, in a speech to the Urban League of New Orleans, President Obama came out in favor of stricter regulation of assault rifles. “I think we recognize the traditions of gun ownership that passed on from generation to generation,” he said. “But I also believe that a lot of gun owners would agree that AK-47s belong in the hands of soldiers, not in the hands of criminals, that they belong on the battlefield of war, not on the streets of our cities.”

It’s time to stand up to the NRA and protect Americans by removing assault weapons and high-capacity magazines from the marketplace. Let’s get them off our streets and out of our schools and movie theaters. It will not be easy, but we can do it.

Urge your representatives to ban assault weapons and high-capacity magazines. Do it today.

Penny Okamoto is executive director of

Ceasefire Oregon.

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