Larry Alan Burns, the federal district judge in San Diego who just last month sentenced Tuscon shooter Jared Lee Loughner to seven consecutive life terms plus 140 years in federal prison, is no darling of the gun control movement.
Burns is a self-described conservative, appointed to the bench by President George W. Bush, and he agrees with the Supreme Court’s decision in District of Columbia vs. Heller, which held that the 2nd Amendment gives Americans the right to own guns for self-defense. He is also a gun owner.
But while sentencing Loughner in November, Burns questioned the need for high-capacity magazines like the one Loughner had in his Glock, and said he regretted how the Federal Assault Weapons Ban was allowed to lapse in 2004. On Thursday, reacting to last week’s mass shooting in Newtown, Conn., Burns publicly called for a new assault weapons ban “with some teeth this time,” in an op-ed published by The Los Angeles Times.
A conservative case for an assault weapons ban:
If we can't draw a sensible line on guns, we may as well call the American experiment in democracy a failure.
Last month, I sentenced Jared Lee Loughner to seven consecutive life terms plus 140 years in federal prison for his shooting rampage in Tucson. That tragedy left six people dead, more than twice that number injured and a community shaken to its core.
Loughner deserved his punishment. But during the sentencing, I also questioned the social utility of high-capacity magazines like the one that fed his Glock. And I lamented the expiration of the federal assault weapons ban in 2004, which prohibited the manufacture and importation of certain particularly deadly guns, as well as magazines that can hold more than 10 rounds of ammunition.
The ban wasn't all that stringent — if you already owned a banned gun or high-capacity magazine you could keep it, and you could sell it to someone else — but at least it was something.
And it says something that half of the nation's deadliest shootings occurred after the ban expired, including the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn. It also says something that it has not even been two years since Loughner's rampage, and already six mass shootings have been deadlier.
I am not a social scientist, and I know that very smart ones are divided on what to do about gun violence. But reasonable, good-faith debates have boundaries, and in the debate about guns, a high-capacity magazine has always seemed to me beyond them.
Bystanders got to Loughner and subdued him only after he emptied one 31-round magazine and was trying to load another. Adam Lanza, the Newtown shooter, chose as his primary weapon a semiautomatic rifle with 30-round magazines. And we don't even bother to call the 100-rounder that James Holmes is accused of emptying in an Aurora, Colo., movie theater a magazine — it is a drum. How is this not an argument for regulating the number of rounds a gun can fire?
I get it. Someone bent on mass murder who has only a 10-round magazine or revolvers at his disposal probably is not going to abandon his plan and instead try to talk his problems out. But we might be able to take the "mass" out of "mass shooting," or at least make the perpetrator's job a bit harder.
To guarantee that there would never be another Tucson or Sandy Hook, we would probably have to make it a capital offense to so much as look at a gun. And that would create serious 2nd Amendment, 8th Amendment and logistical problems.
So what's the alternative? Bring back the assault weapons ban, and bring it back with some teeth this time. Ban the manufacture, importation, sale, transfer and possession of both assault weapons and high-capacity magazines. Don't let people who already have them keep them. Don't let ones that have already been manufactured stay on the market. I don't care whether it's called gun control or a gun ban. I'm for it.
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