Chris W. Cox, the executive director for the National Rifle Association Institute for Legislative Action, in a guest editorial in USA Today, claims that an assault rifle ban will not “prevent” terrorist attacks. “The gun ban in Brussels didn’t prevent terrorist attacks there. And France’s strict gun control didn’t stop two attacks in Paris, committed with fully-automatic rifles and hand grenades.”
Mr. Cox is right. Controlling access to assault rifles will not “prevent” terrorist attacks, but gun control in Europe has proved that it greatly reduces their frequency, and gun control in Australia has almost eliminated shooting deaths.
Terrorism experts agree that the theoretical terrorist threat to Europe is greater than in the US, because there are so many more disaffected young men in Europe. It is estimated that more than 5,000 Europeans have gone to Syria and Iraq to fight and that many of them have returned to Europe where they are highly motivated to carry out domestic terrorism. In contrast, the number of Americans estimated to have gone to the Middle East to fight is estimated at fewer than 200. In Europe, Muslims often feel isolated from society and live in enclaves of poverty. In the US, on the other hand, most Muslims are well integrated into society. However, moving from theory to the real world, we have a much bigger terror problem in the US, because our laws make it easy to kill large numbers of people.
Some people blame the US terrorism on Muslim immigrants, yet we have much fewer Muslim immigrants that Europe has, and American Muslims are much less likely to commit terror. On the other hand, non-Muslims in the US are much more likely to commit terror than their European counterparts, because it is so easy to do so here.
According to FBI estimates, from 1980 through 2005, only six percent of terrorist attacks in the US were carried out by Muslims. Add in the 94 percent of terror attacks perpetuated by non-Muslims, and the number of total terrorist attacks in the United States is very high, with several taking place every year. France may have a mass shooting every few years. The United States often has a mass shooting every few months.
Why does this happen? It happens because we make it very easy to obtain the tools of terrorism in the United States. Almost anyone, including someone on a terrorist watch list, can buy an assault rifle or several of them in our country. In Europe, where acquiring such weapons is illegal, it is much more difficult to carry out a successful terrorist attack. It usually takes a group of people to obtain terrorist weapons, and the more people who are in on the plot, the more likely it is that the plot will be discovered and stopped. In the US, the “lone wolf” can buy a gun in a gun shop and use it to kill scores of people, and these lone wolves are very difficult to detect.
In April, Australia marked the 20th anniversary of a mass shooting that changed Australian attitudes toward gun control. The chance of being killed was 0.54 per 100,000 residents in 1996 and sank to almost 1/4 that figure in 2014 with a murder rate of 0.15 per 100,000 in that year. The United States had a murder rate of 4.5 per 100,000 in 2014, 30 times as high as the murder rate in Australia.
Australia, Western Europe, and every industrialized country other than the United States is living proof that gun control works. Critics of gun control contend that potential murderers will find other weapons to kill such as knives. Terrorist attacks with knives in Israel seldom kill more than two people before the perpetrator is stopped. In the Pulse Nightclub in Orlando, 49 people were killed. It is much easier to stop a person with a knife that it is to stop a person armed with an AR-15 assault rifle. A knife-welding assailant can often be stopped with a well-aimed blow from a club. It takes and entire SWAT team to stop an assailant armed with an AR-15 assault rifle.
Why does Congress not pass sensible gun legislation if the benefits are so obvious? Because people like Mr. Cox and his colleagues at the NRA do not want Congress to take any steps that might make it more difficult for potential terrorists to obtain guns. Any Republican in Congress who expresses an interest in universal background checks, for example, is “primaried” or threatened with defeat in the next primary election by an NRA-selected opponent. Almost any Republican in Congress who so much as hints at a desire to reduce gun deaths is threatened this way, and given the characteristics of the typical Republican primary voter, the threats have teeth.
I charge that Mr. Cox and others in the NRA, by doing everything in their power to support gun deaths in the United States, have the blood of gunshot victims figuratively on their hands. They may not have pulled the trigger, but they have done all they could to make it easier for the murderers to pull it.
I doubt if Mr. Cox and his brethren at the NRA lose much sleep at night worrying about the number of murder victims they have on their collective conscience. They should!