A historic year for mass shootings across the country wasn’t enough to convince conservatives that it’s time to implement some restrictions on assault rifles.
On Wednesday, Senate Republicans blocked an assault weapons ban along with universal background checks for a class of weapon designed solely for the slaughter of people. They wouldn’t even let the legislation come up for a vote.
Congress’s blatant dismissal of potential gun reforms flies in the face of what a majority of not just Americans but even gun owners say they want—more than eight in 10 gun owners support universal background checks for all gun sales, according to an Ipsos poll, while 92 percent of Americans support the same, according to a 2022 Gallup poll.
“This just feels like a test of democracy. It really does. Like, how does democracy survive if 90 percent of Americans, 90 percent of Republicans, 90 percent of Democrats want something, and we can’t deliver it?,” Connecticut Senator Chris Murphy asked prior to a request for unanimous consent to pass the background checks bill.
The bill, originally sponsored by the late Senator Dianne Feinstein, would have made it illegal to produce, transfer or own military-style assault weapons and high-capacity magazines. Rifles and guns with military features, like pistol grips, forward grips, folding, telescoping or detachable stocks, grenade launchers, barrel shrouds, or threaded barrels would have been outlawed.
But Republicans ignored even those modest attempts at gun control—blocking the request for unanimous consent to pass the bill.
“Americans have a constitutional right to own a firearm. Every day, people across Wyoming responsibly use their Second Amendment rights to keep and bear arms,” Senator John Barrasso argued. “Democrats are demanding that the American people give up their liberty.”
Ten states in the nation—including Washington State, Illinois, Delaware, California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, as well as Washington, D.C.—already effectively have assault weapons bans, though their efforts are curtailed by the weaker regulations of surrounding states.
This past weekend, the U.S.—which is the only country in the world plagued by large-scale gun violence—hit a new record for the amount of mass shootings suffered in a single year. After a pair of weekend attacks and back-to-back shootings in Texas and Washington State on Tuesday, the U.S. has tallied up 38 mass shootings in which four or more people have been killed, and 630 mass shootings in which four or more victims were shot—almost two per day, according to the Gun Violence Archive.
That’s higher than the number of mass shootings in any other year since 2006, two years after Democrats allowed the 1994 assault weapons ban, which didn’t give gun manufacturers any incentive to stop producing the gun, to lapse.
AR-15s are nothing short of civilian-killing machines. As The New Republic’s Colin Dickey noted in his review of American Gun: The True Story of the AR-15, Eugene Stoner’s 1954 invention “exists to extinguish human lives.”
Its popularity within the contemporary American canon comes from an early failure to land its place in the military arsenal that it was designed for, kneecapped by Army bureaucracy that frowned upon a weapon developed out of house.
The gun’s subsequent infiltration of the public sphere has made the AR-15 the bestselling rifle in America. Roughly a third of Americans are estimated to own a gun, according to a 2022 Ipsos poll, while one in 20 U.S. adults are expected to own an AR-15, according to a Washington Post/Ipsos survey that same year.
Further still, the modular rifle has become ingrained in the American consciousness by way of mass casualty events, favored by killers who are looking to do as much damage to the human body as possible.
At least 10 of the 17 deadliest mass shootings in U.S. history saw a gunman wield an AR-15 style rifle, reported the Post.
Despite Republican attempts to wash Democratic efforts to curtail the weapon’s availability as an infringement on the lifestyles of blue-collar countrymen, invoking images of farmers and backwoods hunters, the vast majority of AR-15 owners are actually nonrural, with 48 percent living in suburban sprawl and 24 percent living in cities. Additionally, AR-15 owners tend to be some of the wealthier among us, with 56 percent having annual incomes in excess of $100,000, according to the WaPo/Ipsos survey.