Solutions to shootings are not that clear
I am responding to Pat Lenhoff's column in which she advocates that we "wake up … and make some changes [to stop shootings, because solutions are] … as clear as the winter sky at night." Unfortunately, the solutions to shooting deaths are far from clear.
Her advocacy of banning "assault weapons" except for military personnel has emotional appeal, but she cites no evidence that it would reduce murders, and I think such an outcome is unlikely.
The distinguishing features of "assault weapons" are largely cosmetic. Studies (including one by the Justice Department) of the 1994-2004 federal assault weapons ban mostly concluded that the ban had little or no effect on the rate of murders using guns.
There is no accepted definition of "assault weapon" but the AR-15 is the most cited example. AR-15s have been banned in Cook County since 1994, and people can judge for themselves whether that has been effective.
It is the most popular rifle in the U.S., and while it looks military-ish, to my knowledge the semi-auto AR-15 has never been issued to U.S. military personnel. It has a relatively small (.223) caliber. AR-15s fire one round with each pull of the trigger, like a revolver.
They are not fully automatic. True military rifles such as the full-auto M16 are nearly impossible for ordinary citizens to obtain legally. The main reasons that an AR-15 is deadly at long distances despite its small caliber is its high-velocity and that the bullet tends to fragment (causing much more damage than, say, a .22 caliber), but higher caliber non-assault rifles are equally deadly.
For the record, I have never owned an AR-15. Unlike Ms. Lenhoff, I know that I don't have the solution to all of the killings; I wish I did.