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Community members attend a vigil in Oregon after a shooting at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg on October 1 left nine dead and nine wounded. (Photo: AP)

Will Any Presidential Candidate Support Banning Handguns?

Bill Scher

 by People's Action Blog

With yet another mass shooting terrorizing the American public, some facts are in order.

* Mass shootings in public places are on the rise in America over the past few years, but they still represent an infinitesimal amount — less than one percent — of the 33,000 deaths (as of 2013) due to guns each year.

* In fact, the overall murder rate is at it’s lowest point since at least 1960. The annual murder rate per 100,000 people peaked at 10.2 in 1980. In 2014, it was at 4.5.

* Most gun deaths, 63 percent, are from suicide, not homicide, let alone mass homicide.

* And unlike the murder rate, the suicide rate is going up, from 10.4 in 2000 to 12.6 in 2013.

* Furthermore, most gun deaths are from handguns and not assault rifles. According to the FBI, 68 percent of homicidal gun deaths in 2014 were from handguns. Only 3 percent were from rifles of any sort.

* A similar percentage of suicides by gun are estimated to involve handguns.

If you want to reduce the number of gun deaths in America, the conclusion is inescapable: ban handguns, along with assault rifles.

Politicians generally avoid proposing handgun bans because the position doesn’t fit into the frame of exempting “responsible gun owners” from new regulations. No one needs an assault rifle to hunt or to protect themselves. But plenty of Americans keep handguns thinking that it will protect them from harm. Politicians are loathe to advocate that the government “take their guns away.”

However, the reality is, as physicist David Robert Grimes put it, “actually owning and using a firearm hugely increases the risk of being shot.”

Of course, this is a political impossibility for the foreseeable future. The current Republican Congress won’t even pass an expansion of background checks, and a previous Republican Congress allowed the Clinton-era assault weapons ban to expire. A handgun ban also could run afoul of the Supreme Court, as it is currently constituted.

But will any presidential candidate be willing to push the envelope, shake up the debate, and put a handgun ban on the table?

It’s unlikely to be Sen. Bernie Sanders. Gun control is pretty much the only area where Sanders, long-time representative of rural hunting state, could be classified as a moderate.

He opposed background checks in 1993, though supported them in 2013. He once supported a law protecting gun manufacturers from lawsuits, but he also voted for the assault weapons ban and supports closing the so-called gun show loophole. His rhetoric on the subject involves a bit of triangulation, “I think that urban America has got to respect what rural America is about, where 99 percent of the people in my state who hunt are law abiding people.”

It’s unlikely to be Hillary Clinton. While she is stressing gun control in her campaign — a rare opportunity for her to get to Bernie’s left — she is a pragmatist at heart. Democrats for years have been careful to avoid sounding like “gun grabbers,” skirting the gun control issue so they can be competitive in states with high gun ownership like Colorado, Iowa and Nevada.

In fact, if Democrats had not pursued this strategy, arguably Barack Obama never would have become president.

For Clinton to push the issue now is shift left from where Obama was rhetorically in 2008 and 2012. But what’s on the table are provisions like “universal background checks, cracking down on illegal gun traffickers, and keeping guns out of the hands of domestic abusers and stalkers.” A handgun ban is not in the cards.

But what about former Gov. Martin O’Malley?

He too is pushing gun control hard, laying out a multi-pronged strategy to reduce gun violence, including universal background checks and a national gun registry. (An O’Malley Super PAC even ran a negative ad against Sanders regarding guns.)

Yet he hasn’t gone as far as banning handguns.

O’Malley, languishing near zero percent in the polls, is a candidate in need of a breakout issue, one that would animate base voters and distinguish himself from the pack.

Merely proposing a handgun ban certainly wouldn’t make it become law anytime soon. But it would refocus the debate on the actual source of most of our senseless gun deaths.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License.

Bill Scher

Bill Scher is a senior writer at Campaign for America's Future. Follow him on Twitter: @billscher

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