The shootings at a Sikh temple in Oak Creek, Wis., on Sunday show us that you don't need an assault rifle to commit mass murder in America, or to pour fuel on the fire of our national debate about guns.
Within hours of the shootings — in which seven people died, including the shooter — the national conference of mayors called on lawmakers to tighten gun laws. This was before the mayors even knew what kind of gun was used.
"While we don't yet have information about the shooter's motives, the weapons used, or how he obtained them, we do know that once again guns have been used in a mass killing of innocent people," Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter, the President of the conference, said in a statement.
As it turns out, Wade Michael Page — a "frustrated neo-Nazi" and former leader of a white-supremacist heavy metal band — used a legally purchased 9 mm handgun to perform his mayhem, according to the Associated Press. No assault rifles, high-capacity ammunition magazines, bullets purchased over the Internet or other exotic weaponry as was the case in last month's mass shooting in a Colorado movie theater.
Just a plain old pistol.
But, as Mayor Nutter pointed out, the long-overdue discussion about guns shouldn't depend upon what kind of gun is used.
"The U.S. Conference of Mayors repeats its call for reasonable changes in our gun laws and regulations that could help to prevent senseless tragedies such as the one that has shocked Oak Creek and the nation."
I don't think we can get to a point where Americans don't have access to handguns, but I do believe there's plenty of room for "reasonable changes" in our gun laws that fall well short of disarming everyone.
Because no matter what kind of weapon is used by the next mass murderer, two things are clear: America's gun laws are way too lax, and America's politicians are way too timid to do anything about it.
Consider this: In California, state Sen. Leland Yee, D-San Francisco, has introduced legislation that would close a loophole in the state's strict ban against assault-style rifles. SB 249 originally had sought to ban the so-called "bullet button" that facilitates rapid reloading of weapons such as the AR-15. Facing a firestorm of opposition from the gun lobby, Yee has watered down the legislation to ban only specific types of "conversion kits" that give shooters the ability to rapidly reload. Gun-control advocates say the legislation wouldn't have much of an impact because many guns are sold with the bullet button already installed, and still more wouldn't fall under the new rule.
But gun rights advocates are still vehemently opposed to Yee's bill. To them, any new gun legislation is bad legislation.
It's like those who are fighting any move to limit the number of bullets that can be purchased over the Internet. After it was disclosed that Colorado mass-killing suspect James Holmes anonymously bought more than 6,000 rounds of ammunition over the Internet prior to his shooting spree at the Batman movie, legislators in Washington proposed that anyone buying more than 1,000 rounds of ammo online should have to present photo identification and sellers should have to report the transactions.
Sounds reasonable, doesn't it? But don't expect it to go anywhere. Changes in gun laws didn't happen after Virginia Tech, or after Tucson, and they're unlikely to happen now. Politicians who propose gun laws get hammered by gun advocates, who spend money to campaign against them and vilify them in the public square.