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The debate: Gun control, mass shootings -- and fear

By Nina Mehlhaf
Published On: Feb 08 2013 01:11:03 AM CST
Updated On: Feb 08 2013 06:54:17 PM CST

In Pt. 2 of her special report on the gun control debate, NewsChannel. delves into frequency of mass shootings and how a revived assault weapons ban might affect those numbers.

BEND, Ore. -

Mark Waters of Bend is a former competitive shooting sports champion who has been looking at both sides of the gun control debate since it got heated after the Newtown, Connecticut shootings.

He equates these early talks of limiting ammunition magazine sizes and certain gun styles to slowly boiling a frog: If you put a frog in lukewarm water, then slowly turn up the heat, he gets used it -- and before he knows it, he's dead.

"The problem I have with banning high-capacity magazines is that the people on the pro-gun side worry that it's just a gateway drug to confiscation, and there's sensitivity about that," Waters said at his southwest Bend home a few weeks ago.

State Sen. Ginny Burdick of Portland has been vocal about introducing several bills this legislative session to tackle the fiery issue of gun control. In a recent television interview, she commented on limiting magazine capacity.

"If we have a five-shot limit for hunting big game, why on Earth would we want to have 100-round magazines on our streets when the only purpose of these guns is to kill people?" she asked.

While the FBI's Uniform Crime Report (http://www.fbi.gov/about-us/cjis/ucr/crime-in-the-u.s/2011/crime-in-the-u.s.-2011) says the number of gun deaths has steadily gone down for the past five years by 2,000, the number of deaths from mass shootings per year is way up.

A graph from journalism site Mother Jones (http://www.motherjones.com/special-reports/2012/12/guns-in-america-mass-shootings) shows the number of mass casualties per year, for the past 30 years.

There were seven sprees in 2012, with a record number of people killed. The number of people killed did go down between 1994 and 2004, during the federal ban on assault weapons. The exception was 1999, the year the shooting at Columbine High School happened.

A University of Pennsylvania study (http://www.sas.upenn.edu/jerrylee/research/aw_final2004.pdf) found that gun crimes involving assault weapons declined by as much as 72 percent during the ban. But these types of weapons were only used in 2 to 8 percent of crimes committed prior to the ban.

The ban also wouldn't have stopped Adam Lanza, who used a Bushmaster .223 semi-automatic rifle, stolen from his mother, who he also killed.

Two handguns were also found, but police described the AR-15 as his primary weapon. While certain models were prohibited from being sold under the 1994 ban, Lanza's model would have been perfectly legal.

There have been 62 mass shootings in the U.S. in the past 30 years -- and 80 percent of those killers, many of them mentally ill, got their weapons legally.

"Guns aren't psychotropic medication," explains gun advocate Waters. "When you pick up a gun, you aren't plunged into a psychotic, murderous rage. It doesn't work that way. You have murderous rage, and guns are the most convenient thing.

"We (gun owners) get defensive when we're lumped in with individuals like (Aurora, Colo theater killer) James Holmes and Adam Lanza. We're not crazy people."

Waters says the answer should be more rigorous background checks, a required gun knowledge and safety class or passing a test before anyone can purchase a gun.

And with the Oregon Legislature now in session in Salem and Congress back at work in D.C., something like that may be proposed, along with many other ideas. We'll continue to follow what's going on Salem, as it's sure to heat up in coming weeks.

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