Why shouldn't Americans own semi-automatic firearms?

Gun laws in the USA: who can do what and where?

Gun freaks fervently defend their right to own and use guns in the United States. It is above all white men without a university degree who live in the countryside who see their weapons as a symbol of freedom and self-determination. The law for this is anchored in the 2nd Amendment of the American Constitution, but linguistically it stands on shaky feet: "Since a well-ordered militia is necessary for the security of a free state, the right of the people to own and carry weapons must not be impaired become." For many Americans, however, this is a highly controversial phrase. Is the law tied to a militia? Or is it a basic right?

More guns, more deaths

Since guns are considered good law in many places in the USA, there are now 101 guns for every 100 inhabitants. With more guns than people, the US is the lonely leader in the world. For comparison: Germany ranks 15th with 32 guns per 100 inhabitants - an estimated 25 million in total - and the international statistics are clear: More guns lead to more deaths with gunshot wounds. As a result, over 30,000 people die annually in the United States. There are even more mass shootings a year than days.

One might suspect that these tragedies have a deterrent effect, trigger a rethink. In fact, however, after massacres that are very well known in the media, the purchase of weapons is even becoming more popular. To us Europeans, this form of need for security often seems paradoxical. However, many Americans - including US President Donald Trump - follow a simple creed: "The only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is with a good guy with a gun". A spiral of violence emerges.

The spectrum of laws is wide

Weapons opponents want to stop this death spiral and through stricter laws. Gun enthusiasts, on the other hand, are of the opinion that criminals won't obey these rules anyway. The debate is deadlocked. But how strict are the laws in the USA anyway?

It all depends on where in the US you live. Because the laws differ enormously between the individual states. On one side is Nevada, known for its lax regulations. Anyone who is 18 years old can buy a weapon there without a license, registration or waiting time, even at flea markets or on the Internet. Guns can be carried openly and brought almost anywhere - also to the bar, church or hospital. Guns are only prohibited in kindergartens, schools, universities and in the security area of ​​airports.

On the other hand, California has the strictest laws. Buyers must be at least 21 years old, register, complete safety training and wait ten days. The remaining 48 states are somewhere between California and Nevada, but with a clear twist to the latter. In 38 states, for example, no license or permit is required for a handgun and only six states forbid it to be carried openly.

Between single shot and continuous fire

The faster a weapon can fire, the more dangerous and deadly it is. US law therefore makes a national distinction between fully automatic machine guns and semi-automatic weapons. The former are strictly regulated across the United States, but not completely banned. Owners just need to register and pay taxes. There is a loophole, however. With rapid-fire pistons or "bump stocks", the rate of fire can be greatly increased and a semi-automatic can quickly be converted into a machine gun. The Las Vegas gunman had twelve of his rifles converted this way in 2017.

Semi-automatic weapons, the trigger of which must be pressed for each shot, are in turn divided according to length into short-barreled pistols and long-barreled rifles. Amazingly, like the AR-15, which is very popular in the USA, the rifles are much less restrictive. The "favorite rifle of the Americans" also became known because many people who ran amok wore it. Compared to pistols, their purchase and possession must be registered in fewer states, they can also be carried around openly in more states.

"Bump Stock": This is how the device works (Source: CBS)

It depends on the background

But what do opponents of arms propose now? In fact, most of them don't want to ban weapons at all, they just want to better control who can buy them. To do this, they demand a universal check of a buyer, so-called "background checks". It's amazing who is allowed to buy guns in the United States. While convicted violent criminals have no access, people with serious mental illnesses or those on the terror warning list can very well go shopping in the gun shop. In 38 out of 50 countries this does not matter anyway. At gun shows, anyone can buy a gun there without being checked. No registration, no control - ratchet to go.

In surveys, more than 90 percent of Americans are in favor of universal background checks. So why aren't new laws going into effect? The problem is a strong front made up of Republican politicians and the National Rifle Association (NRA), the US's powerful arms lobby.

Under the motto "If all problems cannot be solved, nothing helps", Conservative Republicans - and some Democrats - oppose any restrictions on gun laws. In doing so, they benefit from ample campaign donations from the NRA. Their recipe: even more weapons. For example, President Donald Trump recently proposed arming teachers to prevent further school massacres. Despite all the protests - currently by affected students - a change in the current legal situation does not seem to be in sight.