Readers React: History doesn’t support the claim that semiautomatic guns are behind the rise in mass shootings

Handguns, many of them semiautomatic, are displayed on a vendor's table at a gun show in Albany, N.Y., in 2013.
(Philip Kamrass / Associated Press)

To the editor: Benjamin Bahney believes we need to put more restrictions on the sale of semiautomatic guns if we are to reduce the number of mass shootings. Let’s look at a few historical facts.

Several models of powerful, effective semiautomatic pistols were on the market by 1900. Semiautomatic shotguns and high-powered rifles came along a little later.

After World War II, huge numbers of semiautomatic military pistols and rifles came on the surplus market at very low prices and were available by mail order, yet mass shootings were almost unheard of (there was one in 1949 in New Jersey, another at the University of Texas in 1966, and one at a San Ysidro McDonald’s in 1984).

These days, atrocities of this sort have become almost monthly occurrences. I wish I could offer a good explanation for this horrible “fad” — perhaps the perpetrators have a desire for internet notoriety.


Whatever the causes, it doesn’t seem right to blame a technology that has been ensconced in our culture for well over a century.

Jan M. Libourel, Long Beach


To the editor: Gun control and the purchasing of semiautomatic firearms are hot political topics. Bahney has many thoughtful proposals.

With a paradigm shift, perhaps gun control could be thought of as treating an addiction. Social scientists could then develop programs similar to drug and alcohol treatment.

Double-team with the policymakers, and perhaps the continued killings will halt.

Merle Stern, Corona del Mar



To the editor: What kind of a country do we live in that we have to fear for our lives unless we have a gun?

Americans accept the constant violence in this country as normal. Is that because we value our personal “freedom” so much? Or do we just want the freedom to protect ourselves from each other?

No matter how bad it gets in our schools, synagogues or movie theaters, so many U.S. citizens are unwilling to give up their right to bear arms. People will always find a way to kill if they want to badly enough. What we as a society don’t have to do is make it easier for them by giving them easy access to firearms.

Eventually, Americans may see the light and decide to get rid of guns completely. If China, with 1.3 billion people, can prevent private citizens from owning guns, why can’t we? Is it because we have a democracy and China doesn’t?


In Britain, private handgun ownership is prohibited, and it’s difficult to own many other kinds of firearms. Guess what? It’s a democracy.

Benny Wasserman, La Palma

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