In the 1930s, when America became disgusted with mass shootings by criminals using fully automatic weapons like Thompson submachine guns – Tommy guns, the kind that spray multiple bullets with a single pull of the trigger – Congress acted swiftly and decisively.

Approximately 200 pumpkins were donated, carved and left at the site of the Oct.25 mass shooting, Just In Time Recreation in Lewiston. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

It didn’t ban the weapons outright but instead severely restricted their sale, ownership, use and transport. It imposed a $200 tax – about $4,500 in today’s dollars – for the purchase of a machine gun and imposed a heavy fine and jail time of up to 10 years for any thug caught with one that was unregistered.

It was, in everything but the name, a ban. And it was spectacularly effective in reducing gun violence. In the 89 years since the passage of the National Firearms Act of 1934, there have been only four confirmed instances of legally owned machine guns used in crimes where someone was killed. And they’ve never been used in a mass killing. Compare that to the long list of mass shootings in just the past decade that killed dozens of people in which the common denominator was a semi-automatic assault-style weapon – Orlando, Parkland, Sandy Hook, Aurora, Buffalo, Uvalde and now in my home state of Maine.

Politicians and gun rights advocates who offer prayer as the only solution to today’s gun violence, and claim that gun control doesn’t work, have forgotten their history. It worked in the 1930s and it can work today.

Congress took swift action in the 1930s because Tommy Guns were a clear and present danger. They were cheap, light, powerful and easily concealable, the same characteristics that define today’s assault-style weapons. Ultimately, Congress made it illegal to own a machine gun made after 1986, but you can still own an older model (in the 37 states that allow it) providing you submit to a full background check and complete a lengthy application process that can take months to get approval from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. Most people don’t realize that today there are over 600,000 fully automatic machine guns in the hands of private owners, yet they are almost never used in crimes or killings. That’s because regulations ensure they are in the hands of responsible, law-abiding citizens.

The regulations have been upheld by the courts too. In a 1939 challenge to the National Firearms Act that also restricted sawed-off shotguns, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the law did not violate the Second Amendment. The court said there was no evidence that the weapons have “some reasonable relationship to the preservation or efficiency of a well-regulated militia” and thus “we cannot say that the Second Amendment guarantees the right to keep and bear such an instrument.”


The same should apply to semi-automatic assault-style rifles. What Congress did in the 1930s for machine guns it can do for assault weapons today.

Just take the definition of semi-automatic assault weapons used for the 1994 federal assault weapons ban and add them to the National Firearms Act of 1934 that regulates machine guns and sawed-off shotguns. The rule could be applied to new sales of the guns, which perhaps could have prevented many of the mass killings like the recent one in Maine. I would go a step further and give current owners a year to register their assault-style weapons under the act or face severe penalties.

Restricting these assault-style weapons will help send the message that these are not playthings. They are the weapons of choice for mass killers, street gangs, drug czars and terrorists. If you want to join them, you can, just fill out the paperwork and stand on the side of career criminals like John Dillinger, Baby Face Nelson or El Chapo.

Or you can stand with the rest of Americans who are fed up with gun violence and believe that our right to feel safe at the grocery store, at our job, or at a bowling alley is far more important than your “right” to own a needless, senseless deadly weapon.

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