Lorain Police Chief Cel Rivera remembers writing an angry letter to then-U.S. Sen. George Voinovich, R-Cleveland, in 2004 after Voinovich voted against renewing the assault weapons ban.
“I remember (writing) him that this is going to result in an increase in fatalities for citizens and for police officers,” Rivera said. “Look how many police officers have been killed with these assault rifles and how many citizens and our kids.”
The ban ran from 1994-2004 and made sales of semiautomatic rifles that fire 11 or more rounds or high-capacity pistol clips illegal.
Since the ban’s expiration, there have been 457 shootings involving semiautomatic rifles, according to the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence. President Barack Obama, who signed laws allowing guns to be carried in national parks and in luggage on Amtrak trains in his first term, has called for renewal of the ban in the wake of the Newtown, Conn., school massacre in which shooter Adam Lanza pumped up to 11 bullets into each of his 26 victims on Dec. 14 with an AR-15-style semiautomatic rifle.
Rivera, who emphasizes he supports the right of law-abiding citizens to keep and carry pistols, said he disagrees with those who say the aftermath of a mass shooting isn’t the time to talk about stricter gun control.
“It’s the only time to talk about it because everybody has a short memory,” he said. “It’s the only time people will listen.”
Rivera believes renewing the ban will make it harder for criminals to get semiautomatic rifles. He said his officers frequently seize them.
Lorain is not alone. Last week, Elyria police seized an AK-47 semiautomatic rifle in a raid on a downtown store where drug dealing was suspected, and Oberlin police seized an AR-15 from a burglary suspect. Last month, Vermilion police seized an SKS semiautomatic rifle — a model similar to an AK-47 — from a suspected burglar.
However, Elyria Police Chief Duane Whitely and Lorain County Prosecutor Dennis Will doubt renewing the ban will have much effect. Whitely favors increasing mental health treatment to prevent mass shootings.
“You take away guns, they’ll use something else,” Whitely said. “I don’t think we’re attacking the right issue.”
Will, a police officer from 1977 to 2002, said a ban may have a place in reducing mass shootings but must be part of a comprehensive strategy.
“I don’t think it’s going to solve our problems,” he said. “If there is a direct casual link between the assault weapons ban and crime, I would be in favor of it.”
Will said he would support universal background checks — 40 percent of all gun sales are done without criminal background checks, according to the National Institute of Justice — if it could be done effectively and inexpensively.
Will said he also supports ballistic fingerprinting in which gun manufacturers would be required to make guns that leave a microscopic imprint on shell casings, making it easier for police to track guns used in crimes. Will said he didn’t have an opinion on limiting guns sales to one per month to reduce straw purchases.
Nearly all congressional Republicans and many Democrats have opposed stricter gun laws and the National Rifle Association is promising to fight any new laws. Rivera said he hopes the Newtown massacre will change minds, but he isn’t optimistic.
“Congressman really have to do what’s best for the country and the people, instead of pandering to these lobbyists,” Rivera said. “I’m just afraid in the end the money and the lobbyists will end up winning. They always do.”
Contact Evan Goodenow at 329-7129 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Editor's note: This story has been modified to reflect the correct number of victims killed at the school by the AR-15-style semiautomatic rifle.