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As the House Passes New Gun Legislation, Some Key Terminology Are Defined

The Protecting Our Kids Act was passed by the House on Wednesday, just hours after hearing devastating testimony from gun violence survivors and their families, and two weeks after a shooter killed 19 students and two teachers at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas.

According to CNN, the House bill would raise the minimum age to purchase select semi-automatic guns to 21, reinforce bump stock and “ghost gun” rules, ban high-capacity magazines, and give local governments the authority to initiate high-capacity magazine buyback programmes. The modifications are unlikely to pass the Senate.

The federal proposal comes after a drive for stricter gun laws at the state level. According to CNN, New York just enacted legislation raising the age to purchase a semi-automatic gun to 21 and expanding red flag rules.

Meanwhile, New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy has called for legislation that would expose gun manufacturers to legal lawsuits, and California lawmakers have pushed for stronger gun rules.

What do these limitations imply, and how successful would they be if they were enacted? From Northeastern University’s Jack McDevitt, a professor of criminology and criminal justice practice, here’s a lesson on basic gun phrases.


Any firearm in which the shooter presses the trigger, one bullet is shot, and a fresh bullet is automatically loaded is referred to as a semi-automatic weapon.

While we typically associate the term “semi-automatic” with rifles, which are long guns with grooves in the barrel that aid in accuracy, they can refer to any weapon, including handguns.


Unlike a semi-automatic weapon, an automatic weapon—such as a machine gun—continues to fire without the shooter pulling the trigger. “Once you pull the trigger, it will keep firing as long as the trigger is pulled down,” McDevitt explains. He claims that automatic weapons are illegal in the majority of states.

Bump stocks make a semi-automatic weapon look like an automatic weapon, allowing them to circumvent many states’ automatic weapon bans.

After the Las Vegas shooter used a gun with a bump stock to kill 58 people at a music festival, the term gained popularity. According to McDevitt, bump stocks are illegal in the majority of states.

According to McDevitt, an assault weapon is “generally defined as something that was originally used in the military.”

Assault weapons are semi-automatic (like an AR-15) or automatic, and have “very large bullets that do a lot of damage” (like an AK-47).

This is the type of weapon used in the recent Tulsa hospital shooting. According to McDevitt, the shooter killed two doctors by shooting one through a wall and the other through a wall.

Magazines are spring-loaded bullet canisters that are used to load a variety of firearms. More than ten rounds can be held in high-capacity magazines.


While mass shootings involving assault weapons are more likely to make headlines, McDevitt claims that they are rare and that the majority of gun violence in the United States is committed with handguns.


“The majority of the shootings occur in street encounters between young people, drug deals or gangs, or domestic violence situations,” he says. He also points out that for every homicide in the United States, two people commit suicide.

Handguns include revolvers, which use a revolving chamber to load bullets, and semi-automatic pistols, which use a magazine. The latter is commonly carried by cops.

These 3D-printed guns, or “ghost guns,” as they’re referred to in the House bill, can be printed in parts and assembled, and because they don’t have serial numbers, it’s difficult to track down who owns them, according to McDevitt.

If someone close to a gun owner believes they may pose a threat to themselves or others, “red flag” laws allow them to petition a court to have the gun owner’s weapons taken away.

A family member, local police, or even school personnel could be the concerned citizen.

According to McDevitt, Massachusetts has a red flag law in place, but it isn’t widely used, owing to a lack of awareness.

“We need to get the word out to persuade people that they’re helping someone they care about,” he says.

Background checks are performed on everyone.

Expanding background checks is one of the most effective ways to reduce gun violence, according to McDevitt, and “there is widespread public support.”

While there is a federal law requiring Americans to have a background check before buying a gun, he claims there are “huge loopholes,” such as when buying at a gun show or from another person.

Any federally prohibited person—someone convicted of a felony or domestic violence, or involuntarily committed to a mental hospital—would be denied access to a gun under “universal” background checks, which would close those loopholes.

“There have been cases where someone goes to the store, buys a gun, and then uses it immediately,” McDevitt says.

“The hope would be that the person’s anger would have calmed down and they wouldn’t act impulsively” if a waiting period is imposed between when the gun is purchased and when it can be picked up.

Another impediment to access is the need for a permit. Residents of Massachusetts must be 21 years old or older, submit an application, and complete a gun safety course to obtain a “licence to carry” permit.

Meanwhile, residents as young as 15 can obtain a permit to own a firearm with the permission of their parents.

The Giffords Law Center, which compiles data on gun laws and violence by the state, discovered a link between stricter gun laws and fewer gun-related fatalities.

Mississippi has the highest rate of gun deaths per 100,000 in the country, with an F grade from Giffords, while Hawaii and Massachusetts have the lowest, with A- grades.

This, however, does not address the issue of people crossing state lines to obtain firearms. New Hampshire does not have the same strict laws as Massachusetts.

“What we need to do is make this a national set of rules,” McDevitt says.

However, he doesn’t hold out much hope for the current legislation in Congress, claiming that it has “no” chance of passing.

He claims that after Sandy Hook, most of the country’s gun laws made it easier to get guns and that this time will be no different.

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“This time, I don’t think anything will pass. I sincerely hope that I am mistaken “According to McDevitt, “I don’t think they’ll be able to come to an agreement.”

McDevitt’s dream bill includes a national law that makes it more difficult for violent people to obtain guns while also providing mental health support. A fund to assist victims of gun violence would also be included.

“Unfortunately, there isn’t a magic silver bullet out there that will solve all of our problems,” he concludes.

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