Professor explains history of regulating technology used in mass murder

Professor explains history of regulating technology used in mass murder

Signs prohibiting the use of guns are posted on doors at Ohio State. Credit: Amal Saeed | Photo Editor

Anarchists used dynamite; gangsters used “tommy” guns; terrorists used planes, trucks and fertilizer.

The United States government responded with legislation and reforms to each of these mass murder cases, Randolph Roth, professor of history who specializes in violence in the U.S., said. 

Dynamite and Thompson submachine guns — or “tommy” guns — were heavily taxed to the point of inviability. Only farmers and chemical engineers are allowed to buy large quantities of fertilizer. Truck rental patterns are watched by the FBI, and air travel security has completely changed since 9/11, Roth said. 

Roth, author of the 2009 book “American Homicide” and a chapter in the upcoming book, “A Right to Bear Arms?: The Contested Role of History in Contemporary Debates on the Second Amendment,” said his research into the history of violence has led him to the conclusion that the U.S. government should respond the same way to the weapons used in mass shootings.

“This is something that we have to decide right now about these weapons,” Roth said. “We have given single individuals the capacity to commit mass murder. Every other way that people use technology to commit mass murder we’ve limited access.”

The distinction between groups and individuals committing mass murder is a matter of technology, he said. Mass murder is not new, he said, but killing multiple people in a matter of seconds is.

“Mass murder has always happened in the United States. Murders motivated by racial, political or religious hatred go all the way back,” Roth said. “But if you wanted to kill a lot of people because they are Catholic or Protestant, because they’re Native American, African American or European American, because they’re Democrats or Republicans, you had to get your neighbors together.”

Despite what some of his critics have said, Roth said he is a defender of the Second Amendment and that the Founding Fathers would not oppose certain gun restrictions.

“As a historian, I know the Founding Fathers well enough that they wouldn’t make the decision for us about what kinds of weaponry we should have out there. They had lots of restrictions on the ownership of firearms,” Roth said.

Roth said he does not want the government to take away people’s guns, but to make changes going forward.

Roth said he particularly likes the concept of dealing with semi-automatic assault-style weapons the same way lawmakers dealt with tommy guns through the 1934 National Firearms Act. By placing a large tax on the weapons, they made it much harder for a would-be attacker to obtain the weapon, and this turned the once-popular gun into a collectors’ item that has almost never been used in a crime since.

Roth also said he supports Gov. Mike DeWine’s recent efforts to introduce “red-flag” laws into the Ohio legislature with his forthcoming “STRONG Ohio” legislation, which will include a tighter background check system and allow judges to order removal of an individual’s firearms based on mental health concerns, among other changes. 

The 17-point plan aims to reduce gun violence and increase mental health treatment in Ohio.

Thomas Filbert, a fourth-year in welding engineering and president of Students for Concealed Carry — a student group at Ohio State that is listed as inactive — disagrees.

“[‘Red-flag] laws’ are a horrible violation of our constitutional rights. All of them. Period,” Filbert said in an email.

Filbert said that these laws would violate rights laid out by the Second, Fourth, Fifth, Sixth and Seventh amendments in the Bill of Rights — rights such as protection from unjust search and seizure, guarantee of due process and the right to bear arms.

He also said that he does not think the government should ban or heavily regulate any firearms.

“The [Second Amendment] is there for the citizens to be able to defend themselves, which includes against a tyrannical government,” Filbert said. “That means the citizens must have access to the same kinds of weapons as the police and military.”

Mitchell Pinsky, a second-year in public leadership, management and policy and president of Students Demand Action at The Ohio State University, said he supports the red-flag laws and assault weapons bans. 

DeWine’s proposal would give individuals whose guns will be confiscated a warning three days in advance, and while the similar Ohio Senate Bill 184 also includes red-flag provisions, SB 184 would not provide a three-day warning. During this period, people could commit a crime, mass-murder or suicide, Pinsky said. 

“I am very supportive of Gov. DeWine’s proposal, but I hope he takes it a step further by supporting SB 184,” Pinsky said. 

Pinsky said he does have reservations about whether DeWine’s proposal will gain traction in the Statehouse. He also said he thinks an assault weapons ban is unlikely at this point.

“Given our current political climate, I think what is most pertinent is to focus on the red-flag laws, passing universal background checks and stopping dangerous gun legislation such as HB 178, which would create permitless concealed carry,” Pinsky said.

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