The recent mass shootings at El Paso and Dayton have reignited the debate over what more government can do to prevent such tragedies. Our federal government needs to take action, but I’m disturbed by the renewed call to ban “assault weapons.”

What exactly is an “assault weapon?” In 1994 Congress enacted The Public Safety and Recreational Firearms Use Protection Act or Federal Assault Weapons Ban (AWB). The law defined an “assault weapon,” in the case of rifles, as any semiautomatic with a detachable magazine and two or more of the following: (1) folding stock, (2) pistol grip, (3) bayonet lug, (4) flash suppressor and (5) grenade launcher. The law has since expired.

Also, certain weapons were banned by name including the AR-15, which has a pistol grip, a bayonet lug, a flash suppressor and utilizes detachable magazines. The AR-15’s grip, lug and suppressor are essentially cosmetic features and do nothing to differentiate it from any other semiautomatic rifle or add to its lethality.

Almost all rifles used for hunting these days (which include many AR-15s) are semiautomatic. So, I’m disturbed by the political left’s demand that the AR-15 be again banned today.

Banning bump stocks and large-capacity magazines are definitely in order and probably high-velocity ammunition as well. Also expanded background checks need to be implemented. But the only effective way of keeping weapons out of the hands of potential mass shooters, who by definition are mentally ill, is by Extreme Risk Protection Order Laws (red flag laws) that are supported by the NRA.

Washington already has such a law, as do 16 other states. My only criticism of our Washington law as it presently exists is that the penalty for making a false accusation is only a gross misdemeanor.

When someone secures a protection order based on a false allegation, an innocent person can suffer from significant repercussions that can affect him or her for the rest of their lives. The penalty for making a false allegation under our state’s red flag law should be elevated to a felony punishable by nonsuspendable jail or prison.

But banning ownership of the AR-15 will not do anything to diminish mass shootings because the lunatics will simply acquire other semiautomatic rifles, and banning all semiautomatic weapons is not politically or legally feasible unless we repeal the 2nd Amendment, and that will never happen so long as we remain a free people.

Charles Phillips

Walla Walla