It happened again. A gunman shot dead 19 children and two adults at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas on Tuesday. It is the second mass murder in ten days and the 27th gun attack in US schools this year.

The reaction to the acts of violence is as sadly recurring as the gun violence spiral in the USA. Joe Biden called for stricter gun laws later in the evening. “We have to ask ourselves as a nation when in God’s name are we finally going to do what our gut tells us needs to be done,” Trump said in his speech at the White House. The fact that Biden did not explain in more detail which tightening he envisages is not only due to political calculations. Because many legislative proposals to curb gun violence that are circulating in left-liberal circles are likely to have only a limited effect.

Many Democrats, including Biden, want to ban so-called “assault weapons” – loosely translated as assault rifles. Such a law already existed at the federal level between 1994 and 2004 – the effects are disputed.

According to studies, at least the number of mass murders has reduced marginally. However—and this is the lopsidedness of the gun violence debate—assaults with assault rifles and mass murders account for only a marginal portion of gun violence in the United States. More than half of the 45,222 people who died from guns in the United States committed suicide. “Mass shootings”, according to the FBI definition “one or more people who actively want to kill people in a public place”, cost the lives of about 38 people in 2020. Rifles, including assault rifles, played a role in just under 3 percent of homicides, according to the FBI.

However, the public debate about gun violence often revolves around assault rifles, such as the AR-15, which is common in the US and is the civilian variant of the M16, the US armed forces’ standard rifle. In contrast to the M16, however, the AR-15 is semi-automatic, which means that only one shot is fired with each pull of the trigger. In the case of fully automatic weapons, on the other hand, the entire magazine is emptied with a continuous pull of the trigger. However, privately owned fully automatic weapons have been de facto banned since 1986. Only previously circulated guns are still allowed under strict federal regulatory agency requirements.

If one wanted to focus on a ban on assault rifles, however, the question of definition would remain. In the states that have already banned these weapons, there are different characterizations for assault rifles, which revolve around magazine capacities, grip shapes and rifle stocks, for example. However, weapons like the AR-15 hardly have any properties that do not also apply to handguns or that cannot be adapted to changes in the law through conversions. A new federal ban would first have to develop a complete definition.

A ban on high-capacity magazines is also under discussion and is being called for by Biden. Studies indicate that in mass killings, shooters with smaller magazines statistically killed fewer people. Admittedly, the effect here also only refers to mass murders. In addition, magazines can be changed in a matter of seconds and are now easy to produce yourself using a 3D printer. In this context, the “Cuomo Mag” gained notoriety – named after former New York governor Andrew Cuomo, during whose reign magazines with a capacity of more than 10 bullets were banned in the Empire State in 2013.

Designed by gun activists, the Cuomo-Mag can hold up to 30 bullets, as is common with assault rifles. With the appropriate criminal energy, a ban on magazines with high capacities can already be easily circumvented. In addition, larger magazines can also be used in many commercially available handguns.

So what to do? First of all, it would make sense if the political debate were not limited to the phenomenon of mass murder and assault rifles. A significant part of gun violence takes place in the context of social division, economic disadvantage and ghettoization within major US cities.

In the violent metropolis of Chicago alone, 219 people have died from gun violence this year, most of them in the slums on the South and West Sides. Places where, for example, psychological care facilities have been closed in recent years. Places where, due to a lack of social prospects, black people in particular have hardly any prospects of advancement, places where gang crime and everyday violence characterize life.

A study by the medical journal JAMA last year showed that more than 62 percent of gun homicides involving youth under the age of 24 occurred in counties with elevated poverty rates. If you want to fight gun violence, you have to fight its social causes. However, the willingness of both congress parties to do so is low.