Is there some middle ground, perhaps? Maybe making the sale of automatic weapons to civilians illegal (or at least a whole hell of a lot harder)? Yes, it would be impossible to stop all criminals from getting these weapons if they had their minds set to it, but maybe we could at least slow down those crazed individuals on a mission to kill and destroy a little, maybe enough that someone notices that they are acting erratically and can intervene. Is it really necessary for private citizens to even own automatic weapons? This is what really frightens me.
Pretty much everywhere
bans the sale and private ownership of automatic weapons (and the shooter in Aurora did not have one). Semi-auto is an entirely different matter, and banning semi-automatic guns would also end up banning many legitimate hunting weapons. The term "Assault Rifle" gets thrown around a lot, but this is not synonymous for "automatic weapon", and has more to do with the aesthetic of the rifle than it's capabilities. I hope that clears things up.
The problem with what you're addressing with your "at least it would slow them down and someone might notice" isn't just the "it would be ineffective and people could still get guns", it's that the options that would develop for them to get the guns would be a black market and gun running, which would promote further violence within the gun trade itself (think the drug cartels, only selling guns), while keeping guns out of the hands of people who are using them for legitimate purposes.
Erica, I sincerely appreciate your post. While I love the conversations people like Syphon and elf have, I think sometimes it becomes too much about the numbers and it almost feels heartless the way they approach these things. I know I tend to be the other extreme, where it's largely about feelings/gut reactions/etc. and so I don't try to join these conversations because it's hard to meet in the middle. So thanks for coming in to say something and to let it be *gasp* uncited!
The reason we approach things this way has nothing to do with being heartless, but with realizing that the decisions we make have measurable impacts on the world, and that the way this impact is measured can be quantified numerically. Doing that provides very powerful tools to analyze those impacts and make decisions based on a partial understanding of how things are actually working, rather than simply guessing based on emotion. The issues we care about and the outcomes we want to see are still very much driven by a human (and therefore emotional) view of the world. The difference is in how we approach bringing those outcomes about.
Ultimately, I think our Canadian friends (and other international friends I've talked to) have hit on something important, which is that problems like these are largely cultural rather than legal. As a Libertarian, this is something I agree with (and something Ron Paul, the presidential candidate I support, also agrees with). The laws and policies which I want to see are the ones which will preserve our liberties, allow for a healthy economy where prices communicate information about the way people value things, and allow corrupt people in positions of power to do the least harm. But laws can't make evil people good, or stop them from doing evil things, or protect good people from every bad thing that could go wrong. What we can do is try to change the culture that gives rise to that can't of evil.