Senator Feinstein, Mrs. Brady, and Representative McCarthy amongst others are good hearted and sincere in their beliefs. They are also all victims of gun violence. In the coming debate they deserve to be taken seriously and treated with respect. I let my long term NRA membership lapse last year in part because I tired of the nastiness of its language about these three fellow citizens. But I also am tired of people who have never handled a gun referring to me as a “gun nut with an unhealthy fascination with guns”.
To regulate guns you have to understand them. At times listening to gun control advocates it is as if listening to a debate on nuclear power where one side begins the conversation by discussing the burning of coal in nuclear reactors. My purpose is not to change anyone’s views, but to further an intelligent debate.
None of the guns used in any of the mass shootings are “automatic”. Automatic rifles, submachine guns, or machine guns have all required extensive licensing since 1934. No licensed automatic gun has ever been used in a crime. The licensing regime is appropriately difficult and robust.
An AR-15, which is the model gun used in Aurora and Newtown, is not an assault rifle. Assault rifles were developed at the end of World War II and the years following. An assault rifle has full automatic function, but fires rifle rounds. It essentially replaced the use of submachine guns which fired pistol rounds. The semi-automatic AR-15 was classified as an assault weapon, which is a term with no meaning outside the 1994 crime bill.
Why is this important? Because if you understand the difference between an automatic M-16 and an semi-auto AR-15 you realize that Justice Scalia in Heller was making a subtle point. A fully automatic M-16 can be banned, but perhaps not a semi-auto AR-15. When the New York Times cited this Scalia quote on the M-16 for the proposition that would impact the Newtown shooting, it just demonstrated the editorial board is unfamiliar with the difference between the automatic military weapon and the semi-automatic civilian gun.
The AR-15 is not a military weapon. Ask a veteran if he carried an AR-15 in combat or an automatic M-16 or M-4. It is a very light gun with virtually no kick. It is the best high-powered rifle with which to teach a new shooter. It is also a superb hunting rifle for coyotes, feral pigs, and other varmints. Gun control advocates gain no advantage in their argument by misrepresenting the AR-15.
It is simply false to say as Mayor Bloomberg keeps repeating that no other industrialized country has this problem:
- Norway (77 mostly kids killed and hundreds wounded in 2011 with semi-automatic weapons);
- Germany (16 killed and 11 wounded in school shooting 2009 with a semi-automatic handgun);
- UK (12 killed and 11 wounded in 2010 in Cumbria after the outlawing of handguns in response to the 1996 Dunblane massacre of 17);
- Finland (8 killed and one wounded in 2007 in a school shooting with a semi-automatic handgun);
- plus other examples.
It is extraordinarily damaging to the credibility of Mayor Bloomberg and the Times to cherry pick the facts. It is particularly galling for the paper of record on its editorial page on December 18th to mention Dunblane, the gun laws passed after it, then fail to mention they did nothing to prevent the Cumbria massacre.
Both sides of the argument have extremists, but the average gun owner in my experience is not against gun control measures per se. What they object to is laws that create monetary and other burdens on them that objectively have no effect on gun violence. For example, the background check process is a great idea in theory. But in practice a buyer fills out a form in which he checks boxes declaring he or she is not insane, not a drug addict, not a felon, not an illegal alien, and a variety of other disqualifying conditions.
It is a surreal experience to fill out a form that contemplates a felon or an insane person checking a box to declare they are a felon or insane. The only confirmation of those statements beyond the felony convictions is the actual checking of the box. The instant background check databases simply do not have the data necessary to confirm the facts.
The same effectiveness issue arose in the 1994 Crime Bill that contained the assault weapons ban. The problem with the ban was that it really did not ban the guns it purported to ban. The same gun used in Newtown and Aurora was available for purchase under the assault weapons ban. You just had to buy it without a bayonet lug, a flash suppressor, a collapsable stock, and other non-killing aspects of the gun. The killing semi-automatic action remained unregulated.
And you have to realize to ban semi-automatic actions you will ban most handguns, many rifles, and almost all waterfowling shotguns. A result at the very best that is problematic under Heller.
The magazine ban under discussion is another example. In both the Aurora and Congressman Giffords massacres the shooter had bought aftermarket magazines. They jammed. Without those disruptions the situation would surely have been worse. These aftermarket magazines routinely jam because the guns are not designed to accept them. This is not to argue that magazine limitations are inappropriate, but no one should see a magazine ban as making much of a difference, particularly when millions will remain in circulation.
Gun control advocates have failed in the past because they sound foolish on gun facts or are bamboozled into deals they do not understand will have no effect on gun violence. Getting the facts correct will empower the gun control movement. It will lead to an intelligent conversation and perhaps effective measures to reduce the violence.
John Howard is a dual citizen of the United States and the United Kingdom and comments on public policy at www.jumbotale.com.