One More Discussion About Guns
Before we get this conversation started, I’d like to challenge our commenters, staff writers and editors who participate to stay on topic. My hope is that by getting into the small details of firearms, we might be able to move the needle a bit and not stray into recycled talking points about gun ownership as a whole. So…fingers crossed.
A few of points of order:
- First, I don’t like the term ‘assault rifle’ because it’s an inaccurate catch-all which generally means, “Guns that look scary to people that don’t know a lot about guns.” With that said, it’s term that the media and gun opponents have decided to embrace so I’m going to hold my nose and use it here.
- Second, I think it’s fair to say that most of people who oppose assault rifles don’t really have a good understanding of firearms in general or specifically, what are the features of various types of guns that might make them more deadly. That’s not meant to be an insult, only a statement of fact based on decades of anecdotal experience on my part. So, my biggest hope is that those people will learn just a little bit from this conversation and my fellow gun aficionados will politely assist in educating them.
- Three, gun owners do not get bonus points in this conversation. Just because I own guns and you don’t doesn’t mean that I get to have a louder voice. Facts, presented without bias, are a much better way of supporting one’s position.
I’ll lead off here by stating that handguns are responsible for an overwhelming number of the guns deaths in this country, including those from mass shootings. So, we need to recognize that if we’re going to talk about assault rifles in the context of reducing gun violence, we’re really focusing on the margins of the subject, not the meat of the issue. Still, people want to talk about assault rifles because, in the logic of their opponents, nobody needs an assault rifle. True. Nobody needs the capabilities that assault rifles offer. Given our current speed limits in the United States, nobody needs a sports car either, but to people who like certain types of guns and who like certain types of cars, they both seem pretty cool.
What is an assault rifle? That definition is a bit fluid, but here are some of the most commonly cited characteristics:
- Semi-automatic firearm
- Capable of accepting a detachable magazine
- Folding or telescoping (collapsible) stock, which reduces the overall length of the firearm
- Pistol grip, whether rifle, shotgun, or pistol
- Bayonet lug, which allows the mounting of a bayonet
- Threaded barrel, which can accept devices such as a flash suppressor, Suppressor,compensator or muzzle brake
- Barrel shroud, which prevents burning of shooter’s arm or hand as a safety device.
I’ll just state my opinion for the record; 3-6 are completely irrelevant for what should be obvious reasons. They don’t make guns more deadly and they boil down to arbitrary details someone thought were important What we should be focusing on are 1 and 2 because those are legitimate concerns.
Semi-automatic firearms are guns where you can fire every time you pull the trigger without performing some other action first. These kinds of guns are very common. What are not common, in civilian hands, are fully-automatic weapons.Those are the kinds of guns where you can press the trigger once and the gun will keep shooting until you let go, or the gun is empty. It’s a higher rate of fire (though also harder to control for the inexperienced). Gun owners like to laugh about the ignorance of many people when they confuse these two terms. I’ve been on many message boards over the years where some old gunnery sergeant points to this as evidence why the Left should keep quiet. They also imply, by pointing this out, that semi-automatic firearms are only a little bit more deadly that guns with manual mechanisms (think about a pump shotgun or a bolt-action rifle). That is deliberately misleading.
If you were to come visit me in Louisville and wanted to learn more about guns, I would take you to the Frazier History Museum which contains, arguably, the most comprehensive collection of weapons in the United States. The museum takes great pains to tell the story of the evolution of military weapons, from medieval swords to modern firearms. If you visit, and pay attention, what becomes obvious is that the evolution of military weapons is about finding more efficient ways to kill people. As part of that lesson you might notice that when the U.S. military moved from the M1903 Springfield to M1 Garand between the World Wars, it was seen as an improvement. You might also note that while they shoot the exact same bullet (.30-06) there were two major upgrades. The Springfield is a bolt action rifle while the Garand is semi-auto. The Springfield also holds 5 rounds verses 8 in the Garand. So this also covers characteristic 2 of assault rifles i.e. capacity.
Gun guys will tell you that assault rifles are just like a deer rifle. That is, quite simply, a lie. While the caliber may be equivalent or (usually) less powerful than the average deer rifle, the capacity is far superior and that is what would be mass-murderers are relying on. A shotgun used for hunting is almost always required, by law, to hold no more than 3 rounds. A home defense shotgun marketed for self-defense will have expanded magazines holding 5 or more. It’s almost as though the manufacturer knows that more rounds = more opportunities to kill bad guys. When talking self-defense handguns, gun guys will always ask what the capacity is for the same reasons.
One mistake gun opponents do make is to say that assault rifles are more powerful. This is a bit of a word game, but when we think power we usually think of cartridge size. Assault rifles actually use smaller calibers than most hunting rifles by design. The lower recoil allows shooters to be more accurate when taking multiple shots and the smaller bullet inflicts more non-lethal casualties which is considered a good thing on a battlefield (a wounded soldier takes 2 men to carry, thus removing 3 from the fight). One could define power as larger capacity, but due to lack of knowledge even the President fails to make this distinction.
If we want to talk about a ban that would actually make sense (note: I don’t support this but…) then addressing magazine size would be much smarter than banning the guns themselves. The problem is, how do we do that? The 1994 Assault Weapons Ban allowed larger magazines produced before the ban to stay in circulation and even be sold. Today there are many more thousands of these in circulation. The government could ask citizens to turn them in, however if attempts in Connecticut are any indication, we can expect less than 15% compliance.
So what to do? Well, let’s acknowledge that rate of fire and capacity are important things to consider. Let’s also admit that assault rifles are better suited for killing people than my deer rifle. Let’s also consider how impossible it would be to round all of those rifles and/or high-capacity magazines up. Lastly, let’s put the focus on handguns, where it really belongs. What are we then left with as a solution? I honestly do not know but that is the conversation I would like to have. So let’s talk.
P.S. I will also add here, that I don’t own an assault rifle,but it is absolutely on my wish list.