Assault Weapon Ban?

July 19, 2004

The Washington Post is lobbying for a renewal of the assault rifle ban.

Via Rocket Jones, I see that a number of people on the pro-gun side are not so happy about the prospect with a number of single-issue pro-gun voters intending to vote against GWB if he signs an extension.

I have to admit I have mixed feelings about the measure. On the one hand, the law is profoundly stupid. It bans a few weapons by name, based largely on their styling, and appears to have had little effect on gun violence. On the other hand, this political posturing does send an important rhetorical message about the dangers of gun violence. Personally, I will be voting against GWB on other grounds, so this won't make a difference with me.

However, if I could come up with my own gun bill, it would be something that would never ever pass. I would ban all short guns and all concealed carry. I would then legalize any long gun: rifle, shotgun, or military rifle, including fully automatic M16s or AK 47s, and subsidize gun safety courses - perhaps even making a gun safety course a requirement for graduating high school.


The original intent of the founders was that a well armed militia would be a crucial part of the balance of power. Now, even though they very quickly discovered that most citizens had no desire to maintain their own military weapons - all states I have examined quickly went from requiring to providing muskets for the state militia - they still kept the idea of an armed citizenry. That ideal has faded as a professional police force has replaced the hue and cry and the posse comitas and as the national guard has replaced state militia. Still, you can make a good case for citizens having the right to possess military arms for their own defence, and the modern descendent of the Brown Bess is the AK 47.

Hunters use long guns - rifles and shotguns. They would not be affected by the ban. People who actually think they will be defending their homes are better off with a shotgun than a handgun - they will not be much affected by the ban. What the ban will restrict is easily carried and hidden guns, Saturday night specials, and the like.

Now, this proposal will get the police mad - they don't like the idea of facing assault weapons even though few criminals use them. And, while the assault weapon ban is a sop to police morale just like quiet suburban police forces going to Glock 14 revolvers, morale matters.

This proposal will get the pro-gun folks mad - they think that they are only safe in a society where a meaningful percentage of the population is packing hidden heat, thus making it dangerous for anyone to attack anyone.

And, this proposal will get the folks who think that guns are scary mad, wrongly so, because I am far more scared of a handgun than a long gun - if only because my kids' friends' parents are less likely to have a long gun in their bedside table.

As for the proposed renewal - sometimes you go with the experts. If the police chiefs want the ban, even though it is largely symbolic, then give it to them, for it is largely symbolic.

Posted by Red Ted at July 19, 2004 04:44 PM | TrackBack

Good comments. The police chiefs being in favor of gun control is a huge reason why I'm against it. I don't want to depend on police for personal protection, because they're not effective at it. Patrolling, apprehending criminals, and the like they do fine, but there's more than a grain of truth to the saying "there's never a cop around when you need one."

Statistics in Virginia show that the folks who have concealed carry permits had *zero* violations for weapons ordinances (that may be changed now, but for the first year or so it was true). If you go to the trouble to get the training and required paperwork, you're more likely to be responsible about carrying a weapon.

Posted by: Ted at July 19, 2004 07:25 PM

That'd be cool - except for A: the military usefullness of handguns B: the number of civilians who use handguns for justifiable self defense (estimated twixt 80,000 & 2,000,000 per year) & C: the principle of the thing.

Line up all the experts you wish; roll out all the stats you can find that support your position & I'd still be agin any prohibition on the mere possession, ownership or carrying of damned near any object - especially ones that are right useful in personal as well as communal self defense.

It's real simple: The Right to Life demands the Right to Defense in order to sustain it at times. The Right to Defense revolves around using the best tools available for that task. What good is having a paper assurence of Life, Liberty & Property (doesn't "sing" like Jefferson's paraphrase but it's mroe factually accurate) if you do not have the means of protecting them?

Long guns are great - don't misunderstand me, but handguns are just as if not mroe important. Why? cause in a pinch they enable you to fight your way to your long guns. A shotgun better than a Sig 9mm? damn skippy. A shotgun left at home better than the Sig in your pocket whilst being confronted in a dark alley? Nopers.

& many people hunt with handguns - everything from squirrels to grizzlies. So some hunters would be affected.

Also those "Saturday Night Specials - first f all, if you're gonna use the phrase use the entire phrase - it's "Niggertown Saturday Night Specials". Nothing more than a trendy name for inexpensive firearms - well a slong as you leave out the racial modifier. But that phrase, like most other forms of american gun control 9on the state level) were not geared towards lowering overall crime - they just didn't want them coloreds having guns. By ommitting the racial start you hide the fact that the whole concept is the last vestige of Jim Crow - & one suported by people who would never ever use the "N" word.

Anyway, poor people often have the most need of arms, what with living in the poorer sections of town where crime tends to happen more frequently. Take away inexspensive firearms under a ban so racist in origin that it's complete name can't be used in polite discussion & what you have is economic discrimination. "If you can't afford $300 for a pistol or shotgun that we approve of then you don't deserve to protect yourself, your family or your community."

Glock 14 revolvers? Glocks start w/ model number 17 & they're semi-automatics, not revolvers.

In the end no law will get rid of crime. Few will even reduce it. In fact, laws usually create crime. If it weren't for the law saying you had to get government permission & pay a $200 tax on that shotgun w/ 16" barrels then quite a few people who never planned or attempted to harm anyone wouldn't be felons.

Want to do something abotu crime? eliminate ALL the prior restraint based gun laws. There'll still be murders & robberies, but there won't be people sitting in jail simpyl cause they had a piece of metal & wood that was verboten by some arbitrary & asinine standard. & when it comes down to it, it'd be much easier to deal with the problems in a society that didn't have prior restraint based gun control than one that did.

Or do you think that people are only safe in a society where a meaningful percentage of the population is lacking hidden heat, thus making it safe for anyone to attack anyone?

Posted by: Publicola at July 20, 2004 06:27 AM


I had not heard that version of the term "Saturday night special." I am not surprised.

Sorry about the Glock - I was working quickly and from memory of the time in the late 1980s when my low crime suburban police force went from revolvers to big Glocks, spending some $1,200 per gun. They did so not because they _used_ the guns - this was a low crime, low draw, very low weapons use district - but because many of the officers were _worried_ that they _might_ have to use them. So, the township commisioners spent a chunk of money mostly to improve the morale and self-confidence of their police force. So, whatever was the common police use, large magazine, Glock in the late 1980s was what they got. Sorry for the garble.

For the other, I think it comes down to a question of control. Folks who are pro-carry tend to prefer a situation where they feel in control, and they gain that feeling from carry.

Folks like me who are worried about guns are worried not about crime but about mistakes, not about muggins but about idiots who don't restrain their guns and whose kids then ask my kids over to play, not about random crime but about having the drunks next door get into an argument and start blasting away.

Finally, remember that in much of the Middle East, almost everyone has an AK 47. And yet, Baghdad has a terrible crime problem, so did Afghanistan before the Taliban came through, in fact people supported their reactionary totalitarian asses _because_ they limited crimes of violence within a heavily armed society.

The point being that widespread gun ownership is more often a recipe for anarchy than for peace. As a result, I tend to treat claims about the pacifying effect of gun violence with a high degree of scepticism.

See following comment

Posted by: Ted K at July 20, 2004 08:14 AM

Rocket, (I can't call you Ted, that's me!)

I had not seen the data from the Virginia concealed carry. I do remeber when the carry law was changed, reading a lot about the training procedures for the new permit, and liking what I read.

My suggestion was more of a provocation than a serious policy proposal; sometimes it helps to look at things from a couple of different angles.

Oh, and several early _state_ constitutions did mention self-defence in their gun rights section. To continue the notion of original intent even when the intent is no longer all that applicable, you could very well argue that the Federal constitution guarantees that the states should be able to fight back against Federal tyranny, while state constitutions guarantee the rights of citizens to fight back against state tyranny. In other words, gun control as a matter of natural rights should be a state and not a Federal matter, and you can only apply a national gun control law via the interstate commerce clause.

I wonder what folks would say to an assault weapons ban (ignoring the idiocy of the definition) that simply reminded the states that they had full power to regulate firearms, but made it a federal crime to resell a regulated firearm across state lines. So your Virginia gun is regulated by Virginia laws, but you can only re-sell it to other Virginians - imagine a large state seal stamped onto every weapon as it ships from the manufacturer.

Posted by: Ted K at July 20, 2004 08:22 AM

Ted K,
here's roughly how it brewaks down in the U.S. per year:

28,000 gun related deaths.
16,000 of those are suicides.
around 11,200 are intentional shootings (criminal as well as justifiable)
800 are negligent discharges.

I understand being worried about someone else acting negligently, but it's just not that big a problem. 800 negligent shooting out of 280 million people is statistically insignificant.

That being said if you're really worried about your kids being around guns when they're out of your sight, the best thing to do is to teach them how to handle guns safely. That way they won't be as tempted to pull the trigger to see what happens should they run across one & also they'll recognize unsafe practices by others & hopefull realize it's time to leave.

About the availaibility of guns in totalitarian regimes... guns aren't the only part of the equation needed for a safe society. They are a large art of it, simply because those bent on harm (criminals & government - wait, that was redundant wasn't it?) will be armed. By ensuring the populace has access to arms of their own choosing you negate the arms race part of the equation. You still have to educate the people as to the how's & why's of using said arms, but in most situations society will have a faster learning curve than a manufacturing curve.

That's applicable to the societal benefits of gun ownership. My main concern is the benefit to the indivudal. Despite any stats thrown around what really matters when you're confronted by a thug in a dark alley or as he's breaking down your door is what you can do to make yourself safer. Any benefits for society as a whole are a secondary consideration.

& about peace v. anarchy...first of all I'd argue that anarchy isn't as bad as most think. In fact it'd be preferable to some forms of peace (say peace through subjegation). But peace comes in two ways (not counting conquest): through the benevolence of both parties or through the inability of either party to have an advantage over the other. I think the latter is a much more reliable method of ensuring peace, on an individual or societal level.

I'm not saying that a world in which every individual was not hampered in their choice of arms would be utopian. It would however create much simpler problems to deal with than the world that regultes heavily any weapons ownership. That lack of complexity would reduce the apperent crime rate. Yes, you'd still have robbers, rapists & murderers, but you wouldn't have people sitting in jail cause the piece of metal they carried wasn't within government specs.

I disagree with your ideas about the interstate commerce clause in relation to gun control. The 2nd is a direct prohibition on federal involvement with gun control & i see no exceptions for using the ICC to get around it. But to address your line of reasoning about intrastate only sales - that would be an unsettling expansion of federal powers, way beyond their original limits. If congress posed a tax on all items moving in interstate commerce that'd be one thing (as would eliminating any state based taxes on commerce from other states) but to prohibit an item from interstate commerce they'd ned a new amendment. Now I realize this hasn't stopped them from doing it before, I'm just saying it's wrong - both legally & morally. Not to mention a bad policy. Know how much the black market would increase in gun trafficking from such a proposal? I'd be tempted to make runs up to Mass every few months just to supplement my income.

Posted by: Publicola at July 20, 2004 05:30 PM

Gun control is a topic that never fails to produce more heat than light. I did manage to change someone's mind on the topic once (from pro-control to pro-gun)...but only once. An accomplishment second only to getting posters to rec.arts.startrek.current to agree my criticisms of a DS9 episode had merit.

As for my stand...I simply do not trust the government. It has proven, time and again, that it will abuse every power it is given. I think freedom is more important than lives. I think we kill a lot more people every year with trash we only keep around for our own convenience (like private automobiles) or even our own entertainment (like backyard swimming pools). I think it's hard to say how many lives are saved each year through civilian guns ownership, and I think we won't know what the real benefits of it are until after we don't have them any more, by which point it may be too late to get them back.

Posted by: DFH at July 21, 2004 12:56 AM

Sorry for the delay, busy.

Addressing Publicola's last paragraph first. You suggest that the second amendment provides an absolute prohibition on federal legislation regarding gun control. Does that include, say, heavy artillery? I suspect that most people would agree that there are some limits to the weaponry we want to have readily available.

If you think back to Locke's social contract, we all give up some rights in order to gain some security. Everything else is discussion about the margins, and that is a social question. As George Mason but it, "all men are possessed of certain inalienable rights of which, once they enter into a state of society, they may not be divested except by due process of law." The point being that the precise deliminations of those rights are a matter of the broad principles of the social contract and the closer application of those broad principles through the blunt instrument of law and the flawed instrument of policy.

More later, perhaps.

Posted by: Ted K at July 23, 2004 04:32 PM

The only relevant factor about the use of firearms in self defense is whether you have one available when engaged by an armed opponent.

I would almost always rather have a high-powered automatic rifle when engaged by handguns, but it is not always possible or practical.

Among the reasons that concealable handguns are desirable are the deterrent effects. If an adversary thinks you are unarmed or armed only with a handgun, he may not go to the trouble to engage you with heavy weapons because he may see it as unnecessary. At the same time, if you live in a culture where a large percentage of the population carries concealed handguns, criminals may feel deterred from attacking you, whether or not you are armed, because they can't be sure.

Every state that has enacted concealed carry has seen a sharp drop in violent crime. In Florida, which previously had a serious problem, concealed carry has essentially brought violent crime to an end. In fact, the only places in the United States that still have significant rates of violent crime are those jurisdictions that ban handguns.

Like they used to say in the Soviet Union, "Is no accident, Comrade".

Posted by: CW at July 23, 2004 09:41 PM

Every state that has adopted strict gun laws has also seen a sharp drop in violent crime. So has every state that has adopted community policing, and every state that has ignored it. Crime is down across the board, and the best guess about why is demographic.

Any discussion about criminal policy has to be undertaking with the reminder that the entire nation is moving, and that discussions about one or another policy are about whether the difference in policies is statistically significant against the larger trend.

The last studies I saw indicated that neither community policing, nor gun control laws, nor concealed carry laws, had a _statistically significant_ effect on crime rates as compared to the national trend.

Posted by: Ted K at July 28, 2004 10:47 AM
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