About Military-Style Assault Weapons

The basic argument: 

Say . . .

We all know some weapons are too dangerous for civilian use. That’s why, for nearly 80 years, federal law has banned machineguns, sawed-off shotguns, silencers, very high-caliber firearms, grenades and bombs. Military-style assault weapons—like the one used to murder defenseless children in Newtown—are versions of military weapons that are designed for rapid fire. They are weapons of war, and like machineguns, too dangerous for civilian use. Our communities will be safer if we stop their manufacture and sale. 

Why . . .

It’s important to point out that we have been banning particularly dangerous guns for years. It is also okay to be emotional about assault weapons. Just consider the three most prominent school massacres: Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut—20 children and 6 faculty murdered with a semiautomatic copy of the U.S. military’s M-16 rifle; Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado—13 killed and 23 wounded with four guns, including 55 rounds fired from a TEC-9 semiautomatic assault pistol; Cleveland Elementary School in Stockton, California—5 small children killed and 30 wounded with a semiautomatic copy of the Soviet military’s AK-47 rifle. What makes these guns different is they were originally designed as machineguns, so they have features—like large-capacity magazines, pistol grips and barrel shrouds—that enable the shooter to shoot a lot of bullets very rapidly and still keep control of the gun. In the hands of someone with practice, an assault weapon can fire almost as fast as a machinegun. You can see this on videos all over YouTube, here for example. But even without much practice, any fool can fire two rounds per second, emptying a 30 round magazine in 15 seconds or less.

Pro-gun argument:  “There is no proof the 1994-2004 ban prevented crimes.”

Say . . .

In the ten years that the federal ban on assault weapons was in effect, the percentage of assault weapons traced to crime fell by 66 percent. The ban worked. 

Why . . .

Gun tracing statistics provide the best measure because they cover all types of crime and accurately identify the guns. Pro-gun advocates will cite statistics about rifle murders (see below) or “mass casualty shootings” (where the data are easy to manipulate).

Pro-gun argument:  “There are relatively few murders committed with rifles each year.”

Say . . .

We have a responsibility to prevent as many killings as possible. And we cannot limit the debate to rifles when there are also semiautomatic assault pistols, like the one that fired 55 rounds in the Columbine school massacre. Also, we’re not just talking about murders, we’re concerned about all gun crimes. The fact is, some weapons—like machineguns, sawed-off shotguns, and silencers—have been banned for years because they are too dangerous to sell to civilians. Military-style assault weapons are also just too dangerous. 

Pro-gun argument:  “Some people use an AR-15 to shoot coyotes and varmints.”

Say . . .

Nobody needs a military-style assault weapon for hunting. Rapid fire is contrary to the whole point of the sport. Now is the time to draw the line between sporting guns and weapons of war. 

Pro-gun argument:  “The guns that would be banned by this legislation are not any different from sporting pistols and rifles, they’re all just semiautomatics.”

Say . . .

I fully understand that a semiautomatic requires a pull of the trigger for each shot and I’m not suggesting we ban all semiautomatic firearms. But the gun used in Newtown is a semiautomatic version of the U.S. Army’s M-16 rifle. This weapon is designed so it can be fired rapidly from the shoulder or hip; it is designed to remain stable during rapid fire; it is designed to accept very large capacity magazines. With this weapon, any lunatic can fire 30 rounds in 15 seconds and retain control of the gun.

Pro-gun argument:  “The difference between assault weapons and sporting guns is merely cosmetic.”

Say . . .

Nothing on a gun is cosmetic except the color. Every part has a purpose. The features of an assault weapon that look different from a sporting gun were carefully designed to maximize lethality on the battlefield. Assault weapons look different because they are different.

Why . . .

In this argument, the word “cosmetic” is gun industry message framing. Reject that term.

Pro-gun argument:  “These guns you’re banning aren’t ‘assault rifles’ because that term refers to weapons that can shoot full-auto.”

Say . . .

It was the gun industry that started calling these semiautomatics “assault rifles” and “assault weapons.” They used that language to sell their guns.

Why . . .

It is astonishing how often pro-gun advocates make this argument. They are wrong, but in fairness, probably don’t know it. You can look at the Gun Digest Buyer's Guide to Assault Weapons here. (Search inside to page 11.) Gun Digest is an authoritative pro-gun publication. But more important, this argument attempts to sidetrack the debate to an irrelevant point. It does not matter if they don’t like the term “assault weapons,” what matters is that semiautomatic versions of military weapons are being sold to civilians. In the legislation, these guns are described and listed—and there is also a list of thousands of sporting guns that are explicitly not affected by the ban. Stick to the subject: why should we be selling these weapons of war?

Pro-gun argument:  “An assault weapons ban violates the 2nd Amendment.”

Say . . .

The federal assault weapons ban was in effect for 10 years. During that time the gun industry lost every court challenge against it. Several states, including California, have banned assault weapons for decades. Those laws are uniformly upheld in court. This law is proven to be constitutional.

Why . . .

Assault weapon bans have been upheld for decades. If a pro-gun activist argues that the 2008 Heller Supreme Court ruling changes things, see "How to rebut common pro-gun arguments" below.

NEXT:  About High-Capacity Ammunition Magazines

 

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