I don’t usually get drawn into most public debates, but this has been going around for awhile, so I thought I would weigh in on the “assault weapon” issue. Be prepared: it’s a bit long.
For what it’s worth, I can agree that there are few, if any, situations where one would *need* a military-style rifle that could not be adequately filled by another more suitable weapon. Whether it’s hunting or home defense, there are other weapons available which I think make more sense and are much more practical. Most folks have rightly pointed out that exceptions can and should be made for legitimate purposes, such as hunting and self-defense, so we’re not talking banning ALL firearms (at least, not yet). So let’s consider the argument for banning what everyone commonly refers to as “assault weapons.”
I can see why many people want to get rid of them. They’re black & scary, and look too much like the weapons of war that we’ve seen on the news for the past 10 years or so in Iraq & Afghanistan. They are lethal in the right hands (as is any firearm, for that matter). They are primarily designed to spit out rounds at the rapid rate (though they are not machine guns/automatic weapons) and this in turn increases their lethality. Why would any sane, reasonable person (military/law enforcement excepted) either want or require such a weapon?? If that is the concern and the argument being voiced here, I can both understand and, to a degree, agree with it.
But is banning them outright really the solution? If it is, let’s put all our cards on the table and examine such a ban in detail.
First, is this a selective or total ban? Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) has already proposed submitting an assault weapons ban immediately upon Congress’ return after the holidays. A similar ban was enacted by President Clinton back in 1994, and expired 10 years later. But in each case, the ban is (or would be) limited to the new purchase, sale or transfer of such arms. Those already owned would be “grandfathered” in, meaning there would be no confiscation of firearms that were lawfully purchased before the ban went into place. This would have two effects: 1) It WOULD NOT remove all “assault weapons” from private hands, as there would still be numerous firearms that were bought before the ban. 2) It WOULD likely increase the overall number of such weapons, as people who were on the fence about owning one would rush to purchase one before they were outlawed. This has happened before and is starting to happen again. If you doubt this, go to any website or gun shop that sells these types of weapons or parts and check on their availability – most are backordered for the foreseeable future.
Ok, so a selective ban wouldn’t remove these weapons totally from the population, so what if we passed a TOTAL ban, outlawing even those guns which were purchased legally? What if we required everyone who owned such a weapon to immediately surrender them to their nearest law enforcement agency? Leaving aside the tricky legal issues with unlawful search & seizure and state’s rights, I agree that this would probably have the intended effect. But how would this be accomplished? Would police go door-to-door searching for these guns? Would they have a buyback program? If so, would they be prepared to pay the hundreds or thousands of dollars that these weapons cost the owner? Where would such funds come from?
So a total ban would likely achieve the desired endstate, but as with anything, we must consider the cost. Numerous people have cited the large number of deaths in the United States due to firearms. 30k or more per year is what I’ve heard, though I haven’t the time to research it fully. Sounds like a lot, right? .01 percent of the population. But I don’t think this number takes into account the circumstances in which the individuals were killed – whether it was “justifiable” or not – only that X number of people died by a certain means. I would be very curious to know how many of those 30k were killed with a military-style rifle. We know about the mass shootings that have occurred in recent times, but one almost never hears about these types of weapons being used in average shooting, whether criminal, home defense, gang related activities, etc. By far the most common weapon used is the handgun – a simple revolver or semiautomatic pistol.
So for argument’s sake, let’s say that 300 people are killed each year with a military-style semiautomatic rifle. One in a million. Isn’t that sufficient reason to confiscate them from everyone and ban them forever? After all, if there’s no good reason to own one, and 300 or more lives could potentially be saved each year by outlawing them, doesn’t that make sense? Well, I suppose the answer to that question lies in your point of view and your willingness to give up your rights. But then the people calling for such a ban aren’t giving up any of THEIR rights, because none of them (or very few) actually OWN such weapons, nor would they ever really even consider owning one. It’s a win-win for them; lives are saved, and they don’t have to give up a thing themselves.
But here’s where I and many others would disagree. It has to do with one’s rights, and the freedom & liberty we enjoy as American citizens. It has to do with setting a precedent. If we ban these weapons in order to save 300+ lives per year, what’s to stop the government from deciding to ban more and more things? Once all the assault rifles are collected, what will we do when another mass shooting occurs with another type of legal firearm? Ban those? What about every other thing that’s a) not strictly “necessary” and b) would save lives if it was made illegal? Motorcycles kill way more than 300 folks a year, and nobody really *needs* one, so why not ban those? So do baseball bats. Sodas make people fat, so why not – as New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg attempted – ban the sale of anything larger than 16 oz.?
And if we’re going to selectively interpret our constitutional amendments, why stop with the 2nd? I can easily see the same argument and rationale being applied to speech, books, art, etc. Someone doesn’t like it, doesn’t see a need for it, so the response is to ban it. And rights, once taken, are rarely if ever returned. Once you have ceded the power to do something over to another entity, it is nearly impossible to get it back. It always starts small, with something that most people think is a good thing, but history has shown that once the proverbial foot is in the door, it’s just a matter of time before more and more rights & freedoms are confiscated in the name of safety, protection and our own “good.” So when and where does one draw the line?
Anyways, this is the core of my thinking when it comes to discussing this topic. If you’ve made it this far, thanks for reading. I welcome any points, explanations or clarifications that anyone has to make on this subject.