With Democrats lining up to seek the presidency quicker than socialists lining up for rationed pieces of bread, the gun issue will once again soon find itself percolating through the public discourse. Indeed, inveterate gun-grabber Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s most recent iteration of a federal “Assault Weapons Ban” features Democratic presidential hopefuls Sens. Amy Klobuchar, Kirsten Gillibrand, Elizabeth Warren, Cory Booker, Kamala Harris, and Bernie Sanders all as co-sponsors.
Never mind that, as even New York Times op-ed contributors have acknowledged, “The [federal] law that barred the sale of assault weapons from 1994 to 2004 made little difference.” No matter. Eagerness to ban these cosmetically “scary”-looking firearms is, lamentably, now a desideratum for serious political consideration within the ranks of the increasingly hard-Left Democratic Party. In much the same way that leading Democrats must seemingly now oppose condemnation of (actual!) infanticide or equivocate on a toothless condemnation of Jew-hatred, so must these leading Democrats virtue-signal to their gun-grabbing base by pledging to outright ban a technically undefinable and cosmetically amorphous class of guns that (often uninformed) disarmament activists nonetheless deem “scary.”
With the disclosure that I myself am a proud owner of one such weapon, here are at least three core reasons why such an “assault weapons ban” is woefully misguided.
1. Philosophically, “Assault Weapons” Are The Crux Of The Freedom The Second Amendment Protects.
The text of the Second Amendment reads, “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” The landmark 2008 U.S. Supreme Court case of D.C. v. Heller judicially established, for the first time, that the Second Amendment’s prefatory clause (“A well regulated Militia…”) does not in any way bring into question the textual straightforwardness of the Second Amendment’s operative clause (“the right…to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed”). In so doing, the Heller court vindicated the great Founding Father George Mason, who said, during the Virginia debates on the ratification of the Constitution: “I ask, sir, what is the militia? It is the whole people, except for a few public officials.” Indeed, to this day, U.S. law at 10 U.S.C. § 246 defines “[t]he militia of the United States” as “consist[ing] of all able-bodied males at least 17 years of age and…under 45 years of age who are, or who have made a declaration of intention to become, citizens of the United States and of female citizens of the United States who are members of the National Guard.”
What, then, was the purpose of arming the “militia” — this agglomeration of all able-bodied men? Perhaps primarily, it was meant to deter against what the Constitution’s Framers feared as the tyranny of a standing army. Consider Alexander Hamilton in The Federalist No. 29: “…if circumstances should at any time oblige the government to form an army of any magnitude, that army can never be formidable to the liberties of the people, while there is a large body of citizens, little, if at all, inferior to them in discipline and the use of arms, who stand ready to defend their own rights.” While the United States today obviously has a standing army, that same underlying fear — of a tyrannical government one day turning on its citizenry — remains ever potent. Consider this 2003 dissent from a denial to rehear a case en banc from then-Judge Alex Kozinski (a son of Holocaust survivors) of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit:
[T]he simple truth — born of experience — is that tyranny thrives best where government need not fear the wrath of an armed people. Our own sorry history bears this out: Disarmament was the tool of choice for subjugating both slaves and free blacks in the South. In Florida, patrols searched blacks’ homes for weapons, confiscated those found and punished their owners without judicial process. In the North, by contrast, blacks exercised their right to bear arms to defend against racial mob violence. As Chief Justice Taney well appreciated, the institution of slavery required a class of people who lacked the means to resist. See Dred Scott v. Sandford, 60 U.S. (19 How.) 393, 417 (1857) (finding black citizenship unthinkable because it would give blacks the right to “keep and carry arms wherever they went”). …
All too many of the other great tragedies of history — Stalin’s atrocities, the killing fields of Cambodia, the Holocaust, to name but a few — were perpetrated by armed troops against unarmed populations. Many could well have been avoided or mitigated, had the perpetrators known their intended victims were equipped with a rifle and twenty bullets apiece, as the Militia Act required here. If a few hundred Jewish fighters in the Warsaw Ghetto could hold off the Wehrmacht for almost a month with only a handful of weapons, six million Jews armed with rifles could not so easily have been herded into cattle cars.
My excellent colleagues have forgotten these bitter lessons of history. The prospect of tyranny may not grab the headlines the way vivid stories of gun crime routinely do. But few saw the Third Reich coming until it was too late. The Second Amendment is a doomsday provision, one designed for those exceptionally rare circumstances where all other rights have failed — where the government refuses to stand for reelection and silences those who protest; where courts have lost the courage to oppose, or can find no one to enforce their decrees. However improbable these contingencies may seem today, facing them unprepared is a mistake a free people get to make only once.
As Kozinski aptly put it, the Framers of the U.S. Constitution viewed the Second Amendment not as a hunting license or as a license to have fun shooting at the local range — but as a “doomsday provision” guarding against a fatal mistake that “a free people get to make only once.”
Given this historical background, it makes perfect sense why National Review’s David French argued last year that “Assault Weapons Preserve the Purpose of the Second Amendment”:
[A]n assault-weapon ban…would gut the concept of an armed citizenry as a final, emergency bulwark against tyranny. No credible person doubts that the combination of a reliable semiautomatic rifle and a large-capacity magazine is far more potent than a revolver, bolt-action rifle, or pump-action shotgun. A free citizen armed with an assault rifle is more formidable than a free citizen armed only with a pistol. A population armed with assault rifles is more formidable than a population armed with less lethal weapons.
The argument is not that a collection of random citizens should be able to go head-to-head with the Third Cavalry Regiment. That’s absurd…Rather, for the Second Amendment to remain a meaningful check on state power, citizens must be able to possess the kinds and categories of weapons that can at least deter state overreach, that would make true authoritarianism too costly to attempt.
French is spot-on. The contemporary “assault weapon” — or a “modern sporting rifle,” as much of the firearms industries refers to it — is nothing less than the 21st-century equivalent of the single-shot muskets that served the Minutemen at Lexington and Concord. To a large extent, each weapon serves the precise same purpose: A deterrence against tyrannical state overreach and, if that overreach were to ever happen, as a “doomsday provision” to defend the people’s God-given natural rights to life, liberty, and property.
2. From A Crime Statistics Perspective, “Assault Weapons” Are Utterly Irrelevant.
At the time President Bill Clinton signed into law the ten-year federal “assault weapons” ban in 1994, the technically undefinable and and cosmetically nebulous cluster of “military-style” (whatever that means) weapons covered by the ban accounted for a mere two percent of nationwide gun crimes. Even at the time of the ban, handguns — which, due to the underlying “common use” legal test, are expressly constitutionalized by Heller — accounted for 80 percent of gun homicides each year.
Given these statistics, it ought to be no surprise that, viewed as objectively as possible, the “assault weapons” ban did not work the first time it was tried. A 2005 report from the National Research Council noted that “a recent evaluation of the short-term effects of the 1994 federal assault weapons ban did not reveal any clear impacts on gun violence outcomes.” A ProPublica investigation in 2014 found that there is “no evidence” that the 1994-2004 ban saved lives. More generally, the United States has faced a large-scale decline in gun violence since the 1990s, notwithstanding the further mass proliferation of firearms during that same time period.
The unfortunate reality for gun-grabbers is that the overwhelming majority of gun crimes in the United States are committed with handguns. Indeed, as The Daily Signal noted last year, “Handguns are used in about nine times as many murders and eight times as many nonfatal violent crimes than rifles, shotguns, and other firearms combined.” In 2016, FBI statistics demonstrated that handguns were used in nineteen (!) as many murders as were rifles. And that is for all rifles, not just “assault rifles.”
But handgun bans are both politically unpopular and now, per Heller, also unconstitutional. It is understandable, if unfortunate, that gun-grabbers would then look for additional bans of classes of weapons in order to virtue-signal to their political base. From a demagogic perspective, perhaps it makes sense to try to ban the amorphous, undefinable “class” of weapons that seems to be used in many of the most high-profile, attention-grabbing mass shooting atrocities. But while it may make sense from a demagogic perspective, it is illogical and irrational from a statistical perspective.
3. There Is No Technical Way To Distinguish “Assault Weapons” From Less “Scary” Rifles.
The 1994 “assault weapons” ban defined a “semiautomatic assault weapon” as a firearm that contained two or more of a set list of wholly cosmetic features that in no way affect a firearm’s technical performance. Some of these features included a folding stock, a pistol-style grip, a detachable magazine, and a flash suppressor.
One does not need to be a firearms expert to understand that none of these features actually affect the lethality of a firearm. A folding stock, for instance, merely allows for more comfort for the shooter. A pistol-style grip, similarly, might just be easier or more comfortable to handle. None of these features matter in the slightest for such technical statistics as muzzle velocity or the “twist rate” of a rifle’s underlying rifling. Instead, they are exactly what they look like: Wholly cosmetic features that large swaths of the political Left deem “scary”-looking. That is truly it.
Most AR-style “assault rifles,” furthermore, will take .223 or 5.56 NATO ammunition. But this ammunition is actually a smaller round than what is used in many more traditional-looking, non-“assault” rifles, such as typical old-school Winchester or Remington bolt-action rifles. For example, .243 and .308 Winchester rounds are, quite literally, larger — and, therefore, more lethal — rounds than are the .223/5.56 NATO rounds that are standard-issue for most “assault rifles.”
Fundamentally, the differences between between AR-style rifles and more traditional, less “scary”-looking rifles are cosmetic differences in degree — not technical differences in kind.