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Fri Jan 18, 2013, 10:29 AM

In which I remind DU that the assault weapons ban doesn't do what you think it does [View all]

Last edited Sat Jan 19, 2013, 02:19 AM - Edit history (1)

This will be my last try at this, I promise.

There are guns that can fire a bullet every time you pull the trigger. These are called semi-automatics.

The bullets you haven't fired yet are held in something called a magazine. In some semi-automatics, the magazine is inside or permanently attached to the gun, so if it holds six bullets you can fire six, and then you have to reload six more bullets one at a time by hand, and you can fire six again. These are called fixed magazines.

In other semi-automatics, the magazine pops out and can be replaced with another magazine that already has bullets in it. You've probably seen this in movies and video games a lot: a guy shoots, drops the empty magazine, and puts a new one in. Being able to replace an empty magazine with a pre-loaded magazine (this usually takes on the order of a few seconds) combined with being able to fire one shot every time you pull the trigger means you can fire a whole lot of bullets in a short period of time. This is, all things considered, a bad thing.

So the assault weapons ban means you can't buy weapons that do that, right? Well, you'd think so. But no. What it does is says that if you want to have a weapon that can fire a lot of rounds quickly, it can't look like a military weapon. So it can't have a pistol grip, a stock that folds, etc. etc. (you can see the actual list in Feinstein's proposed legislation; it's all stuff about how it looks and not about how many bullets it can fire in a short period of time).

The rifle Lanza used was legal under the '94 ban and the current Connecticut ban, because it didn't have a bayonet mount. If Feinstein's ban passes, the gunmaker will have to change the shape of the grip. This isn't a "loophole" or an example of more ways the law needs to be "strengthened": this is a fundamental problem with the fact that we aren't banning guns based on how many bullets they can fire, we're regulating how the class of guns that can fire bullets the most quickly can look.

At the risk of being blunt, you're being conned here. This isn't just me being cynical, this is the fact that the guy who invented the term "assault weapon" (in this sense) is on record saying "their appearance will confuse people into thinking we're talking about automatic weapons". And it has. (Actual military automatic weapons have been essentially banned since the 1930's. That's an example of gun control that works, incidentally.) You're being conned by people with good intentions, but it doesn't change the fact that this is a silly law.

It's possibly a sensible law to ban semi-automatics with detachable magazines. It's not my preferred option, but it at least accomplishes what you're trying to do, unlike this. Public opinion seems to support me on this: if you look at that Pew poll everybody's talking about, banning all semi-automatics polls higher than instituting a new Assault Weapons Ban by several points; my assumption is that that difference, just to be frank, accounts for people who support the law's intent but realize it doesn't actually do anything to achieve that intent.

It might be worth a lot, politically, to get rid of semi-automatic weapons. That could probably save a lot of lives. But I stand by my belief that it's not worth losing even one leaning-red House seat to pass a law that will make the next Sandy Hook shooter fire from a weapon that is equally capable but has a differently shaped grip.

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