Politician after politician have joined the television talking heads in calling for a new “assault weapons ban” patterned after the ten-year Clinton ban that was allowed to lapse in 2004 after Justice Department and private studies concluded it had no impact whatsoever on murder and violent crime rates and had become a symbol of wrong-headed governmental attempts to restrict firearms ownership in this country.
California Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein has called for reinstituting the old Clinton ban to outlaw the sale, transfer and possession of such guns in the future while grandfathering those already in the hands of private parties. Others, like New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, have gone so far as to suggest “confiscation” or forced “buy back” programs “to get these weapons off the street.” In the last week dozens of commentators, reporters and politicians have said they support the 2nd Amendment, but would support an “assault weapons” ban because such weapons aren’t used for hunting and have no purpose other than to kill people.
While such suggestions reflect a simple minded and narrow understanding of why the founders included the Second Amendment in our Bill of Rights, they also suggest that those making them neither understand the nature of the firearms they would ban, their popularity or legitimate uses.
Those who would ban what they like to call assault weapons like to portray them as automatic weapons designed for use on the battlefield simply because they look cosmetically like their military counterparts. In fact, they are semi-automatic firearms that are designed and built not for the military, but for the civilian market and function differently than their military counterparts. Were our soldiers outfitted with ARs, they would be at the mercy of every army in the world.
The more than three million Americans who currently own AR-15s must wonder if any of these people know what they’re talking about. These guns are not cheap, but they have been the best-selling long arm in this country for some years. Those three million people didn’t buy have purchased them just to look at or because they are planning to use them to kill their fellow citizens.
The National Shooting Sports Foundation has surveyed the purchasers of AR-15s. The AR-15 is the most commonly used rifle for marksmanship training and competition. Nearly 90% of those who own an AR-15 use it for recreational target shooting; 51% of AR owners are members of shooting clubs and visit the range regularly. The typical AR owner is not a crazed teenage psychopath, but a 35+ year old, married and has some college education.
The popularity of the AR can be traced in part to the fact that it is a semi-automatic version of the rifle used by the men and women of the military. Nearly half of AR owners are veterans, law enforcement officers, or both. It is a configuration they are familiar with and enjoy shooting. My daughter, for example, served two tours in Iraq, one in Afghanistan, and only owns one gun — an AR.
AR 15s are good for hunting. Some buy an AR for home defense and about six percent of buyers are either collectors or varmint hunters. The standard AR is illegal in most states for deer and big game hunting because it is not considered powerful enough to reliably put down deer-sized or larger game, but is used for coyote, wolf and feral pig hunting in many states.
So the evidence tells us that although Sen. Feinstein and her friends may not know it, millions of Americans buy these guns because they like to shoot them and use them lawfully. The fact that a half dozen out of more than three million have been misused after illegally falling into the hands of crazed killers does not seem to be a reason to ban the popular gun according to most Americans asked in a recent USA Today poll.
These guns are not the weapon of choice for this nation’s criminals or killers. Indeed, the FBI found that in 2010, the last year for which data is available, more people were beaten to death than killed with all long guns including these so-called assault weapons.
It is true that the Supreme Court has left the door open for “reasonable” restrictions on firearms sales. There is good reason, for example, to keep guns out of the hands of felons, those who have been adjudicated as mentally incompetent, or unsupervised children. However there is no evidence whatever to suggest that a ban on the AR 15 or other semi-automatic firearms can be constitutionally justified just so politicians can say they have done something to satisfy the natural public desire act in the face of a tragedy like Newtown. A renewal of a juiced up version of the old Clinton “assault weapons” ban would no doubt make Sen. Feinstein and her friends feel good and deny millions of law abiding Americans the right to own and enjoy a gun protected by the Second Amendment,, but would do absolutely nothing to prevent future tragedies.