Don't expect anything from WA's assault weapon ban

AP Photo/Charles Krupa, File

Washington state has a brand new assault weapon ban.

Yes, it’s being challenged and hopefully overturned, but if that doesn’t happen–and there’s no guarantee that it will–it means people in the state will possibly be saddled with the ban until and unless the Supreme Court overturns it.


That’s bad news for a lot of good people in the state who just want to exercise their Second Amendment rights.

However, as Reason’s J.D. Tuccille notes, no one should expect it to do all that much.

It doesn’t bode well for a law when you immediately notice the measure’s impotence against people who will inevitably evade or ignore its dictates. The law’s contempt for constitutional protections doesn’t improve its prospects. Of course, lots of what legislatures pinch out these days is stupid and unconstitutional, so let’s be clear that we’re discussing Washington state’s new “assault weapons” ban, a rearguard action in an already failed effort to deny self-defense rights to Americans.

Gov. Jay Inslee boasted this week of signing bills featuring, among other anti-gun measures, a ban on assault weapons. He claimed “assault weapons were created for the military and designed to kill humans quickly and efficiently. Washington law defines assault weapons using both a list of specific firearms — including certain types of rifles and pistols —and a list of specific features that enable mass killing.”

As lawmakers elsewhere have discovered, if you ban guns by model names and assortments of features, people can comply with the law by changing those names and shaking up the features to sell functionally identical firearms. California banned a long list of rifles by name in 1989. So, manufacturers slapped on new stickers. The state then defined restricted weapons by a list of features including detachable magazines that, when combined, were illegal. That inspired a few tweaks.

“Darrin Price invented and named the so-called ‘bullet button’ which magically changed your evil assault weapon into a legal centerfire rifle by forcing you to use a tool, such as a bullet or ammunition cartridge, to remove your magazine,” Ron LaPedis noted in 2017 for Police1.

So, California banned bullet buttons. This created a new market for legally permissible rifles.

“Lawmakers just propped up demand again, and opened up the market for gun owners to convert their guns and manufacturers to make new guns that easily circumvent the law with a few cosmetic changes,” California firearms instructor Dennis Santiago commented after the law changed once more.

California wasn’t alone in playing legal Whac-A-Mole with definitions of banned firearms.


We also saw this following the 1994 Assault Weapon Ban, where too many of certain features meant the gun was illegal, so companies simply made firearms that were compliant with the regulation.

Since the features included things like collapsable stocks, flash hiders, and bayonet lugs, it wasn’t difficult to evade the regulations.

State rules often require a bit more creativity, but they’re not insurmountable.

Tuccille also, of course, mentions the Constitution and the issues that the document creates for such rules, all of which is well taken.

What he leaves out, though, is that even if this made so-called assault weapons vanish from the state, there’s really not any reason to believe anyone would be any safer.

Rifles account for fewer than 500 homicides in the United States annually. That’s all rifles, not just “assault weapons.”

Yet even if we assumed all of them were–and, to be fair, many of them likely are–it’s ridiculous to think that those homicides would suddenly not happen because the killer didn’t have a particular kind of rifle.

“But mass shootings…”

The worst school shooting in American history was Virginia Tech, where the killer used a couple of handguns. An AR-15 isn’t needed to commit an atrocity, though we see plenty of them used for that, likely thanks to the media constantly arguing that’s all they’re good for.

So yeah, Washington’s assault weapon ban won’t accomplish much of anything. I have to believe they knew that, too, but they did it anyway.


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