|Or, we could always do something easier to make|
ourselves feel better
Which brings us to assaut weapons. I am very disappointed that, in the wake of the Aurora mass shooting, the entirety of the first serious public conversation about gun control in years is, once again, centered on assault weapons. This is nothing short of insane. On the prioritized list of firearms related problems in America, assault weapons aren't even on the first page. It's as if the public finds the weapon more disturbing than the killing. But I'm confused. Seung-Hui Cho didn't use a rifle. Neither did Harris and Klebold. Nor did any of the dozens of kids in cities all around the US who shot someone last night, or who will do so tonight. America's most serious problem is the flood of handguns in our cities. To decide that banning assault rifles will somehow reduce gun violence in America is like deciding to reduce traffic fatalities by banning Bentleys.
Here's what I keep reading: "A few years ago he couldn't have BOUGHT that gun in Colorado - they had an ASSAULT WEAPONS BAN!!"
But that's only technically true. He could have easily bought a functionally equivalent gun even during the ban. Here's the problem. There is no definition of the term "assault weapon". So any law you write has to define it. How do you do that? With features - detachable magazine, pistol grip, barrel length, flash suppressor, folding stock etc. As a result, whenever there is a ban on so-called assault rifles, you can still buy them. The manufacturers just change the features and call it by a different name, and somebody else sells aftermarket parts kits. Even with the ban, you could always buy a Mini-14 in Colorado. What's a Mini-14? Oh, it's a semi-automatic rifle firing .223 Remington cartridge (the same round as the M-16) from a detachable magazine. It's inexpensive and there's a HUGE aftermarket for folding stocks, pistol grips and hi cap mags. If you think assault rifle bans are effective, here's an exercise for you. California has an assault weapons ban. Go to a gun store and see how difficult it is to purchase a gun you would instantly recognize as an "assault weapon". You'll be shocked.
OK, then, they say. Let's just ban those gigantic magazines!!
The large magazines don't actually incur any great advantage to the shooter. They are unreliable, often causing feeding problems and that much weight on the magazine catch can actually damage the gun. With a tiny bit of pratice, changing mags is quite fast and easy. In Vietnam the army issued 20 round mags. Our soldiers could still put hundreds of rounds downrange.
But more importantly, these things EXIST. They are cheap and ubiquitous. They are not hard to find - you buy them on the Internet. If someone wants to commit mass murder, is he really going to decide not to buy a hi cap mag because it's illegal?
Well let's limit ammunition purchases, then.
What might sound like a lot of ammunition is really not that much. Holmes bought 6000 rounds. But when you shoot, either for fun or disciplined practice, you consume a lot of ammunition. It only takes a few hours to go through a thousand rounds. And ammunition is a commodity, and as such you get a much better price when you buy in bulk. When the best price is on a thousand round purchase, and you're buying ammo for a rifle and two pistols, why that's 3000 rounds just to buy at the best price in three calibers. And as pointed out above, this "minimum" purchase won't last long.
Look - in the end, there's nothing wrong with legislation like bans on assault rifles or hi cap magazines. Even if they aren't effective, they still express a worthwhile sentiment. But the biggest problem we face with firearms in the US is that the constituency for even LESS regulation is much larger than the constituency for even minimal restrictions. There is just very little political oxygen available to Americans who want to reduce the availability of lethal weapons in our communities. We have to focus on building support for laws that do the most good, because we're not going to get to pass a 'laundry list' anytime soon. And that means we have to focus on eliminating handguns from our cities. Once we've got legislation in place to do that, sure, try to pass something else. But right now, a knee-jerk reaction to a 'black swan' event when every night our kids are shooting each other in massive numbers would be irresponsible.