Is an Assault Weapons Ban “Common Sense”?
By Andrew Sveda, Contributor
Stunned. Speechless. Horrified. Devastated.
I have no words that could even remotely express the immense terror and grief that we all felt after the Parkland school shooting on February 14, 2018 and that we all still feel. Let us never forget the seventeen students, teachers, and coaches who lost their lives at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on that dark day.
Now is the time to act and confront the issue of gun violence, but we first must consider what makes a good solution. What elements must a policy have to earn our support? For this issue, two distinct criteria clearly emerge: 1. The proposed measure saves lives and 2. It respects the rights embodied by the 2nd Amendment. If it is successful in both of these fields, this proposal deserves our deepest consideration and support. On the contrary, if it fails to adequately meet either of these pillars, it should be deemed an undesirable course of action. With this solid foundation to productive and reasonable discussion in mind, let us now thoughtfully and calmly evaluate perhaps one of the most well-known proposed solutions: an assault weapons ban. Much to the dismay of gun control advocates, an assault weapons ban would be ineffective in reducing homicides, not to mention its questionable Constitutional standing.
Firstly, despite the notion that assault weapons like the AR-15 are “killing machines” (as a side note, the AR-15, according to NBC News, was originally designed for civilian use), these guns are not the “weapon of choice” for criminals. In fact, researchers and journalists, having reviewed FBI national homicide data, have concluded that these weapons only are used in 2-3% (328) of homicides, less than those killed with knives (1,567), blunt objects (435), or even hands and feet (660). In other words, based on this data, an American is twice as likely to be murdered by another’s hands and feet (e.g., strangling, hand-to-hand combat, etc.) than with an assault weapon. Furthermore, contrary to claims that the AR-15 is the common link between mass shootings, research appears to point otherwise. For example, upon analyzing the 2015 Congressional Research Service study of mass shootings, Northeastern University professor and criminologist James Alan Fox discovered that only 24% of mass shootings from 1982-2013 (the most recent year available in this study) involved an assault weapon. Instead, the truth is that the overwhelming majority of mass shootings and homicides in general use handguns. Thus, an assault weapons ban, even if it is completely effective, would only focus on, as one researcher put it, a “statistically very small” portion of homicides.
But, even worse, an assault weapons ban has proved to be ineffective at reducing homicides, and this may be best understood by reviewing the ambiguous definition of “assault weapon,” which refers to a specific semi automatic gun model (usually a rifle; the ban does not include all semi automatic guns) with a detachable magazine and includes a combination of two unique additions, mechanisms such as a bayonet mount, a pistol grip, or a grenade launcher. As researchers and think tanks have noted, however, almost all of these additions are functionally useless and/or do not actually increase the lethality of the gun itself (a pistol grip may help increase the accuracy of the shooter, but no one is suggesting decreasing the accuracy of guns as this would substantially harm law-abiding citizens). Consequently, an assault weapon is not more powerful than other semi automatic in any regard, be that firing rate, bullet size, amount of kinetic energy, etc. By merely focusing on the cosmetics of the gun, criminals acquire equally lethal guns or the same gun without these additions (not to mention the fact that criminals could also acquire firearms from the millions of privately and currently-owned, pre-ban assault weapons). This has been the case in the 2012 Sandy Hook shooting that took 26 lives and the 2015 San Bernardino massacre; both Connecticut and California had assault weapons bans at the time, but the attackers were able to legally acquire these weapons (not to mention that the third worst mass shooting in U.S. history, the 2007 Virginia Tech shooting that took 32 lives, occurred with two handguns). These obvious problems with an assault weapons ban have led numerous researchers and criminologists, such as James Jacobs, Mark Guis, John Moorhouse, and John Lott, to conclude that this ban would have zero effect on the U.S. homicide rate and mass shootings.
Since gun models are arbitrarily placed on the assault weapons ban list by lawmakers while numerous guns of equal lethality are left out, the assault weapons ban is virtually meaningless to criminals. Furthermore, the only way to include all firearms equally powerful to assault weapons would not be to add more names to the list (as new, legal models would continue be released by gun manufacturers that possess equal firepower to those banned and, as discussed previously, that even banned weapons can become legal by removing certain add-ons that do not contribute to the firearms lethality), but to ban all semi automatic guns. But before some begin to call for a ban of semi automatic guns, one should remember that there are roughly 100 million semi automatic weapons currently in the U.S. and nothing short of an unconstitutional gun confiscation will change that. Due to such a massive proliferation of these types of firearms (which are still one round per one pull of the trigger), criminals could easily get their hands on these weapons while future, lawful gun owners would be denied equal firepower for their own defense. Furthermore, this ban, and an assault weapons ban as well, are both constitutionally dubious as they would needlessly prohibit weapons crucial to millions of Americans’ self defense while leaving criminals unaffected, and numerous constitutional experts from academia affirm this conclusion. Specifically, they point to D.C. v. Heller (2008) and U.S. v. Miller (1939), which asserted that weapons “in common use for lawful purposes” are protected by “the right to keep and bear arms”; these types of firearms certainly conform to this definition. Consequently, banning assault weapons or semi automatic weapons in general, which forbid the sale of guns neither uniquely “dangerous” (semi automatics only have a slight edge on non-automatic firearms in rate of fire and accuracy; an example of an especially dangerous weapon would be a machine gun) nor “unusual”—two weapon-based exceptions to the Second Amendment pointed out by the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia in Heller—would be certainly questionable Constitutionally to say the least.
Thus, it is clear that neither an assault weapons ban or a semi automatic ban should be implemented in the United States. Based on my extensive research, I have found that the most promising and viable solutions to gun violence are not those promoted by the gun control community, but those policies that emphasize stricter law enforcement, the benefits of concealed-carry, and the re-evaluation of our mental health system (among others) produce the best results. Nevertheless, let us as a nation continue to actively discuss and evaluate different solutions from both sides so that we, as Americans, can finally find a common ground to reduce gun violence.
Image Credits: https://www.motherjones.com/politics/2014/09/why-gun-control-groups-have-moved-away-assault-weapons-ban/.