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They’re coming for our guns! October 15, 2008

Posted by federalist in Natural Rights, RKBA.
Tags: , , , , ,

Preparing to take advantage of expected Democrat super-majorities in federal government, the Brady Campaign just published a report arguing for the reinstatement of a new, tougher, federal “assault weapons ban.”  Federalist Readers know that I oppose any infringement of the right of American citizens to keep and bear arms, including military arms.  But I’m always willing to consider opposing viewpoints, so I took a look.

The 63-page report was written by Brian Siebel, one of their staff lawyers.  It consists mostly of anecdotes describing the misuse of assault weapons as well as a sprinkling of arguments and opinions from officials and experts who favor new restrictions on assault weapons.

The report defines “assault weapons” using the features Congress referenced when enacting the Assault Weapons Ban in 1994, as well as those used by the six states that have “assault weapon bans” of various flavors: CA, CT, HI, MA, NJ, NY (see report footnote 102).  These characteristics include:

  • High-capacity magazines (i.e., any magazine that holds more than 10 rounds).
  • Folding or collapsible stocks.
  • Pistol or thumbhole grips.
  • Barrel shrouds.
  • Flash suppressors.
  • Threaded barrels (which allow for temporary attachment of suppressors).
  • Bayonet lugs.

I managed to speak briefly with Brian Siebel after reviewing this report.  His core argument is that none of these “assault weapon features” is useful enough for hunting or defense to justify the misuse to which they have been put by criminals.  This is an assertion worthy of consideration, and I don’t have a database of defensive uses of assault weapons to rebut it.  Nevertheless, I can offer two counter-arguments.

  1. The anecdotal evidence of assault weapon misuse does not incriminate these assault weapon features.  I.e., yes, many crimes have been committed with assault weapons.  But in none of the examples provided by the report is it clear that any of the assault weapon features enhanced the “mayhem” wrought by the criminals.  It appears in every case that if the criminal had instead used a non-assault firearm we could reasonably expect to have observed the same outcome.  This incrimination by incidental association is not a strong argument.  For example, I may assert that red cars with independent suspensions contribute to reckless driving.  I can cite a number of fatal accidents in which a reckless driver was using a red car with an independent suspension.  (I may even discover statistical evidence that reckless drivers prefer such cars.)  But of course there are many such fatal accidents that did not involve cars with those features, and many drivers of such cars that are meticulously law-abiding.  If the reckless drivers had been in almost any other car we could reasonably have expected the same outcome.  Hence, neither this color nor this suspension is incriminated as a feature that increases “mayhem.”
  2. We must also note that police forces worldwide have in recent years equipped their agents with assault weapons.  The police are equipping themselves against the same criminals that threaten civilians.  Therefore, if the government believes community police are justified in carrying these weapons to defend themselves and the community against criminals, then citizens should be equally justified in arming themselves with these weapons for their defense in the absence of police (who, courts have confirmed, do not have an enforceable duty to protect any citizen).

Siebel offers a number of questionable assertions, and a few outright falsehoods, in the core section of his report, “Assault Weapons Have No Sporting or Self-Defense Purpose” (p.14).  Here is a sampling with brief rebuttals:

Silencers are also illegal.

40 states allow for private ownership of silencers.  Is it fair to characterize something that is legal in 80% of the country as simply “illegal?”  Siebel declined to qualify this assertion.

A silencer is useful to assassins but clearly has no purpose for sportsmen.

Siebel doesn’t offer any examples of assassins exploiting the utility of a silencer.  In contrast, I have previously argued that a silencer offers many benefits to sportsmen and indeed any user of a firearm who doesn’t want to damage the hearing of himself or bystanders, or expose them to unattenuated muzzle blast.

Assault weapons were designed for military use. They have no legitimate use as self-defense weapons.

This is simply contradictory.  “Assault weapons” are tactical small arms optimized for the use of individual soldiers defending themselves and small units against attackers.  The military can equip its soldiers with a wide range of weapons for their personal defense.  Almost across the board it prefers assault weapons.

Assault weapons have never been “in common use” at any time.

Siebel declined to elaborate on this assertion, noting that the definition of “in common use” will be adjudicated by future courts.  Suffice it to say that millions of “assault weapons” continue to be owned and used by Americans.  Furthermore, they are standard issue to police and paramilitary forces both in the United States and around the world.