The Assault Weapons Ban: Death of Gun Control?

Professor Adam Winkler generally likes some gun control, but he’s one of the few people publishing and writing in this issue who takes our arguments seriously. I was happy to read a few days ago his article in the Daily Beast, pondering if the assault weapons ban killed gun control:

There was one certain impact of proposing to ban the sale of assault weapons: it was guaranteed to stir gun-rights proponents to action. Ever since Obama was elected, they’ve been claiming that he wanted to ban guns. Gun-control advocates mocked this claim—then proposed to ban a gun. Not only that, the gun they were trying to ban happened to be the most popular rifle in America.

I’m glad someone who is not generally in our camp noticed what I bolded there. I can tell you that the 1994 ban is what started me on this path. Had it not been for that ban, you wouldn’t be reading this right now. Given the number of people I’m seeing my age and close to my age in this current fight, I’m apparently not alone. Many of us wanted the AKs and ARs pretty much because people who thought they were better than us told us we couldn’t have them. The problem with Winkler’s argument is this:

Yet it’s harder for them to make a persuasive public case against background checks—which primarily burden criminals and the mentally ill trying to buy guns—or magazine restrictions, which, in allowing people to have 10 rounds plus readily available, already-loaded replacement magazines, didn’t interfere with self-defense.

It’s difficult only in the sense that a lot of gun owners are pretty rationally ignorant, and don’t really understand what expanded background checks mean. It is very difficult to define what constitutes a transfer is a way that doesn’t make ordinary behavior among gun owners legally risky or problematic. Also, magazine restrictions fall into the realm of people who think they are better than you telling you what you can and can’t have, and making preemptive self-defense choices on your behalf when they have no expertise or knowledge on self-defense. No, I can motivate just as many people to oppose a magazine ban as I can an assault weapons ban. Many more people have magazines that hold more than 10 rounds than have AR-15s or AKs, and don’t see any reason why the government should stack the deck against them in the rare situation they might actually need more than ten rounds. This isn’t the movies. Pistol rounds are poor fight stoppers, and it’s not like civilians have never before had to face multiple opponents.

15 thoughts on “The Assault Weapons Ban: Death of Gun Control?”

  1. Many more people have magazines that hold more than 10 rounds than have AR-15s or AKs, and don’t see any reason why the government should stack the deck against them in the rare situation they might actually need more than ten rounds.

    Exactly. About a month ago I had the following conversation with my best friend…

    Friend: I don’t mind them banning ARs, most people I know who want one are the kind of people I don’t trust with guns anyway.

    Me: You know when they banned ARs in NY, they also limited magazines to 7 rounds.

    Friend: The small magazine that came with my SR9C holds 10…

  2. As far as magazine restrictions go, the burden of proof isn’t on us to say why we need 30-round magazines. The guns are designed for them. It’s the way they are. No, the burden on them is to show that a magazine restriction will actually make a difference. And his argument cuts both ways–if multiple 10-round magazines aren’t restrictive of self-defense, they’re not going to be restrictive for mass killings either. If the ban isn’t going to encumber one, it’s not going to encumber the other.

    In other words, what he thinks is an argument in favor of a restriction is actually an argument against–that it’s symbolic, and will have no effect whatsoever on gun violence or lethality. Most people realize that enforcing such a law is nothing more than an expense without a result.

    1. Ern, but your point about an argument really being against what he thinks the argument supports is a subtlety of logic most college-educated people can’t see, and a virtual certainty that graduate students can’t see.

    1. That’s because when they say they don’t want to ban guns, they mumble the word “all” under their breath.

  3. The 10 round magazine argument, to many of those ignorant of firearms, also tend to equate reduction of capacity with reduction of lethality. As if reducing the number of rounds means less harm will occur. You see this frequently with antis arguing “If the *insert monster’s name here* was limited to 10 rounds, fewer people would have died due to reloading/tackling/gave up shooting, etc”. They seem to equate a reload with a stopping of the carnage. Idiotic for anyone who has actually fired a magazine-fed firearm but they pride themselves on that ignorance.

    Carrying the “less rounds = less carnage” argument, they also fail to see an unintended consequence of the 94-04 magazine ban: rise in the use of larger, more lethal rounds. .45s were quite popular under the ban with the reasoning “If you’re going to limit me to 10, I might as well have the best and most effective 10 I can use.”. 17+1 for 9mm or 8+1 for .45ACP.

    Alas, they fail to see the outcome of such policies with AR-15s. Say they banned semi-autos and limited magazines to 10. Lee Enfields and actions chambered in stuff like 35 Whelen, .458 SOCOM and .50 Beowulf suddenly see a surge in popularity. If I can only shoot 10 before reloading, I want the 10 send towards an adversary to be as effective as possible. In turn, INCREASING the carnage and death per shot, not decreasing it.

    I’ve made this argument here in Maryland. Fine, you want to limit my semi-auto to 10 rounds? I’ll get a .458 SOCOM upper for personal defense with floorplates for AR 30 rounders marked “For .458 SOCOM Only” and you can take your chances with that! Magazine can accept 30 of .223 or 10 of .458 SOCOM. I’m technically legal in any magazine ban due to the cluelessness of the political class of how a box and a spring work.

    Take away my semi-auto and I’ll shift to my Enfield. Most people would agree they’d rather be shot by the .223 Remington vs. .303 British. You’re more likely to survive a hit from the former, shot for shot.

  4. I’ve been thinking. This whole idea that “Newtown changed everything” and “Newtown was different” is quite advantageous for us gun owners. This recent push for gun control seems like it won’t turn out so bad, and the next time someone shoots up a school, the gun grabbers won’t be able to say “this time it’s different”. Really takes the wind from their sails.

  5. I can tell you that the 1994 ban is what started me on this path. Had it not been for that ban, you wouldn’t be reading this right now. Given the number of people I’m seeing my age and close to my age in this current fight, I’m apparently not alone.

    I’m a gunnie b/c of the 1994 ban. The only reason I bought an AR was because “they” said I shouldn’t have one. Turns out ARs are lots of fun. 20 years later, here we are.

  6. The re-introduction of the AWB / magazine limits cuts both ways for the gun grabber elites. On the one hand, it is a Big Red Herring that distracts the gun owners from the other gun grabber priorities and makes us show our hand (just exactly how much money can our side raise? just exactly how many people can our side turn out for rallies? just exactly how much support amongst voters can our side energize? etc). On the other hand, it does fire us up and makes us get off the couch to get involved. In that respect, the gun grabbers probably underestimated how angry and how active we were willing to get. But more than any of that, the re-introduction of the AWB and the magazine limits is the gun control equivalent of the national speed limits. It forces common, every day law-abiding people to ask themselves if they are going to comply with the laws that these assholes pass, or are they going to start, from this day forward, to decide for themselves which laws they think are valid and applicable to them, and which ones they think are so ridiculous that they are completely willing to ignore no matter what the supposed penalties could be?”

    1. The problem with where that road leads is speed limit violations and accidents, while deadly, are unintentional results of collective law breaking or disdain for an unjust law.

      The results of disdain for an unjust law involving gun owners being pushed over the edge are slightly more severe. Of the type that may result in the country never recovering or fragmenting beyond repair. If that canary sings, there is nothing we’d be able to do to save ourselves from disaster.

      Because unlike speed limits, no one believes it stops with an AWB or magazine limits. Just Google article and statements from their supporters and you’ll see phrase like “a good first step” and so on. They have no intention of stopping. And when those who are the target of such action decide that perhaps reaching out and having a real, permanent discourse with those who have wrong them is the only option remaining, it will be over.

      That is what I fear. I fear Sebastians “Two Americas” coming to pass, where those lines will get drawn and the effect of making Americans choose. No one wins under that outcome. Whether they believe it or not, the urban liberal centers cannot survive without those they disdain and hate. And they aren’t the ones who are sufficiently armed to simply take what they want when the “others” say “No.”.

  7. What a great post Sebastian! My favorite part is ‘This isn’t the movies’, because you put words to an opinion that I lacked the verbage to describe.
    oh and Sebastian, you are a terrific writer!

    1. Thank you for the kind words. If I were a great writer, I wouldn’t need a day job :) Or a night job, really, on most nights :)

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