Thursday, November 13, 2008

"Battlefield" Rifles: To Ban, Or Not To Ban?

Yesterday I came across this article (from Armed and Safe)from the Tyler Morning Telegraph. The editor was requesting comments on the "gun run" we've seen since shortly before the election. The following was my response, but my comment was refused by the editor because I registered as "Jay S" rather than "Jay Summerfelt". This is against their Terms of Use.

The comment I was most concerned about was this bit:
"I think people are completely overreacting," Chad King wrote in a reader comment he submitted. "It's funny to me that people are buying guns that they fear are going to be taken away from them. That makes absolutely no sense. ... Republican or Democrat, we all have to agree somewhere in the middle that certain guns only belong on the battlefield and serve no purpose in the hands of children and criminals."
The following seeks to clarify the issue. Please review this basic argument and use it the next time you find yourself discussing the topic with someone who opposes a strict interpretation of the Constitution. (Of course, these arguments are not aimed at those who are already Second Amendment supporters. These are not new arguments.)

Can civilians really own "battlefield" rifles?

When the average person thinks of the rifles our soldiers, allied soldiers, and enemy soldiers carry, they typically think of weapons like the M16 (the rifle that many US soldiers use) and the AK47/74 (very common among ex-Soviet bloc nations and many middle-eastern police and military personnel).

A major distinguishing feature of these weapons is that they are "select fire" weapons. That means that many variations of these weapons can be "set" to safety, single shot, burst (fires a few rounds with one depression of the trigger), and full automatic.

Unfortunately common knowledge of firearms is limited to what is seen in the movies. Most people do not understand that these "battlefield" rifles aren't found in possession of civilians. In the United States, the average law abiding civilians can only legally own semi-automatic versions of these rifles. The AR15, for instance, is asemi-automatic only version of the M16. Another example is the M1A, a semi-automatic only version of the M14. In other words the civilian-legal "versions" of these rifles look like a duck but they don't quack like a duck.

Civilian ownership of full auto rifles is impossible in most cases. In the few cases where ownership of these full auto rifles is legal, it is prohibitively expensive and heavily regulated. (Essentially the ownership of even a single full auto weapon is limited to very rich dedicated collectors due to licensing fee, huge cost of the weapon, and intrusive inspection.)

Also interesting to note is that the US Military defines "Assault Rifle" as such (emphasis added):
"Assault rifles are short, compact, selective-fire weapons that fire a cartridge intermediate in power between submachinegun and rifle cartridges."
Civilian-legal "assault" weapons are not capable of select-fire. This definition is virtually identical to one of the earlier definitions of an "assault" weapon by the Nazi army.

What's an "assault" weapon?
The difference (since 2004 anyway) between the weapons our soldiers have and the weapons a law abiding citizen can buy in a gun shop is that soldiers have access to full auto (one trigger hold makes lots of shots) and select fire (one trigger hold makes a few shots). Civilians have access only to semi-automatic (meaning one trigger hold makes one shot).

So what's the difference between these civilian "assault" weapons and the typically pretty wood-stocked rifles that you see carried by hunters? The difference is purely cosmetic.

You read that right! The definition of "assault weapon" is arbitrary and capricious. This was a definition that was invented by a handful of hardcore anti-gun politicians. A few examples of these cosmetic features:
- A forward vertical grip (ergonomic feature)
- Adjustable stock (ergonomic feature)
- Bayonet lug (most don't even know what this looks like)
- Detachable flash suppressor (even during the ban this could be fixed to the barrel - so you could have one, but you couldn't remove it)

Let me illustrate my point more clearly. Look at these pictures:

What's the difference between those rifles?

Nothing. They're the same gun. They fire the same round. They both only fire one shot per trigger press.

Are you telling me that the first weapon belongs in the hands of a civilian where the second gun does not, simply because of some ergonomic features?

(The astute observer will note that the wood-stocked gun has a longer barrel, but this is really not relevant to this discussion. The longer or shorter barrel could be placed on either weapon.)

There's also the matter of magazine capacity, something that anti-gun politicians purport to be the source of much evil. However, statistical analysis of the 10-year AWB does not suggest that reduction in magazine capacity had any statistically significant effect. (One can always just reload, after all!)

Why do you "need" that gun?
These guns are great for all sorts of things.
- Target shooting (in fact the AR15 and M1A are the most popular platforms for marksmanship practice and competition)
- Small and medium game hunting (.223 is fantastic for small, and a strong .308 load is fantastic for medium and some large game)
- Personal defense, especially against small animals or intruders
- Any time you need a "handy" light rifle: camping, canoeing, trail/ranch gun, you name it. Anywhere it's handy to have an aluminum receiver to lighten the weight and you need a rifle that can shoot out to 200 yards or so.

If you're not buying the reasons for ownership of such a rifle, consider this: look around the room you're in right now. Do you have anything that you don't "need"? A fancy watch? A second monitor on your computer? High quality speakers on your stereo or computer? An iPhone? Do you have fancy wheels on your car?

Besides, should we ask the government to take away everything you deem "unnecessary"?

These features make the rifle handier and more comfortable. What about ergonomic comfort and convenience begs for a ban?

The future of the "assault" weapon ban
Now that I've exposed the very term "assault weapon" as arbitrary, capricious, and fraudulent, I will further my case by pointing to the "future" of such bans. Many anti-gun politicians would like to see the following banned as well:
- Lever guns (yep! those are defined as "assault" weapons in some newly proposed "assault" weapon bans)
- Semi-automatics of all kinds (pistols, rifles, shotguns, you name it)

Should we allow Washington to go down this slippery slope? Consider: the '94 AWB made a statistically insignificant impact on violent crime (ie. statistical analysis could not 'prove' that the ban was effective). Less than 2% of violent crimes involving the death of a police officer involve these "assault" weapons.

What's the point of adding restrictions that are ineffectual, intrusive, and subject to the whim of politicians who simply hate - for whatever reason - the fact that normal citizens can own rifles that look like the "real thing"?

So why are we panicking?
Voting records speak volumes of a politician's intent. Just like there are strong pro-gun Democrats (John Murtha of PA or Mark Begich in AK for instance), there are politicians that simply lie to protect themselves from the pro-gun vote. President Obama is one of these politicians. He has supported a ban on all semiautomatic weapons. He has supported a ban on concealed carry (something that is statistically proven to not cause more crime). He has supported a permanent and expanded "assault weapon" ban.

"Yeah, but when the Second Amendment was ratified all they had was single shot muzzle loaders!"
Well, those were the "assault" weapon of the day. Nobody kept them from owning bayonets, did they? Even the lifetimes of the framers saw significant advancements in firearm technology. Rifling was an important advancement, for instance, allowing guns to shoot farther and be far more accurate. Yet never once did a framer proclaim that the Second Amendment was a mistake, or that "common sense" restrictions need to be enacted.

Get informed when discussing restrictions on constitutional rights!


Anonymous said...

The second amendment also referred to cannons that were stored by some farmers.
The Prussian built rifled barreled muzzle loaders were a great concern for the British.

Anonymous said...

While I essentially agree with you on this topic, I must point out the difference you asked of your readers in regard to the two rifles. The rifle with the wood stock (I am personally not terribly familiarised with firearms) is bolt-action. I'm making the assumption that the average person would think there would be more of a delay with a bolt-action rifle.

Jay S. said...

The wood stocked rifle is a M1A/M14. It is not a bolt action rifle.

I'll point out some features that make it easy to identify the M1A/M14 from a photograph:

- Safety lever adjacent to the trigger guard.

- Shape of the trigger guard (the trigger guard is actually a spring that is released in the process if disassembling the rifle)

- Shape of the receiver's rear and rear sight

- Gas tube construction (bolt action rifles don't even have gas tubes)

- Magazine release forward of the trigger (a easily visible feature that differentiates the M1A/M14 from the M1 Garand)

If you had your hands on the rifle there are other features, that would make clear the style of the rifle.

Both of those rifles are M1A/M14. They are both semi-automatic rifles. They can both accept high capacity magazines. They likely both fire the 7.62x51mm NATO or .308 Win round. (I say "likely" because some manufacturers make build similar rifles to accept different calibers.)

They're the same rifle except for barrel length and stock.