Assault Weapons Revisited

Controlling the terms of a debate is crucial. Take, for example, the debate over partial—birth abortion.  Were it to be called the debate over 'Intact Dilation and Extraction' abortion as abortion—rights advocates call it, there might be more public support for the procedure. The key is to use simple terms that (depending upon what your agenda is) generate an emotional reaction with the public. This is also true in the debate over the Assault Weapons Ban.

 

Earlier this month the Assault Weapons Ban, which was implemented in 1994, came up for debate because it is scheduled to expire in September of this year. Senate Democrats, especially Charles Schumer (NY) and Barbara Boxer (CA), contended, in Schumer's words, that it "has been effective." Media outlets, led by the editorial page of the NY Times, support this claim and call for making the ban permanent. 

 

Despite the wave of support for the Assault Weapons Ban from the left, the ban is a poster boy of feel—good politics with no substance whatsoever. An actual analysis of the law — something you will never see in the mainstream media — exposes how illogical and useless it actually is.

 

The purpose of the term "Assault Weapon" is to confuse semi—automatic weapons with full—automatics. Democrats have been wildly successful promoting this confusion.  For example, during the debate on the Senate floor, Schumer stood in front of a poster of an AK—47.  Yet he never explained that the ban does not cover automatic AK—47s, thus leaving it to the public to falsely conclude that full—automatics would be legal once the ban ended.

 

Meanwhile the media, especially on TV, has done an extraordinary job confusing the public as well. For example, whenever the ban is discussed on TV, file footage of machine guns mowing down targets are regularly shown, even though they have nothing to do with the law. Fox News, for one, is guilty of this. During one brief discussion of the ban, a man with a heavy machine—gun was shown ripping a target to pieces with one long burst of fire. Print media is hardly better. The NY Post, for example, simply lied when it stated that "machine—guns" would be available once the ban ended. The media also likes to call them "rapid—fire," which again is an attempt to confuse "Assault Weapons" with full—automatic weapons.

 

The Assault Weapons Ban does not ban full—automatic weapons. Full—automatics fire continuously when the trigger is depressed, which produces the distinct machine—gun sound. Full—automatics have been heavily regulated (requiring fingerprinting, background check, $200 tax and approval of the owner's local law enforcement official) in the US since 1934, and then were completely banned in 1986. Semi—automatics, which fire each time the trigger is pulled, are covered by the ban.

 

Those who formulated the ban ran into a problem when they realized that hunters and target shooters regularly use semi—automatics and have been doing so since the end of the 19th century. Since they needed to claim — as Clinton did — that they weren't "taking away anybody's duck gun," they had to figure out what distinguished an "Assault Weapon" from a "Weapon." The public assumed "Assault Weapon" meant fully—automatics, but fully—automatics were already illegal. Thus, they based the law on looks, not function. They therefore outlawed from further manufacture any semi—automatic weapon that took a detachable magazine and had two or more of the following:

 

1) A pistol grip

 

2) A flash suppressor

 

3) A threaded barrel

 

4) A bayonet lug

 

5) A folding or collapsible stock

 

However, none of these features makes a weapon more deadly or more effective in any way. Furthermore, any rifle now classified as an "Assault Weapon" could simply have these features removed, and then put on sale again.   This is exactly what manufacturers did. In other words, weapons that are mechanically identical to "Assault Weapons" have been available all along. Take, for example, the rifle shown on Schumer's poster.  A wide range of identical AK—47s are available from the following manufacturers and distributors: http://www.arsenalinc.com/products.html, www.globaltrades.com and http://www.aimsurplus.com/acatalog/Rifles.html.

 

The media also likes to tout that the 19 types of assault weapons were banned. Again, this is a false claim. The ban named 19 types of assault weapons, but many of them were already illegal. Once the ban went into law, all manufacturers had to do was re—name the weapons they were producing and sell them again. Take, for example, the Olympic arms M—16—style rifle. The Assault Weapons Ban names the AR—15, which is identical. In response to the ban, Olympic re—named their rifle the PCR, which stands for Politically Correct Rifle, and then began selling again http://www.olyarms.com/arret.html .

 

In fact, just about every one of the 19 weapons "banned" under the law has been re—named and sold again.  Want an Uzi? Now it's a Vector. Want an HK—94? Now it's a BW—5. Note that none of these currently manufactured weapons have more than one of the above mentioned features, thus making them legal. Since these weapons are still legally available, any claim that the Assault Weapons Ban has been effective is simply false.

 

It is impossible for the Assault Weapons Ban to have contributed to fighting crime, so the decrease in crime over the last ten years has to be for other reasons. Why, then, are Senators Schumer and Boxer so adamant about the ban's effectiveness and willing to put so much effort into making it permanent? My guess is that both Senators benefit from positive news coverage when they are shown on TV fighting for "reasonable" gun laws, because of what the name "Assault Weapons Ban" implies. Unfortunately, the media doesn't have the patience or energy actually to take a close look at the law, and all those images of machineguns are great for ratings.  Despite what Schumer, Boxer and the media say, we should let the Assault Weapons Ban expire — its name is all it has going for it.

 

The author graduated from West Point in 2002, and was the champion marksman of his class. He was commissioned as an officer in the Army's Military Intelligence Branch.  After being seriously wounded in Baghdad in May of 2003, he was evacuated back to the United States and is currently undergoing physical therapy as part of his recovery. He was awarded the Bronze Star for his service in Iraq.

Controlling the terms of a debate is crucial. Take, for example, the debate over partial—birth abortion.  Were it to be called the debate over 'Intact Dilation and Extraction' abortion as abortion—rights advocates call it, there might be more public support for the procedure. The key is to use simple terms that (depending upon what your agenda is) generate an emotional reaction with the public. This is also true in the debate over the Assault Weapons Ban.

 

Earlier this month the Assault Weapons Ban, which was implemented in 1994, came up for debate because it is scheduled to expire in September of this year. Senate Democrats, especially Charles Schumer (NY) and Barbara Boxer (CA), contended, in Schumer's words, that it "has been effective." Media outlets, led by the editorial page of the NY Times, support this claim and call for making the ban permanent. 

 

Despite the wave of support for the Assault Weapons Ban from the left, the ban is a poster boy of feel—good politics with no substance whatsoever. An actual analysis of the law — something you will never see in the mainstream media — exposes how illogical and useless it actually is.

 

The purpose of the term "Assault Weapon" is to confuse semi—automatic weapons with full—automatics. Democrats have been wildly successful promoting this confusion.  For example, during the debate on the Senate floor, Schumer stood in front of a poster of an AK—47.  Yet he never explained that the ban does not cover automatic AK—47s, thus leaving it to the public to falsely conclude that full—automatics would be legal once the ban ended.

 

Meanwhile the media, especially on TV, has done an extraordinary job confusing the public as well. For example, whenever the ban is discussed on TV, file footage of machine guns mowing down targets are regularly shown, even though they have nothing to do with the law. Fox News, for one, is guilty of this. During one brief discussion of the ban, a man with a heavy machine—gun was shown ripping a target to pieces with one long burst of fire. Print media is hardly better. The NY Post, for example, simply lied when it stated that "machine—guns" would be available once the ban ended. The media also likes to call them "rapid—fire," which again is an attempt to confuse "Assault Weapons" with full—automatic weapons.

 

The Assault Weapons Ban does not ban full—automatic weapons. Full—automatics fire continuously when the trigger is depressed, which produces the distinct machine—gun sound. Full—automatics have been heavily regulated (requiring fingerprinting, background check, $200 tax and approval of the owner's local law enforcement official) in the US since 1934, and then were completely banned in 1986. Semi—automatics, which fire each time the trigger is pulled, are covered by the ban.

 

Those who formulated the ban ran into a problem when they realized that hunters and target shooters regularly use semi—automatics and have been doing so since the end of the 19th century. Since they needed to claim — as Clinton did — that they weren't "taking away anybody's duck gun," they had to figure out what distinguished an "Assault Weapon" from a "Weapon." The public assumed "Assault Weapon" meant fully—automatics, but fully—automatics were already illegal. Thus, they based the law on looks, not function. They therefore outlawed from further manufacture any semi—automatic weapon that took a detachable magazine and had two or more of the following:

 

1) A pistol grip

 

2) A flash suppressor

 

3) A threaded barrel

 

4) A bayonet lug

 

5) A folding or collapsible stock

 

However, none of these features makes a weapon more deadly or more effective in any way. Furthermore, any rifle now classified as an "Assault Weapon" could simply have these features removed, and then put on sale again.   This is exactly what manufacturers did. In other words, weapons that are mechanically identical to "Assault Weapons" have been available all along. Take, for example, the rifle shown on Schumer's poster.  A wide range of identical AK—47s are available from the following manufacturers and distributors: http://www.arsenalinc.com/products.html, www.globaltrades.com and http://www.aimsurplus.com/acatalog/Rifles.html.

 

The media also likes to tout that the 19 types of assault weapons were banned. Again, this is a false claim. The ban named 19 types of assault weapons, but many of them were already illegal. Once the ban went into law, all manufacturers had to do was re—name the weapons they were producing and sell them again. Take, for example, the Olympic arms M—16—style rifle. The Assault Weapons Ban names the AR—15, which is identical. In response to the ban, Olympic re—named their rifle the PCR, which stands for Politically Correct Rifle, and then began selling again http://www.olyarms.com/arret.html .

 

In fact, just about every one of the 19 weapons "banned" under the law has been re—named and sold again.  Want an Uzi? Now it's a Vector. Want an HK—94? Now it's a BW—5. Note that none of these currently manufactured weapons have more than one of the above mentioned features, thus making them legal. Since these weapons are still legally available, any claim that the Assault Weapons Ban has been effective is simply false.

 

It is impossible for the Assault Weapons Ban to have contributed to fighting crime, so the decrease in crime over the last ten years has to be for other reasons. Why, then, are Senators Schumer and Boxer so adamant about the ban's effectiveness and willing to put so much effort into making it permanent? My guess is that both Senators benefit from positive news coverage when they are shown on TV fighting for "reasonable" gun laws, because of what the name "Assault Weapons Ban" implies. Unfortunately, the media doesn't have the patience or energy actually to take a close look at the law, and all those images of machineguns are great for ratings.  Despite what Schumer, Boxer and the media say, we should let the Assault Weapons Ban expire — its name is all it has going for it.

 

The author graduated from West Point in 2002, and was the champion marksman of his class. He was commissioned as an officer in the Army's Military Intelligence Branch.  After being seriously wounded in Baghdad in May of 2003, he was evacuated back to the United States and is currently undergoing physical therapy as part of his recovery. He was awarded the Bronze Star for his service in Iraq.