Some Thoughts on Banning 'Assault' Rifles

Let's begin with a few basic facts:

More people are killed every year with blunt objects, or are simply beaten to death, than are murdered using "assault" rifles.[1]

Only about 3-4% of murders using firearms (out of about 11,000 annually) in the US involve rifles (including bolt & lever action rifles, .22LR and semi-automatic rifles of all types). [1]  A person's chances of being murdered with an "assault" rifle in any given year are literally about one in a million.

The average number of people killed per year in all types of public mass shootings (3+ killed, not including shooter) over the last 38 years was 25.  Fewer than 1/3 of these were killed using semi-automatic rifles.  The average number of people wounded per year was 35.

The average number of people killed at schools in mass (3+ killed) school shootings, adult and child, over the same 38-year period was 4 per year, or roughly 1 in ten million.  Meanwhile 815 students die annually and 152,250 are injured during regular travel between school and home.[2]

In the four major school shootings (Columbine, Virginia Tech, Newtown, Parkland) over the past 38 years in which 10 or more people were killed, 45 people were killed and 47 wounded using pistols, while 44 were killed and 16 wounded with "assault" rifles.  At Virginia Tech, the most deadly, 32 were killed with pistols.  The Parkland shooter used only 10-round magazines.

In an average year 4 to 5 times more people are knifed to death[1], 30 times more people are killed by drunken drivers[3] and 200 times more die from drug overdoses[4] than are killed with "assault" rifles.

So if safety is really the issue, where are the marches and rallies and posters to fight drug trafficking?  Why aren't we working to bring back Prohibition?  How about requiring safer school buses with automatic braking and seat belts?  Far more children would be saved.  Why instead the near hysterical drive to blame the NRA and ban semi-automatic rifles?

Just a few months before Parkland, an attacker with an AR-15 type rifle shot up a church - 26 people killed, including 6 children ranging from 17 months to 16 years old -- yet calls for banning guns were muted at best.  Perhaps because the hero, a civilian NRA instructor, used his own AR-15 rifle to end the massacre before police could arrive, then followed and cornered the attacker?  And because the attacker was only free to buy guns because the Air Force failed to report his domestic abuse violations?  A tale of government negligence, and an armed civilian to the rescue.  Not exactly the "narrative" about the terrorist NRA, inadequate gun laws, and evil black rifles the left was looking for.

Now the Parkland massacre exposes an almost unbelievable level of incompetence and even cowardice at every level of law enforcement from the FBI down to the local sheriff's department.  All warning signs were ignored, and an armed officer already on the scene, who might have cut the massacre short, did not act.  Existing laws were entirely adequate to prevent both of these shootings, but failed due to negligence.

So leftist politicians and the media try to spin the cause as a lack of enough gun control, with the bloodthirsty but all-powerful NRA as the scapegoat.  And as always, the pre-ordained response is yet another attempt to ban the favorite rifles of tens of millions of law-abiding gun owners.  A depraved young man happened to use the most popular type of rifle in America when he went on his rampage -- so let's take away everyone's right to own the most effective tools available for defending home, family, and community.

This calculated push to ban semi-automatic firearms in a fit of emotion is not really about safety.  The true purpose is to advance the left's longstanding desire to disarm the American people.  Parkland is just the latest excuse, and the fervent young people you see on the news, carefully selected to exclude contrary viewpoints, are just the latest useful idiots.

As for the Parkland students, a lucky escape from a dangerous situation does not confer moral authority on anyone, or make someone wise or well-informed or suddenly an expert on how to make schools safer.  Treating these scared, angry teenagers as if they were some sort of moral and intellectual paragons entitled to dictate policy to adults is ridiculous.

There is a reason why tens of millions of Americans choose to own a good semi-automatic rifle, and why the moment it seems likely they might be forbidden to buy one, hundreds of thousands rush out to the gun stores.  People want to know that they can protect their families in the event of a major disaster, come what may.  Our technological civilization is increasingly vulnerable the more we rely on electrically-powered machinery, large centralized power plants, long-distance energy pipelines, and electronic controls and communication.  Any number of low-probability but utterly disastrous events -- EMP, nuclear war, extreme solar flares or volcanism, pandemics, asteroid strikes, targeted infrastructure terrorism, cyber war -- could bring about massive loss of life and a state of chaos that would take years to recover from.  The 1 in 500 police officers who keep the peace in normal times would be overwhelmed, and ad-hoc local militias would have to come together and pick up the slack.  At least in America, that's possible.  England and most of Europe, not so much.

In the end, Americans trust their neighbors and fellow citizens far more than they trust the government or any political party.  Independence and self-reliance, anathema to the left, are quintessential American traits.  Most of us still believe in being prepared to take care of ourselves if things go badly wrong, not to mention being ready to fight for our freedom if the day ever comes when our political system devolves toward dictatorship.  And disarming the citizenry is one of the key steps down that path.  Watching Venezuelan socialists outlaw the sale of private firearms and ammunition in 2012, then declare they would hand out hundreds of thousands of AK-47 rifles to their own followers in 2017, should be a sufficiently cautionary tale for anyone who values freedom.

Banning guns does not lead to safety, it leads to helplessness.  Rights not backed up with the ability to defend them are really just permissions, dependent entirely on the willingness and ability of the authorities to enforce them.  Such willingness and ability is not guaranteed.  If you doubt it, study the legalized persecution of unarmed blacks in the Jim Crow era.  Genuinely free people must have the right to be armed with weapons sufficient to defend their freedom.  AR-15 variants are ideal general-purpose rifles -- affordable, practical, customizable, lightweight, accurate, low-recoil, easy to shoot -- and ammo is universally available and cheap thanks to its high-volume military production.  Exaggerated "safety" fears aside, they are the perfect emergency backup for free citizens, the Constitution's ultimate safety valve, and a lot of fun to shoot besides.

Steven Lord is a retired engineer, father of three, and NRA Life Member.

Image: Vitaly V. Kuzmin via Wikimedia Commons.

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