Ban Assault Weapons
I know the last post on gun control was explosive, and it wasn’t even directly promoting more control. I was just trying to observe that College Campuses Are Safe, and there is no need for fear-inducing statements about “the rising murder rate on campuses” to justify lifting restrictions on concealed weapons. For that reason, I want to tread carefully when I present what I think is the common sense approach to this particular issue of gun control: assault weapons.
The Federal Assault Weapons Ban (AWB) of 1994 classified certain types of firearms as “assault weapons” and prohibited their manufacture and sale to civilians. Like any hot issue, gun control is a fight waged on dozens of different fronts, but this issue seems like it should be abundantly clear. Civilians do not need to have assault weapons, and the government has a compelling interest to limit the production and sale of them to the public.
There are several stock arguments used by pro-gun advocates against most types of gun restriction, but all of them fall when applied to the AWB.
The first typical argument is for the right to self defense. Self defense may be a valid justification for possession of some firearms, but it absolutely does not apply to assault weapons. Unless you live in Baghdad, there is no incremental benefit to your self defense if you are packing an Uzi instead of a glock or an AR-15 (pictured above) instead of a 12-gauge. There is a reason why these weapons are considered “assault weapons;” they are designed for attacking a large force of enemies in a combat situation.
The second typical argument is the right to hunt. Surely no explanation is necessary why assault weapons are not useful or necessary for hunting animals.
The third typical argument is the Second Amendment. This one has always been rather shady because most NRA members ignore the crucial antecedent to the phrase about “the right to keep and bear arms” that expresses the purpose of a “well-organized militia [national guard].” But apart from that overall weakness, it is definitely a stretch to read the Amendment to imply that the people have the right to keep and bear assault weapons. Even the most hardcore NRA supporters realize that the line must be drawn at some point; most agree that the people should not have the right to keep and bear howitzers, B-2s, tanks, or mortars. This line is usually drawn when there is no legitimate self-defense or hunting right that would be furthered by a certain type of firearm or if that right is likely to be a danger to society overall.
The last argument is somewhat less typical, but should still be addressed, and that is that the people must retain the ability to match the government’s military power to prevent tyranny. Ironically, this usually irrelevant argument becomes the most relevant when we discuss a potential AWB. It is a nice idea in theory that if only enough people had assault weapons and other guns, then we could overthrow the government if it came to that. But there are way too many logical holes in that belief for it to be sustained. With modern technology, even widespread ownership of assault weapons among civilians would not be enough to check governmental power, even if people were willing to rise up in armed revolt.
The Assault Weapons Ban expired in 2004, ten years after it was implemented. Ten years was not nearly long enough to see any measurable effects of the ban, and Congress folded under lobbyist pressure and failed to renew it. The most legitimate criticism of the AWB was that it had too many loopholes. I agree with that assessment, but that makes me think that Congress should pass a new permanent AWB that closes those loopholes, making it harder for manufacturers to bypass the spirit of the law with tiny technical modifications. Assault weapons in the hands of civilians serve no legitimate purpose; they will never make this country safer, and anything we can do to limit the production and sale of them will be an overall benefit to society in the long run.