Monday, December 07, 2015

'Assault weapons' are a '"politically defined category" based on scary looks rather than criminal significance' or technological capacity.

I only know slightly more than average about firearms, but that's enough that it's obvious to me that politicians haven't got a clue what they're talking about when they talk about "assault weapons."  Which, if they were really serious about finding some kind of solutions beyond simple minded rhetoric, education on the topic would be the first step.  Otherwise they sound - at best - naive and at worst like idiots, on the subject.  

Obama Wants to Ban 'Assault Weapons' but Does Not Know What They Are - Hit & Run : "The editorial board of the Times seems dimly aware that "assault weapons" are not machine guns, since it says they are "modified" versions (albeit "barely" or "slightly" modified) of guns used by soldiers. Likewise Collins, who correctly calls the guns she wants to eliminate "semiautomatic," meaning they fire once per trigger pull—unlike machine guns, which fire continuously, or assault rifles, which can fire either way. But Collins, who claims "semiautomatic weapons are totally inappropriate for either hunting or home defense," clearly does not understand how broad that category is, encompassing any gun that fires, ejects the empty casing, and chambers another catridge when you press the trigger. 

The semiautomatic weapons that Collins deems "totally inappropriate for either hunting or home defense" include many different models of hunting rifles and virtually all modern handguns except for revolvers. Collins says "the San Bernardino murderers were wielding assault rifles, with which they were able to fire an estimated 65-75 bullets in rapid succession." 

Actually, the long guns used in the San Bernardino attack—a DPMS A-15 and a Smith & Wesson M&P15—were not assault rifles, which are capable of automatic fire. They were not even "assault weapons," according to California's definition. And Collins is wrong to think they fire especially rapidly. They fire exactly as fast as any other semiautomatic, which is about as fast as a revolver: as fast as you can pull the trigger.

Collins is also wrong when she says "assault weapons" are "the armament of choice for mass shootings." According to the Mother Jones tally of such crimes, handguns are by far the most commonly used weapon, accounting for 94 of 143 firearms used by mass shooters, or 66 percent. Only 20 of the guns, or 14 percent, would qualify as "assault weapons" under a 2013 bill proposed by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.). 

As Brian Doherty noted on Friday, "assault weapons" account for an even smaller share of all homicides. Rifles in general, which include many guns that are not considered "assault weapons," were used in about 2 percent of homicides last year. Collins notes that "assault weapons...used to be illegal under a law that expired in 2004" and wonders, "If the law had stayed on the books, how many victims would have survived in San Bernardino, or at the elementary school in Newtown, Conn.?" We can say with some confidence that the federal "assault weapon" ban would have had no impact on either of those mass shootings, since it did not cover the guns used to commit them. Neither did the "assault weapon" bans of the states in which the massacres occurred, which were broader than the federal law."

"The Times, which says "certain kinds of weapons...must be outlawed for civilian ownership"—by which it means not only that future sales should be banned but that current owners should be forced to "give them up"—is confident "it is possible to define those guns in a clear and effective way." But it does not propose a definition, presumably because such an exercise would make it obvious that the "assault weapon" label hinges on features, such as folding stocks, pistol grips, barrel shrouds, and flash suppressors, that make little or no difference in the hands of mass shooters or ordinary criminals, who in any case overwhelmingly prefer other types of guns...

In a 2014 essay titled "The Assault Weapon Myth," ProPublica reporter Lois Becket noted that these demonized guns are a "politically defined category" based on scary looks rather than criminal significance. "The law that barred the sale of assault weapons from 1994 to 2004 made little difference," she wrote. "It turns out that big, scary military rifles don't kill the vast majority of the 11,000 Americans murdered with guns each year. Little handguns do." Apparently the editors of the Times missed that essay, even though they published it. I guess they also missed the paper's own coverage of this issue, which has intermittently explained how arbitrary the definition of "assault weapon" is and noted that AR-15-style rifles like those used by the San Bernardino murderers are among the most popular guns in the United States. At this point—27 years after the Violence Policy Center's Josh Sugarmann recommended targeting "assault weapons" based on their "menacing looks," taking advantage of "the public's confusion over fully automatic machine guns versus semi-automatic assault weapons"—there is no excuse for continuing to parrot myths about the special murder-facilitating features of these firearms. Either Obama, Clinton, Collins, and her colleagues at the Times do not know what they are talking about or they are deliberately misleading the public."

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