Note: I first started writing this prior to the Connecticut shooting. Since then the President has announced that gun control is his primary concern, and he has the backings of the Democratic Party. I only hope that the emotions of everyone involved have calmed and we as a nation can have an intelligent, rational discussion on gun control.
AK-47s are for Soldiers.
On Wednesday, 25 July, the President finally decided to come out of the closet on gun control. I say finally because up until then he’d largely avoided talking about the issue, save for an interview he gave in 2004 where he said that he opposed all laws allowing concealed carry. He avoided talking about it after the Virginia Tech shooting and the Fort Hood shooting, but the Aurora, Colorado shooting seemed to have put him over the edge and he needed to get it off his chest.
So on the 25th of July while addressing the National Urban League in New Orleans, he decided to make it clear that while he supports the Second Amendment and Americans’ traditions of hunting and gun ownership, he also said that America has a problem that needs tackling and has a long way to go. He also said these words: “I also believe that a lot of gun owners would agree that AK-47s belong in the hands of soldiers, not in the hands of criminals. That they belong on the battlefield of war, not on the streets of our cities.”
Well, I can agree with that to an extent, ignoring the fact that the Aurora shooter didn’t use an AK-47. The AK-47 assault rifle is one of the most ubiquitous firearms in the world, and has single-handedly (in my opinion, anyway) formed many of the nations of the world into the warlord nations they are today. They didn’t cost much to produce, and the old Soviet Union threw tons of the damn things at any country they thought they could sway toward opposing us during the Cold War. It’s an extremely reliable weapon, and it can throw a pretty good sized bullet seven hundred and fifteen meters per second out to an effective range of around three hundred meters (four hundred, if firing in semi-automatic mode).
However, the AK-47 as described above is illegal to own without shelling out a good-sized chunk of cash ($200, to be exact) and undergoing a rigorous background check with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms. Even then it takes several months, and you can only keep the weapon in the same state. They’re heavily regulated and tightly controlled, and you pretty much aren’t going to get your hands on one without being a collector or a dealer (the prices are pretty prohibitive). In fact, AK-47s technically fit the definition of a machine gun, and have been illegal for civilian possession without federal government approval ever since the National Firearms Act of 1934. That’s right, AK-47s were taken out of the hands of the common man 13 years before they were invented. Go U.S.A.
The AK-47 that is generally available today, however, is a semi-automatic firearm, which means when you pull the trigger only a single round is fired. This weapon doesn’t fit the legal definition of “assault rifle,” as assault rifles legally require the weapon to be fully automatic. The AR-15 is another weapon in the category. And assault rifles are just as heavily restricted and regulated under both the National Firearms Act of 1934 and the Firearm Owners Protection Act of 1986.
Right about now some of you are scratching your heads, remembering the so-called “Federal Assault Weapons Ban” that was passed in 1994. Most people think that that bill banned assault rifles like the AK-47 and AR-15, so obviously the Old Sarge must be off his rocker, right?
Not quite. The ban, which was actually called the “Public Safety and Recreational Firearms Use Protection Act,” by the way, actually created a whole new class of weapons called “Assault Weapons.” This class of weapons was based on nothing more than cosmetics. Let me repeat that.
An entire new class of weapons was created and weapons were banned because of how they looked. It didn’t target weapon features that made them more dangerous than any other type of weapon; it targeted weapons that looked scary. It did ban specific semi-automatic firearms, like the semi-auto versions of the AK-47 and AR-15, but then it created a list of cosmetic features and weapons that had two or more of those features were pulled off the shelves. In short, gun control advocates praised the banning of weapons that looked scary. Let’s review that list:
- Folding or telescoping stock
- Pistol Grip
- Bayonet mount
- Flash suppressor (or threaded barrel to accommodate one)
- Grenade Launcher
- Magazine that attaches outside the pistol grip
- Threaded barrel to attach extender, suppressor, flash suppressor or hand grip
- Barrel shroud than can be used as a hand-hold
- A semi-automatic version of a fully-automatic firearm
- Folding or telescoping stock
- Pistol grip
- Fixed capacity of more than five rounds
- Detachable magazine
Now, some of these items make sense and I could get behind them if it weren’t for the fact that it takes two or more items to ban the weapon. That tells me that the capabilities weren’t the problem, just the way the weapon looked. In other words, the weapons were banned based on what the legislation’s authors thought they knew about the weapons, and they obviously learned about the weapons from Hollywood.
Let’s review these items one by one, shall we?
Folding or Telescoping stocks
This is one of the items on the list I could almost get behind. I say almost, because there is a HUGE difference between a folding stock and a telescoping stock. One changes the way the weapon is held in order to make it usable by people with shorter or longer than average arms, while the other takes as much as a foot away from the weapon length.
A telescoping stock is one most people are familiar with. It looks like this:
The stock changes the distance from the hand-hold to the stock, allowing someone with shorter arms to actually put the stock against their shoulder while still being able to aim the weapon properly (and safely), or allowing someone with longer arms to do the same without the risk of inducing carpel tunnel syndrome in their wrists. It’s a feature designed to allow a manufacturer to produce one firearm for all body types instead of having to produce several different models with varying stock lengths. Most telescoping stocks are attached to weapons that require a stock of some kind due to the internal workings of the weapon itself. The stock of the AR-15, for example, contains the buffer and spring that absorb the recoil and allow the weapon to extract the spent cartridge and load the next into the chamber.
A folding stock, on the other hand, looks like this:
It is designed to dramatically shorten the length of the weapon, and only has two uses: ease of transport and concealability. Ease of transport means that the weapon can be stored in a smaller space or carried in an area where space is a premium. Special Operations units prefer weapons with folding stocks for airborne or helicopter insertions because the weapon doesn’t catch on the door frame on the way out of the aircraft. Private owners often like them because they can be stored in a smaller safe or case. And Hollywood script writers like them because they can be hidden under a suit jacket, apparently.
As I stated above, I can almost get behind this restriction when it comes to the folding stocks, because there is the possibility of being able to easily conceal a larger weapon capable of firing accurately at longer distances than your average handgun. I say almost here, because there are a lot of weapons out there with folding (or removable) stocks that simply are not more deadly than a handgun.
This category is a waste of legislation, in my opinion, because a folding or telescoping stock doesn’t make a firearm more deadly. More accurate at longer ranges, perhaps, but not more deadly at the closer ranges these shootings take place. While some may argue that a shorter stock may make these firearms easier to use at closer ranges, my response is that someone intent on committing this type of atrocity is simply going to purchase a weapon that fits his or her frame from the get-go, making it a moot point.
Pistol grips have been used on rifles and shotguns for decades. They allow a marksman to square their wrist with the rest of their arm, allowing their entire arm to absorb the recoil of a shot without putting undue strain on the wrist. To use a shotgun or rifle without one properly, one is required to twist their wrist to allow the fingers to grip the stock. Basically, pistol grips are an ergonomic accessory.
Some people thing a pistol grip allows one to fire a weapon more effectively from the hip. In movies, no one is seen firing a machine gun that doesn’t have pistol grip, after all. John Rambo was famous for mowing down hordes of people with his machine guns blasting away from the hip. The problem with this thought process, though, is machine guns are already banned from civilian ownership, and civilian accessible firearms with pistol grips are just as functional and usable without them. Indeed, there are many weapons out there, both rifle and shotgun, that have the option of a stock grip or a pistol grip, and the decision to choose either has no effect on the capabilities of the weapon.
Pistol grips are on the list of what makes a firearm an assault weapon, yet they don’t contribute to the functionality or deadliness of the weapon in the slightest.
A bayonet mount is a chunk of metal on the underside of a rifle barrel with a couple of small grooves in it. It looks like this:
A typical bayonet looks like this:
The loop in the cross-guard of the bayonet slips over the rifle barrel, and the bayonet mount attaches to the bottom of the bayonet. The end result is called a fixed bayonet and looks like this:
This is the point where I have to ask those of you reading this to do my job for me. I’ve been trying like hell to find the statistics for bayonet stabbings during mass shootings, but I just can’t seem to find them. They have to be out there, right? I mean, federal legislators took the time to actually add this into a ten-year ban, debate on it, and finally vote it into law, signed by The President of the United States himself. Surely there must have been some numbers somewhere on stabbings by fixed bayonets during shooting sprees. Somebody who’s Google-Fu is stronger than mine please let me know what you find.
Actually, no, don’t bother. Why? Because that data doesn’t exist. This “feature” was yet another purely cosmetic, scary looking design that made somebody in Congress tremble at the thought. A bayonet mount has no use whatsoever in the firearm’s ability to fire or its rate of fire. The weapon doesn’t shoot the bayonet, after all, so what possible use could this part of the legislation have? The answer is none.
Flash Suppressor (or threaded barrel to accommodate one)
A flash suppressor looks like this:
It’s designed to cut back on the flash produced at the muzzle of the barrel whenever a round is fired. It’s primarily designed keep from blinding the shooter in low-light conditions; the fact that it also reduces the flash to other observers is purely secondary.
Modern powder used in ammunition is completely burned by the time it exits the barrel of rifles, meaning the only thing that comes out of the barrel (besides the bullet) is a puff of smoke and gas. When the barrels are shortened, as is the case with carbines, the powder hasn’t had the chance to completely burn itself out and therefore produces a quick burst of flame. That burst of flame is a couple of feet in front of the face of the marksman using the rifle. Not that big of a deal during daylight hours, but when firing in low-light conditions it can absolutely blind the marksman for a few seconds while his or her eyes adjust to the light change. The same effect can be achieved by a ring of cardboard around the end of the barrel.
These were banned because of the assumptions that they were a military feature, thinking they add to the stealthiness of the shooter. It doesn’t unless the shooter is engaging police forces at night from a distance. I’m not sure how many mass shootings have been committed by sniper at night, but I have a feeling it is in the same neighborhood as fixed bayonet stabbings.
Strangely enough, what are affixed to most military rifles these days are called compensators or muzzle brakes, and looks like this:
Muzzle brakes and compensators reduce or control recoil by directing the expanding gasses from the burned powder to either side of the barrel (muzzle brakes) or straight up (compensators). They don’t alter or reduce the flash much, if at all (the standard used on the M16/M4 series of military rifles uses the compensator) These do improve the functionality of the firearm, and quite a bit in some cases, yet these aren’t what was banned. The flash suppressor was, something that keeps a shooter from seeing spots at night and can be gotten around by using a 3×5 note card.
When you hear the words “grenade launcher,” you think of this:
That’s an M203 40mm grenade launcher attached to the underside of an M16 assault rifle (well, the airsoft version, but they look the same). They’re used to fire a grenade in a parabolic arc to go kaboom up to a few hundred meters away. While I have to put this one with the fixed bayonet and night-time sniper shootings, I also have to say I’d support this category in an assault weapon ban. I can’t, for the life of me, think of any legitimate reason why a civilian should have access to this kind of hardware, and wholly support its inclusion in the assault weapon ban.
That is, if that grenade launcher up there was actually what was banned. It wasn’t. Not even close, in fact.
In reality, what was actually banned was this:
That, my friends, is what is called a rifle grenade. The assault weapons ban prohibited the manufacture and sale of devices that were fixed to the muzzle of a rifle and allowed for the firing of rifle grenades, something the United States hasn’t used since the 1970s.
That M203, though? Go for it.
Magazine that attaches outside the pistol grip
This one makes sense to me, and it’s one I support. It’s meant for semi-automatic pistols, and includes pistols like this one:
This is one of the few things that was included and actually met the purpose of the ban. The pistol pictured above has a much higher magazine capacity than any homeowner needs for self defense, and the forward magazine gives the shooter something else to hold on to, greatly increasing his or her accurate rate of fire. Plus, due to its overall small size, such a weapon can be easily concealed before havoc is unleashed.
I only wish that the pistol in the above image wouldn’t have still been legal under the ban, since the ban requires two features to be classified as an assault weapon.
Threaded barrel to attach extender, suppressor, flash suppressor or hand grip
Also aimed at pistols, this category hit up on flash suppressors again, but this time around included the ability to attach a hand grip and a suppressor. Flash suppressors were likely thought of in the same line of thinking as the ones on the rifles, and on pistols I can’t really fault their line of thinking if it weren’t for the fact that no one is hiding and sniping with a pistol. And I can get behind the hand grip (see above). That leaves the suppressor.
Suppressors, better known to the rest of the world as silencers, are the pinnacle example of normal, everyday human beings not being able to distinguish between TV and reality. Hollywood has convinced damn near everyone that suppressors totally deaden the sound of the gunshot, allowing an assassin to plug people and no one who didn’t see the deed would know otherwise. Hollywood as even tried to tell us that it is possible to kill a man without the person sitting right next to them having any idea until it was all over.
Suppressors, in reality, work a lot like mufflers on cars. An awful lot of the noise made by a gunshot is the sound of the escaping gasses rapidly expanding as they exit the barrel. To cut back on the noise, the exhaust from the powder burn is allowed to expand in the suppressor first, passing through a series of baffles built into the cylinder. The gas is therefore released out of the suppressor much more slowly and therefore doesn’t produce as loud of a report.
While Hollywood tells us a silenced pistol makes a high-pitched “pewt” sound, in reality they couldn’t be further from the truth if they tried. Hand guns produce a report of over 160 dB. Your average suppressor cuts that by around 30dB, bringing the report down to around 130dB. While that is, in fact, a worthwhile reduction, that only brings the noise level down to around 130dB; roughly the equivalent of a jack hammer up close, or just 10dB higher than a jet engine a hundred feet away.
This is once again an example of something being banned without any knowledge of what it is, how it works, or how deadly it actually is. Even assuming Hollywood was 100% accurate (I’ll wait while you wipe the coke from your computer screen), can anybody tell me how many crimes are committed with suppressor-equipped weapons? Get back to me on that after you find the numbers for fixed bayonet stabbings and night-time sniper duels.
Barrel Shroud That Can Be Used as a Hand Hold
Also a restriction meant for pistols, this feature looks like this:
It allows you to hold the weapon without fear of burning your hand on a hot barrel. The fear was that such a feature would allow a shooter to hold the weapon with two hands in a way that would allow a higher rate of accurate fire. Fair enough, and it goes with my support of restriction on handgrips and magazines external to the pistol grip, for the same reasons.
I have no problem with this restriction, if it weren’t for the fact that I’d bet a month’s pay that wasn’t the reason it was added to the list. More likely it was added because it was a cosmetic feature that made the weapon look more dangerous than it actually was. Most barrel shrouds can be taken right off with the use of a hex-key wrench or screwdriver. The weapon still feeds the same, fires the same, extracts the same, everything. And if the shooter wants to hold it by the barrel, all he needs is a decent pair of gloves to keep from burning himself. Hell, not even that. He just needs a glove.
Fixed Capacity of More than Five Rounds
In the shotgun category we have an attempt to cut back on high-capacity shotguns. The general idea is that a shotgun for home defense doesn’t need to have more than five shots to do the job. I tend to agree with them on this one, and I’m not going to argue against it. The same goes for hunting, too. Unless you’re trying to bring down an entire flock of birds (or your aim is really, really bad) I don’t see the need to have more than four or five shells to meet your limit for your license.
This is also something I don’t have an issue with, because I’m hard-pressed to even invent a need for a magazine-fed shotgun for anything other than combat purposes, and if I find myself in combat as a civilian I’m going to be just fine and dandy with my rifle, or even my pistol if I need something for close range engagements. Even when I’ve been deployed in combat zones the shotguns used were pump-action shotguns with a four-shell fixed capacity, and they were only used for shooting out door locks and hinges.
While there are automatic shotguns with magazines, I, for one, don’t believe for a minute that they should be in the hands of civilians.
High Capacity Magazines
This one has me a little on the wishy-washy side. When this ban was passed, pistol and rifle magazines larger than 10 rounds were prohibited for manufacture or sale. This was a completely arbitrary number, and one I have a major problem with.
Even some of the best shooters in law enforcement, men and women who can put a happy-face on a target at 30 yards, tend to have horrible accuracy ratings when firing for their lives. In fact, statistics put their accuracy at around 13-15%, meaning only 13-15 rounds out of every 100 rounds fired actually hit their target. Can you imagine a homeowner defending his or her family, someone who doesn’t get to the range more than once or twice a year? Or worse yet, bought the weapon and haven’t fired it at all?
Think about that for a second. The federal government banned the production and sale of magazines with a larger capacity than 10 rounds, ensuring that even the best marksmen in the country would only hit with one shot out of a full magazine. Meaning that your average citizen probably wouldn’t hit anything without having to change magazines. That’s problem number one.
Problem number two comes from the fact that restricting magazine size does absolutely no good when, after a few minutes of practice, a shooter can change magazines in less than a couple of seconds. It’s a pointless ban when someone has access to multiple magazines. A shooter can carry four magazines of 15 rounds or six magazines of 10 rounds, and the only difference it makes is an extra 15-20 seconds before he runs out of ammunition.
On the other hand, I don’t see a need for drum magazines for rifles or 30-round magazines for pistols, either.
The Second Amendment
Now, I am a huge believer in Second Amendment rights. Where it was once a hotly debated topic about what the Second Amendment was referring to, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled in 2008 that the Second Amendment refers to an individual right to keep and bear arms unconnected to service in a militia, and in 2010 it ruled that State and local governments are required to honor that right the same as the federal government. It states that the right to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.
That said, however, the Second Amendment does not guarantee Americans access to every kind of “arm” on the planet. While I don’t go along with the anti-gun extremists that claim since the Second Amendment was written when muskets were firearm of the day then it only applies to muskets and everything else needs to go, I also don’t land on the opposite side of that coin and think every Tom, Dick and Josey Whales needs to be allowed his own Howitzer, either. The question must be asked, what is allowable in the hands of citizens? The answer is somewhere in the middle.
If I could play dictator and put my own policy in place, here is what I would cast in stone:
- Firearms requiring no license and no restriction, other than age
Single-shot, bolt or level-action rifles, either fixed internal ammunition capacity or magazine fed; all pump-action or breech-loading shotguns, either fixed internal ammunition capacity or magazine fed. These would be available to anyone over the age of 18 without restriction or license. A valid, state-issued photo-ID would be required for purchase and ATF registration paperwork would be mandatory. Personal sale of such a firearm would require a transfer of registration within five(5) business days of sale. Registration updates would be required only when there is a change of ownership or address.
This would meet the right guaranteed to all Americans by the Second Amendment.
- Firearms requiring a basic license and background check
All semi-automatic handguns; all revolvers, both single and double-action; all semi-automatic rifles; all semi-automatic shotguns except magazine-fed. Purchase and continued ownership of these weapons would require a college-level course taught by instructors certified by the ATF. The course would cover local, state, and federal laws concerning firearms and their use outside the home. Cleaning, maintenance and storage procedures would be taught and drilled into each applicant. Two weeks of range time would be included, with the cost of ammunition being passed off to the applicant and the cost of the weapons being covered by the federal government. Demonstrations of bullet wound profiles would be conducted using clay block and ballistics gelatin.
A different course and license would be required for each category, too. Meaning you would be licensed for the handgun, but not the rifle or shotgun. To own all three, you’d need to take all three and be licensed on all three.
Applicants would also have to pass a background check prior to beginning the course.
All licenses and registrations would need to be updated annually.
Also, completion of the pistol certification also grants the right to concealed carry, valid in all states and territories, except where excluded on state or federal property.
Suppressors, Short-Barreled Rifles and Short-Barreled Shotguns
These three items would remain much as they are now, managed by the ATF and requiring a fee and background investigation for approval.
Machine guns, automatic rifles, burst-fire rifles, machine pistols, automatic shotguns, magazine-fed shotguns, submachine guns. These would not be allowed in the hands of civilians.
Now, I know I’m going to get a lot of flak from both sides of the aisle on this piece. I’ve already been called illogical by one side in another forum for saying that magazine capacity restrictions are useless, and my beliefs about licensing and registration will get me labeled as a pinko by the other. I’m okay with that, I don’t expect everyone to agree with me.
What’s important to understand is that the Assault Weapon’s Ban is NOT the answer, here. When it was enacted, the Assault Weapons Ban prohibited the manufacture and sale of weapons involved in less than 2% of all violent crime. I’m going to say that again because it sounds vaguely important.
More than 98% of all violent crime was committed without the use of the weapons prohibited by the Assault Weapon’s Ban when it was enacted.
2%, folks. That’s it. And it was allowed to expire without renewal because it was determined that the ban wasn’t going to have a measurable effect on violent crime. Where some people believe that re-enacting this ban will result in fewer deaths, the fact remains that this ban did nothing about the “assault weapons” that were already owned by citizens, meaning that there were in the neighborhood of 1.2 million “banned” weapons that were still legally owned.
And let’s not forget this simple, sad fact: the deadliest mass shooting in American history was committed by a man using two pistols and 21 magazines, 19 of which were in his backpack. The Virginia Tech Shooter killed more people with two handguns than the nut in Connecticut did with an “assault weapon,” or the Aurora shooter did with his variety of weapons.
Friends, it’s well past time we had an intelligent, rational discussion about gun control. The system is broken and needs to be fixed, but let’s fix it with something that is actually going to make a difference. The Assault Weapons Ban blacklisted a bunch of cosmetic features, not deadly features. It was a political dog and pony show, a piece of “feel good” legislation that did absolutely nothing to address the problem it was created to solve.
The President has ordered a commission to start looking into what can be fixed. That discussion needs to include actual honest-to-God firearms experts. The engineers working for firearms manufacturers need to be in on this. Not the Presidents of these corporations, but the geeks working on the factory floor and the weenies in the R&D department. Politicians from all sides of the spectrum need to be involved and the whole thing need to be put on TV for all to see.
It’s time, people. No more bullshit.