A call for intellectual honesty on the assault weapon ban

There’s a lot of talk about restarting the Clinton AWB in the wake of the Arizona shooting, and I’m growing more and more frustrated at the intellectual dishonestly of those calling for it. To wit:

The argument is that the assault weapon ban outlawed high-capacity magazines, and thus could have prevented or made more difficult the Arizona shooting.

This is completely incorrect on all counts. All. Counts.

What actually happened

The AWB prohibited the manufacture of said magazines. That’s all, at least in regard to mags. You could own, buy, sell, trade, and make (as an amateur) all the magazines you could desire during the entire period. They were widely available in every single gun store, because there was such a stock of them made before the ban took effect. In 2003, the 9th year of the ban, I was able to buy four hicap magazines for a Beretta, they cost $20 each.

I have a dog in the fight since the ban would hurt my sport, but I just want people to stop arguing with false information more than anything. If you banned the manufacture of Toyota Camrys tomorrow, there would still be plenty on the road next year. And magazines last ten times as long.


Like abortion, this is one of those things where the only politically viable regulations are things that make no sense.

Gun control arguments (much like all politics) boil down to personal preference and either the self-awareness to say “I’m making a decision that may not be totally rational given the evidence, but I want my way anyway” or the lack thereof such that one is always pushing to be ‘correct’.

In this case anti-gun advocates just really don’t want guns around, and any rationale for them to get their way they’ll take, so it will never be about what’s true and accurate, it’s about what gets your point of view into a dominant position.

I’m in an odd place on gun control since I’m a gun owner, a liberal, have no problems with hunting, but feel that we need much stricter (and modified) gun control laws. Existing laws are incredibly irrational but serve to make people feel better. If we wanted effective gun control we’d pretty much make it like owning a car, with mandatory registration and competency testing. And it amazes me we live in a society where buying a car is significantly more difficult and monitored than, say, owning a gun or having kids.

The fundamental dissonance I have is that I rationally understand that a widespread prevalence of weapons makes killing easier, and I don’t think anyone can argue against that logic, and I’m fine with that, within reason, because life is about a balance of freedom and safety. Just like, hey, if we really wanted to reduce unnecessary deaths every year we’d tax the fuck out of shitty foods and put that into healthcare. But philosophically many people are opposed to that because they feel it interferes with their idea of freedom and choice. Even though we have immense data that that freedom has a massive societal cost.

Your comments remind me of the automatic weapons legislation I think that went through when Reagan was around, effectively making it harder for FFL owners to buy Class 3 weapons. Except, of course, at the time I don’t believe an FFL owner had ever been arrested for assault with a Class 3 weapon.

But that’s politics for you, it’s security theater writ large.

To Jason:

You’re right, but I can’t help but think that there is a middle ground somewhere. I’m all for fixing the gun show loophole, it’s a stupid, dangerous practice that serves the industry and the sport absolutely no good purpose. But you have to convince the jacktards that it isn’t the top of a slippery slope. One fix would be to provide inexpensive NCIS checks during the shows, maybe 5 or 10 dollars a shot, without paperwork being stored. You call up, give the buyer’s stats, and get a simple go/no-go from the NCIS database.

The '86 manufacture cutoff for private ownership, yes. And as you say, crimes with Class 3 (real fully automatic weapons for those that don’t know) weapons are laughably rare. A proper training requirement and competency test would do wonders, I have to think, to reduce all but the more heinous offenses.


I actually don’t think there is a middle ground – any middle ground generally makes both sides pissed off. Regulating things that everyone uses – vehicles, taxes, food, etc. – is usually just scoffed at because everyone’s self-interest comes into play making governmental oversight very difficult even when it’s rationally justifiable. Again, junk food tax is a good example.

But the political topics that only affect SOME of the population – abortion, gun ownership, cigarette taxes, etc. – generally polarize immediately due to their near binary nature. Gun control advocates can live without guns. Pro-life advocates don’t need abortions. Non-smokers don’t care about cigarette taxes.

So while there might exist practical middle grounds for gun control, I don’t think it appeases anyone that much because it seems like few people are actually fairly centrist in their thinkings on these topics. At least, that’s how it feels to me these days.

For me the practical middle ground on gun control is mandatory registration, yearly licensing, competency requirements, gun tax, disallow private person transfers (but allow FFLs to do this so it doesn’t have to funnel entirely through the state), ban firearm ownership if convicted of a violent crime (even if it’s a misdemeanor) and don’t separate based on the felony/misdemeanor split, and if you have a known medical condition that would make firearm ownership a bad idea, then require medical professionals to revoke it if they deem you to be unsafe (just like they do if you’re a danger to other drivers).

But after all that, fundamentally make firearm ownership legal without all these bullshit ticky tack laws that don’t actually solve anything.

It’s baffling that the obvious solutions to making firearms safer – education and certification – are dismissed either because they’re perceived as fundamental rights or because the other side just wants them banned and doesn’t want them safer.

From a practical perspective I think this is all a moot issue. Liberals lost this fight and for the most part we’re not eager to have it again.

I don’t think that’s true at all, stuff like this picked at from the edges constantly.

The real problem is both sides (it’s a urban/rural issue to me) want to impose their will on the rest of the country.

It makes sense for low-pop areas to have an armed populace, and less sense for guns in a big city where you have more police protection.

That must be why there aren’t any shootings in cities with gun bans. When dc had a ban on firearms, I think they had zero shootings.

To my knowledge there’s been no major gun legislation in the past several years, and there’s nothing upcoming. I could be wrong, but my impression (admittedly as nothing more than a highly motivated liberal foot soldier type) is that liberal leaders want nothing to do with a fight over guns.

The bottom line is that there’s no constituency behind it. You’ve got the NRA on one side who will make the life of anyone who votes in favor of gun control miserable. On the other hand you have… what?

My guess is that every publicized shooting ends up ratcheting things in the favor of more gun control legislation, and at some point critical mass will be reached. Basically politics in this country consist of knee jerk reactions and when another shooting happens, we’ll have awesome new and profoundly ridiculous legislation to deal with.

OK not to sound like a dick (which means I’m going to sound like a dick) but can you produce any specific evidence to support this? Other than a vague feeling of maybe someday something might happen, legislatively speaking?

Seriously dude we went through Columbine of all things and there wasn’t a major push for gun legislation (at least not that I recall, I wasn’t too aware of politics at that point). Like I said, liberals have gotten their asses kicked on gun control and have learned their lesson. Until some major constituency appears and devotes a ton of money to the issue it’s a nonstarter.

Well that’s why I said “My guess” – we’ve had a primarily conservative government since Clinton, and Obama isn’t making gun control something he wants to focus on. Public outcry will be the thing makes politicians react in an effort to get easy votes. The Arizona shootings gave the gun control lobbies a lot of strength and the NRA was all “now is not the time to talk about politics” when questioned on the subject.

Whether it’s something liberals will push for again is hard to say, I’m just saying that if enough gun crime is committed in high profile ways that someone will capitalize on it politically.

But yeah, on the federal level the last two major gun legislation bits were in 1994 under Clinton, the Brady Bill and the Assault Weapons Ban. And the AWB expired when GWB was running things so the odds of being renewed were low.

Thanks for the clarification that the magazines were never actually banned.

Just curious though, how does banning hi cap magazines hurt your sport significantly, really? I love guns, but I can’t see opposing a hi-cap mag ban.

Yeah that’s kind of where I’m coming from. Public outcry matters, but there was public outcry after Columbine and it lead to nothing. I expect this will be the same.

My current model of our parties and their behavior is that interest groups matter a fair bit. They’re not everything; ideology does matter as well. But there’s not a lot to liberal ideology that’s necessarily anti-gun, and there are almost no interest groups that are anti-gun. Lacking those two things, I don’t think it’s likely that we’ll see any anti-gun legislation. My guess is that in order to get the Democrats to seriously pursue it you’d need several mass killings in a fairly short period of time. Nothing else drums up the necessary passion.

Concurred, I’m a liberal and a gun owner and I appreciate the danger guns pose. A gun dramatically increases the danger any one individual poses to society and stricter controls would absolutely save lives. I’m not willing to sacrifice gun ownership though, it’s so much of who I am and the America I grew up in. It’s culture and a way of life. If we can mitigate risk, by any means, I’m willing to support it.

Here in Canada our gun control laws got stricter after the 1989 École Polytechnique massacre, where Marc Lépine shot and killed 28 people, specifically singling out women, before killing himself. The fallout of the 1995 Firearms Act, which meant strict gun control – gun owners were required safety courses before apply for a gun license, screening of applicants for depression and other mental illness, new rules for gun and ammo storage, limitation of the number of cartridges for pistol and rifle magazines, and registration for all firearms.

The majority of Canadian live in urban areas and most support tough gun control (Toronto politicians have called for an outright ban on handguns, which are classified as restricted firearms). However, the Canadian government cannot ignore rural Canadians, hunters, and native gun owners. As a result the current minority Conservative government has tried to do away with the gun registry (its budget has ballooned from its original $2 million to over $1 billion). Police chiefs across Canada have support the gun registry.

Even though I have a gun license and a gun (and plan on buying more), I do support gun control and the gun registry. I see the registry just another bureaucracy much like owning a car, it’s a pain in the butt to do all the paperwork to buy or sell guns but in the end necessary. Here in Canada owning a firearm is not a right but rather a privilege.

Here in Vancouver, most of the violent crimes involving guns are by the local gangs fighting over drugs, territory and revenge (there has been a gang war for the few years now to the point where they are doing hits in open daylight and in public places). A lot of the guns used in crimes are weapons smuggled in from the US.

Owning a car or even having kids is not specifically mentioned in the Constitution, while gun ownership is. That’s the difference. Which means you can’t simply regulate it the same way.

I agree the real problem with gun regulation is that it is right. It seems to me that we need to modify the 2nd amendment. It is poorly written and confusing. However, as interpreted by the Supreme Court, it is pretty clear that 2nd Amendment means that I have the right to own a gun, and the government has minimal ability to prevent me from doing so.

I am sure that majority of American would say that the freedom of speech and press is our most important right. I don’t think it is coincidence, that it is the FIRST amendment that protect this right. Nor do I think it is coincidence that founding fathers protected the RIGHT to bear arms with the SECOND amendment.

I am no longer a gun owner and frankly don’t care that much about the right of Sarah Palin to kill a moose with whatever she wants. I do care strongly about the vast majority of our other constitutional rights, and do worry about the precedent established by saying that we should give up our Second Amendment rights for the good of society. What comes next, should we give up the protection of double jeopardy, cause after all we all know that OJ did it and second jury would have certainly convicted him.

I’d agree with many of the proposal for sensible gun regulation, if the second amendment didn’t exist… The problem I have if substitute Freedom of Press for guns in most of the proposed laws, I am not happy with the results. For instance if we required every owner of printing press (or internet forum) to pass a background check, register with government, and prohibit the use of automatic press capable of printing more than x number of newspapers per second. I suspect nobody on this forum would support a law like this. Even though most of us would agree that pen is mighter than the sword.

To me a big part of the problem with the second amendment is that one of the main reason behind it isn’t relevant to America in the 21st Century. The second amendment allows individuals to have guns to protect themselves and their families from criminals and such. This is still relevant today. However, I suspect that an important reason for the prominence of the 2nd amendment in the minds of the founding father is their believe that giving individual the right to owning guns would act as deterrent to a government oppression.

Realistically in the 21st century, I doubt that me having an AK47 or not is going to serve as deterrence to the local 3rd Marine regiment taking over my neighborhood. So we should modify the 2nd Amendment to strip out the reference to “well regulated militia” and focus on protecting the rights of hunters, and folks to keep guns for self-defense. Obviously, support for modifying the 2nd Amendment is not very high. However, it is pretty foolish to think that any can pass any sort of regulation that is both effective and constitutional, given the unique status of gun ownership in the US.