Tuesday, December 18, 2012

What the Assault Weapon Ban Actually Was

After we have a mass shooting in the US, there are often calls for new gun control laws.  We have created a great many gun free zones (where, incidentally, almost all of these mass shootings take place, despite the law) and many states have firearm restrictions in addition to federal law.  A common suggestion is a renewal of the Assault Weapon Ban (henceforth referred to as AWB).  In an effort to explain exactly what the AWB was I've decided to write this post.

If you want to read the full description of the AWB as it was enacted, you can do so here.  But you probably don't, so I'll instead show you pictures of guns that were and were not covered under the AWB.  I talked to some friends and came up with these pictures of various rifles that are all similar mechanically.

First, a rifle that was purchased during the AWB.  It doesn't have the features called out in the law that described an "Assault Weapon".  It doesn't have a flash hider or a bayonet lug or a collapsing stock.   This rifle does happen to be the most accurate rifle of any listed here.
Contrast that rifle against the next one.  Yes, they look similar, but this one couldn't have been purchased during the AWB because it has a bayonet lug and a flash hider.  Incidentally, this rifle is less accurate than the one above, and is chambered in a cartridge that's well suited for deer hunting, 6.8 SPC.  6.8 SPC is most commonly equated to 30-30 as far as power and trajectory, a cartridge that has been used for deer hunting for a century.  This gun is a deer rifle, and it was banned.  The above gun is a precision target rifle, and it wasn't.
Both of those rifles are AR-15's.  The top one is more accurate, and it wasn't banned.  The lower one is better suited for hunting, and it was banned.  So far the ban doesn't make a lot of sense.

Here are two more rifles that look similar.  This one would have been banned under the AWB.

This one wasn't

Why?  The second rifle is a NFA regulated item.  The AWB didn't affect the National Firearms Act in regards to it's classification of NFA registered firearms.  The second gun is a Short Barrel Rifle with a Silencer, and was available for purchase under the AWB.  The first rifle is banned under the AWB.  The second rifle, which is nearly identical except for the silencer, was legal to purchase.  The top rifle has a shorter stock and the shortest barrel typically available, it's a gun built for a person of small stature.  A 5', 110lb person could operate that one easier than any of the others.  We still aren't making a lot of sense.

Lastly, a rifle that wasn't around when the last AWB passed, but it would not have been banned.
This rifle is more accurate than all but the first rifle listed, and more powerful than all of them and totally legal to own under the AWB.  It's basically a hunting rifle with a different stock that has a pistol grip.  I find pistol grip stocks more ergonomic and easier to shoot, hence me buying this one vs a similar rifle with a traditional wood stock.

Each of these rifles has the capability to accept magazines that hold 20 or more rounds.  The magazines themselves would be covered under the AWB, so only magazines holding 10 or less could be purchased new.  However, the existing supply of magazines holding more than 10 is quite high in the US, at the point where they are generally available.

The Assault Weapon Ban (AWB) was ineffective for a few reasons.  Primarily it prevented new sales of certain firearms, but it didn't take them out of circulation.  It was also written by someone who listened to special interests but wasn't a subject matter expert, which is how most bills are written.  Once goods are widely available, it is hard to get them back out of people's hands.  If certain types of guns are banned from ownership, not just from new purchase, it will likely be generations before the bulk of them are turned in by otherwise law-abiding folks.  We've seen this in Canada with the failed gun registry.

Guns would still be imported illegally.  The black market for firearms that already exists would thrive, and likely make available guns that are currently unavailable in the US.  Right now legal ownership of machine guns is very rare in the US.  If there was a black market there would be a proliferation of machine guns, for the simple reason that they don't cost any more to make than semi-automatic rifles.  If someone is already going to break the law to own one, they may as well get the most for their money.  If it costs the same to get a machine gun on the black market as a semi-automatic rifle, which one do you think criminals would choose?

As an example, if today I wanted to buy a Colt AR-15 I would have to go to my local shop and turn over $1,200 or more.  Colt currently sells the newest version of the M-16 to it's largest customers (like the US military) for less than $700.  An arms dealer could make a tidy profit reselling M-16's illegally in the US, and price them less than a semi-automatic rifle sells for today.

So that is the crux of my argument.  These firearms exist, and preventing unsavory people from owning them is nearly impossible.  Look at Mexico where guns licenses are nearly impossible to get, they estimate more than 100,000 people have been murdered since 1996, the vast majority with guns.  Keep in mind, Connecticut has some of the stronger gun laws in the country, including a state AWB based on the former federal law.

To recap,
Rifle 1 is the most accurate rifle of those shown and was actually purchased during the AWB.

Rifle 2 is well suited to deer hunting, and is banned under the AWB

Rifle 3 is banned under the AWB

Rifle 4 is not banned under the AWB.

Rifle 5 is not banned by the AWB and is the most powerful rifle of the ones pictured.

Lastly, the AWB had no effect on crime.  Despite banning many rifles and magazines that held more than 10, crime rates with guns didn't change at all.  I even heard this mentioned on NPR yesterday, even the proponents of the law can't show any data that shows it was effective at all.  That's why I'm baffled at politicians calling for a new one.  It's what they are doing instead of actually addressing the problem.  It's theater and pandering, not something that will actually make the world a better place.

For another perspective on whether a new AWB would be effective, you can read here.

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