What the Heck Is an ‘Essentially Automatic Weapon’?

by Jim Geraghty

Gun control is really easy to advocate on the campaign trail when you’re not required to specify what your proposals would do with any clarity.

The Democratic candidate for lieutenant governor of Virginia, Justin Fairfax, appeared on the on a podcast with Mark Levine, who is a member of the Virginia House of Delegates. Unsurprisingly, the topic of gun control came up, about 25 minutes into the program.

“I have hunters in my family,” Fairfax said. “I have people are very responsible gun owners who have told me that they don’t need an automatic weapon or a semiautomatic that can be converted to an automatic weapon to go hunting deer or quail.”

Once again, “semi-automatic” means the shooter must pull and release the trigger after each shot; holding the trigger does not create a constant stream of fire. The overwhelming majority of firearms sold in the United States today are semi-automatic. Semi-automatic does not mean “big” or “scary-looking.” The four-inch, nine-ounce Baby Browning? Semi-automatic. Many types of shotguns are semi-automatic.  Many hunting rifles on the market are semi-automatic.

The term “a semiautomatic that can be converted to an automatic” applies to the vast majority of semiautomatics; converting the firearm to full automatic is a felony. Earlier this year a man in Pensacola was convicted of selling the parts for conversion to undercover officers and faces 190 years in prison. That is not a typo; ten years for each firearm-related offense, for a maximum sentence of one hundred and ninety years.

Fairfax continued: “We know what these particular devices and weapons are meant to do. So I think we absolutely have to look at these either converted automatic weapons or essentially automatic weapons and take a look at getting those out of civilian hands and getting those off the street.”

Once again, converting semiautomatic weapons to automatic is already illegal and carries a serious penalty. It is hard to say what Fairfax means when he says “essentially automatic.” If he means every semiautomatic that can be converted to automatic, he means…  the majority of firearms in the state of Virginia.

When Fairfax says “getting those out of civilian hands and getting those off the street” – is he talking about confiscation?

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