On the cover of the New York Daily News was a picture of an American Marine wearing battle regalia in Iraq. The headline over it read: “No civilian should own this gun.” The editors of the Daily News, thinking themselves clever, asked: “Hey, NRA: This Marine served in Iraq and says assault rifles should be banned. Does that make him a gun-grabbing commie, too?”
This is the sort of thing that would end several careers at a self-respecting publication. The New York Daily News apparently intends to be something else.
Let’s begin with the obvious. The Marine on the cover, who is U.S. Representative Seth Moulton, a Massachusetts Democrat, is in the photo holding what is, unless my eyes deceive me, an M-4 carbine, which would make sense inasmuch as that rifle is the weapon generally issued to Marines serving in Iraq. No civilian should own this gun? We could argue about that. What we cannot argue about is this: No civilian can own that rifle under current law. The sale of new fully automatic weapons has been generally prohibited for 30 years, meaning that the particular weapon Representative Moulton is holding, which was first produced in 1988, has literally never for a second been for sale to the civilian market in the United States.
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Gun-control advocates and their lightly informed media allies have been for years intentionally working to conflate semiautomatic (bang!) and fully automatic (rat-tat-tat!) weapons in the public mind, because machine guns are scary. Funny that we should be afraid of them, though: You could literally count on one hand the number of times a legal, civilian-owned machine gun has been used to commit a murder in modern American history. The exotic is scary. For similar reasons, there was a miniature panic a few years back about .50-caliber “sniper” rifles, and a drive to ban them. These, too, rarely are used in violent crimes, for similar reasons: The last one of those I shot was about six feet long, weighed around 30 pounds, and cost as much as a Honda Civic. Neither two-block gangsters in Chicago nor cracked white boys in suburbia generally find themselves in possession of such things, or in possession of the skills to handle them, for that matter.
But we’re talking about AR-15s and their clones this week, even though the rifle used in the Orlando massacre was not, strictly speaking, one of those. And though he was pictured with something else, that, presumably, is what Representative Moulton was talking about.
Does that make him a commie pinko? No. Being in the same party as Van Jones makes him a commie pinko. His views on firearms are not communistic; they’re just wrong.
But before we get to that, we should begin by considering why it is we’re even asking this question to begin with. Moulton’s military service does not give his views on domestic-policy questions any special standing. This is a self-governing republic, in which the preferences and eccentricities of military men do not by virtue of their wearing a uniform acquire the force of law. Indeed, one of the reasons we have a Second Amendment is to ensure that that remains the case.
No, Sunshine, it ain’t about hunting ducks.
#share#But we love to invest certain people with special standing on policy questions — especially when doing so advances our own preferences. I feel bad for 9/11 widows and orphans, but I don’t especially want the CIA to consult them about counterterrorism questions. One newspaper carried an interview with the children of Eugene Stoner, the ingenious designer behind the AR-15. They averred that dear old dad never intended his rifle for civilian hands. Maybe not. So? Eugene Stoner’s own views are of no special interest on the question of the Second Amendment and its implementation; those of his children are of less interest still. I once had the pleasure of meeting Mikhail Khalashnikov, for whom the famous AK-47 rifle is named. I don’t especially care what his kids think about gun control. (One of his grandchildren has had a positively Trumpkin career, running a business whose sole purpose is putting the word “Kalashnikov” on products ranging from umbrellas to vodka.) Kalashnikov might have had some interesting thoughts about the liquidation of the kulaks (his father had been one) or Russo–German relations. I very much doubt he ever knew enough about U.S. gun-control policy to have a meaningful opinion on the question. He was a great realist, though: Asked why he ended up a firearms designer rather than pursuing his original plan of designing farm implements, Kalashnikov provided an excellent answer: “Nazis.”
The only honest people on the anti-gun side are those forthrightly making the case that we should repeal the Second Amendment.
Kalashnikov was largely divorced from sentimentality. If we, too, divorced ourselves from sentimentality, what would we conclude? One, that it doesn’t particularly matter what Marines-turned-congressmen, widows and orphans, survivors of horrifying episodes, or the Dalai Lama think about gun control. That is nothing more than a series of cynical attempts at emotional manipulation. The Second Amendment is the law, and it says what it says, a fact that has been affirmed by our Supreme Court many times. Every time I hear someone with a novel theory about how the Second Amendment doesn’t really say what it says, I’m reminded of the accountants and bankers who write me twice a month claiming to have definitively disproved the theory of evolution or the Big Bang hypothesis. The scholarly journals are ready when you are, Bubba.
The United States is a violent society. It has relatively high rates of gun-related violence . . . and of practically every other sort of violence, too. We shoot each other more often than do Canadians or Germans, and we beat each other to death a lot more often than do Canadians or Germans. The Germans seem to have got it out of their system, and the Canadians never much had it. It isn’t the guns: It’s us. Norway has twice as many guns per capita as Mexico, and Sweden twice as many as South Africa. Switzerland has three times as many guns per capita as Venezuela, and the only thing that gets mugged in Ticino is six ounces of cocoa on a chilly day.
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We are a violent society because that is who we are, and we are an armed society because our basic law ensures it.
The only honest people on the anti-gun side are those forthrightly making the case that we should repeal the Second Amendment. If that’s your case — that Americans simply cannot be entrusted with the wide ballistic latitude enshrined in the Bill of Rights — fine, make that case. We’ll see you at the ballot box. That view is the wrong one, but it’s a respectable one.
#related#But, with apologies to the editors of the New York Daily News (for which I have written on occasion), hijacking the prestige and the honor of the U.S. armed forces for your little political crusade — for a round of My Daddy Is Bigger Than Your Daddy, in effect — is vapid, juvenile, and dishonorable, as indeed is Representative Moulton for allowing himself — and, especially, his uniform — to be used in that way.
But understanding that would take a level of civic maturity, which is scarce just now.