The Corner

Re: Assault-Weapons Ban

E-mail:

“Dear Sir:

I’ll leave aside the usual (and truthful) complaints about the AWB, as you’ll get them from others. I want to address instead a current argument in favor of extending the ban. The Violence Policy center has put out a press release on the AWB that states that 41 of the 211 police officers slain between 1998 and 2001 were killed by assault weapons.

The argument is that these weapons therefore present a clear danger, and need tighter rather than looser regulation. There are several things to be said about this. I’ll say three of them:

1) The VPC’s definition of an assault weapon seems to be any semiautomatic longarm. This is actually a more coherent definition than the AWB uses, as it seems to look at cosmetics instead of function. As you will hear at length from others, there are many functionally identical weapons for sale on the market that, because of a plastic stock instead of a wood one, are banned by the AWB. The VPC is at least consistent in wanting to ban all weapons capable of similar function. The VPC report should be read, “41 of 211 dead policemen were killed by semiautomatic longarms.”

2) But isn’t that astonishing, given that longarms are used in such a tiny percentage of crimes? Well, not really. It’s true that longarms are uncommonly used in criminal activity–I seem to recall it is something like two percent of gun crimes that involve longarms, but you’ll want to check that number.

However, the statistic here is cops killed, not cops wounded or shot at. Longarms are (a) more accurate than sidearms, and (b) generally capable of defeating body armor. If the statistics were compiled in such a way as to show all occasions in which policemen were shot at, the percentages would be much smaller.

3) But so what? We’re obviously ceeding the point that longarms are much more dangerous than handguns to serving police officers, right? Well, yes, obviously they are. They aren’t particularly useful for crime, however, because they can’t be easily concealed or carried (thus the tiny percentage of crimes which involve them). They certainly are a danger, but so are baseball bats. You don’t ban everything that’s dangerous.

Longarms are the weapons most useful for hunting, for home defense, and for militia service if–as it is no longer impossible to contemplate–a terrorist organization manages to create an emergency on a scale such that the militia would need to be raised. They are not useful for crime as a rule, though when they are used for crime their deadly nature does take a toll on serving policemen. As a rational matter, though, the VPC’s position desires the banning or tight regulation of the least criminally-useful class of firearm: that is to say, it is a very far reaching proposal indeed.”

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