The Corner

Politics & Policy

The New York Post’s ‘Assault Weapons’ Editorial Is Nonsensical

(Corporal Danny Gonzalez/USMC)

The New York Post’s editorial board has written a fawning open letter to President Trump in which it asks him to “ban assault weapons now.” It is, from start to finish, a profoundly lazy, impressively ignorant, and doggedly cliché-ridden piece of work that at no point even attempts to deal seriously with the arguments that it believes it is refuting.

Its primary flaw is a chronic — perhaps even proud — lack of precision. The editors acknowledge that the term “assault weapon” “doesn’t actually describe a clear class of guns,” but then demand that the ban they covet be predicated upon “a clear definition focused on factors like firepower — rate of fire, muzzle velocity, etc. — not on cosmetic features.” But there is a reason that both state-level bans and the now-expired 1994 federal ban were cosmetic in nature, and that reason is that the sorts of rifles that the Post wants banned do not differ either in their “rate of fire” or “muzzle velocity” from the sorts of guns that the Post does not want to ban.

The Post’s editors insist that they have no interest in taking away weapons from people “who hunt or keep guns for self-defense.” But that is exactly what their approach would do. The AR-15 and AK-47 — the guns used in Dayton and El Paso respectively — both have exactly the same “rate of fire” as does every other semi-automatic firearm on sale in America. As a result, one cannot base a narrow ban predicated upon “rate of fire” without also banning the majority of the firearms owned and sold in America. By the same token, to build a ban around “muzzle velocity” would be to prohibit almost all of the standard hunting rifles that gun-controllers say they have no interest in prohibiting. Dianne Feinstein, who has spent the last 15 years trying to pass another “assault-weapons ban,” is still focused on cosmetics because she understands that that is the only way to do it given that the objection she is trying to address is . . . cosmetic.

One suspects that the editors of the Post know none of this, and, indeed, that they have bought fully into the erroneous notion that the AR15 and its cousins represent egregious super-weapons that exist in a discrete class of their own. Clearly attempting to forestall any constitutional objections to their plans, they write:

The Supreme Court has ruled that the Second Amendment protects the right to own “guns in common use.” That doesn’t cover the semiautomatic weapons regularly used only in mass shootings.

But this isn’t true. Not only is the AR-15 a standard sporting rifle, it is also the most popular rifle in America; at a conservative estimate, there are between 8 and 15 million of them in private hands. The idea that they are used “only in mass shootings” is so preposterous as to defy belief — akin in silliness to suggesting that the Ford F-150 is used “only in hit and runs.” The Supreme Court has never directly addressed the question of the Second Amendment’s scope. But if it were to do so on the grounds of the “in common use” standard that was laid out in Heller, the AR-15 would undoubtedly be protected because it is . . . wait for it, “in common use.” That the platform has been used by some bad people in recent years does not change that fact.

The editors finish their plea by running through a bunch of falsehoods, begged questions, and non sequiturs. They insist that an assault weapons ban would represent a moderate, unifying step (it wouldn’t: such a move is supported by only two in five Americans, and has proven impossible to enforce even in pro-regulation states); they suggest that the “Founding Fathers gave us the right to bear arms in a time of muskets,” and “did not foresee” the evolution of weaponry (this is false: the Founders did not invent the right, and they were fully aware of innovations in technology); and, throughout, they assume that the debate is between those who “just want the killings to stop” and those who don’t care (unsurprisingly, it’s not: most people who oppose bans on cosmetic features do so in large part because they know they are pointless).

Toward the end of the missive, the editors cite New York City as a model — which, it has to be said, rather gives the game away. “One of the big reasons that crime has fallen so far in New York City,” they write, “is a crackdown on guns.” That proposition is debatable. But, irrespective of its veracity, for the Post to mention New York City as a model in the same piece as it decries “extremists who see every marginal change as nothing but a step on the road to a universal ban” is ridiculous. New York City has the strictest gun laws in the country. It takes eight months and nearly $500 to obtain a firearms license, and even when one has one, one can do almost nothing with one’s gun; it is impossible to get a concealed-carry permit unless one is rich and connected — which has led to all sorts of flagrant corruption; and it has such draconian transportation rules that it is currently in the process of trying to change them on the fly so that the Supreme Court, which has noticed, does not strike them down. It’s almost as if the Post’s editors have something else in mind than “just” a ban on commonly owned rifles . . .

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