In an effort to find middle ground, I facilitated a discussion about gun control, with the suggestion that we no longer say “gun control,” but rather “assault rifle regulations.” Gun enthusiasts worry that those who favor “gun control” want to take away all their firearms. I focused on assault rifles. It was a challenge to keep the dialogue civil, but I learned a lot about gun enthusiasts and even more about rifles. I’ve done so much on-line research that I’m sure I’m now on a government watch list.
I admit to having liberal views, but I’ve put together a proposal that lands somewhere in the middle. I expect that it will be disliked equally by those on the left and on the right. If so, I’ve found that middle ground. I’ll get to my proposal after some context that informs this debate.
The first issue is Communications. People are using “guns” and “rifles” without regard to how they differ. To a certain extent, “semi-automatic” and “automatic” are also misused. In the center of all of this is the AR-15, in which the AR actually stands for ArmaLite Rifle, after the original manufacturer. It has become a generic for assault rifle, but we need to look beyond that.
I suggest defining an “assault rifle” as one that enables the shooter to kill or injure scores of people in minutes. It likewise prevents most people who have just a handgun from disabling the shooter easily. More on this later.
The second issue is our culture, especially a Culture of Violence. Our passion for guns probably began with the wild American West. Gun owners are generally hunters or sportsmen or they have them for self defense—all uses that my proposal seeks to preserve. The violence has crept into our culture for who-knows-how-many reasons. Video games and violent movies have certainly played a role. However we arrived here, there’s a romantic allure to “bad boys” that contributes to the problem. That helps explain why it’s only boys who perpetrate these crimes. Well, that and testosterone. “Bad girls” conjures up easy sex, not weapons.
I won’t attempt to address the need for a culture shift away from violence. It’s a mistake to try to fix 100% of the causes in one attempt at compromise. If we can reduce a major contributor to this problem, that should be celebrated. If we can chip away at multiple causes—there are many—achieving modest progress on each, they’ll add up to a significant reduction in deaths.
The third background piece has to do with Statistics. The U.S. has far more civilian ownership of firearms per capita than other developed countries. According to one study, in the U.S. it’s 88.8 per 100; Canada, France and Germany each have around 30. Ditto for data on mass shootings and firearm-related homicides—3.5 per 100,000 in the U.S.; Canada is 0.38; France 0.21; Germany 0.07. Mental health issues, while important, are not commensurately more prevalent per capita in the U.S. with 26.4% (vs. France at 18.4% and Germany at 9.1%.) Another study pegged both Norway and Switzerland at 27%.
Countries and states that have implemented stricter weapon regulations have seen a reduction in horrific events. In Connecticut, the “permit-to-purchase” law was passed in 1995, and gun homicides were reduced by 40 percent between 1996 and 2005. For now, I leave to others how to learn from this and to set goals to improve the U.S. statistics for firearm-related deaths per capita.
This brings me to the Technical side of my education on regulating assault rifles. Here’s what I’ve learned, and if not 100% accurate, I’m confident I have the essence. The AR-15 is the sportsman’s semi-automatic equivalent of the M16 military rifle. The M16 is fully-automatic; it won’t stop shooting until the trigger is released or it runs out of ammunition. It has a lever that allows the shooter to set it to a semi-automatic mode. That means the trigger must be pulled for each shot to be fired. The U.S. Army has determined that firing accuracy is better on semi-automatic. It therefore trains soldiers to use the M16 in that mode rather than fully automatic.
I’m using AR-15 here as a generic for any similar rifle. With a high capacity magazine, an adept shooter can pull the trigger rapidly enough to get off hundreds of rounds in just minutes. After-market devices, like bump stocks, can turn an AR-15 into a virtually automatic rifle.
You’ll notice that thus far, I’ve covered rifles with trigger mechanisms. There are also ones with lever (or pump) actions and bolt actions to engage a round of ammunition. As I understand it, these take longer to reload and therefore cannot be fired as quickly as trigger-driven rifles. Even if not, my proposal will address these products as well. Also worth noting: most experts say that a handgun is a better weapon for protection inside a home or shop than any type of rifle.
Let’s get back to those high (or large) capacity magazines. The expired federal Assault Weapons Ban and several state laws define these as ones that hold more than 10 rounds. Magazines are available with 40, 60 and even 100 rounds. A shooter can do a lot of damage in a short timespan with one of those.
I’m putting on my liberal cap now. I can understand that a hunter would prefer a lightweight rifle such as the AR-15 that can shoot more than one round at a time. But if he can’t take down an animal in the woods with ten shots, he needs to spend more time at a rifle range. Spraying Bambi with 40 bullets is hardly sportsmanlike.
Speaking of sportsmanship and rifle ranges, this is one place that higher capacity magazines might be acceptable. Many gun/rifle owners enjoy going to a range to test and improve their skill. With my liberal headgear off, I accept this as a legitimate argument for large capacity magazines. I’d allow them subject to specific regulations.
Those regulations are part of my Modest Proposal. It assumes there’s universal agreement that preventing mass shootings is an important goal. The use of high capacity magazines is something that virtually all those shootings had in common.
I propose a ban on magazines that hold more than ten rounds, the rifles that can use them and any after-market modifications that get around the ban. An exception would allow those items to be owned by and kept locked and used at licensed firing ranges or gun clubs. The right will protest: gun owners want their weapons in their own possession. They can still have them, but only if those weapons aren’t capable of using large capacity magazines. That’s part of meeting in the middle.
What do we do about all those assault rifles out there now that can accommodate larger magazines? The existing weapons will be sold to the shooting ranges and gun clubs or bartered for access/membership. There could also be a government buyback or trade-in. We can look into what Australia did after their 1996 ban.
How do owners get a rifle that conforms to these new regulations? Here’s what my proposal predicts. Gun manufacturers will design the new rifles and new magazines to fit them. They present an entirely new market for those companies. Every existing owner will need to buy new weapons and the ammunition they use. That’s millions of sales and a profit bonanza.
Commerce drives a lot of the gun control debate. If manufacturers see the opportunity to make money off new regulations, they’ll support them. Businesses are already paying attention to this issue. DICK’S Sporting Goods no longer sells assault style rifles and high-capacity magazines in any of its stores, including Field and Stream. Walmart soon followed suit re the rifles. Both companies raised the minimum age for all gun sales to 21.
I’m not naïve enough to think my proposal will be foolproof or easy to implement. But it provides a way for rifle owners to maintain access to weapons without their being mayhem-enabled. Enthusiasts can use the same weapons they have today by going to a licensed shooting range or gun club (safer than firing at tin cans in a suburban back yard). They can still hunt with something similar to their favorite rifle, but more fairly for Bambi, with an incentive to improve their skill. Surely that will be more satisfying.
Gun control activists will feel this doesn’t go far enough and will take too long to implement. But it will make a dent in the problem if we can get all parties to agree. Can we at least get a dialogue going?
Copyright 2018 Elaine M. Decker