I didn’t really want to end the year with a column like this. That’s because it has to do with a topic that puts many on opposite sides of a fence with teeth clenched and ready for a row.
However, since several of our Washington state legislators are now proposing a ban on “assault rifles,” I’m going to try to offer a viewpoint without raising the hackles that can get raised whenever guns are the subject.
Before we get too far along here, I’d like to mention that I think that I’m pretty much like you.
I’ve been married to the same woman for 38 years. I vote, pay taxes, have coached Little League and regard most politicians with a well-developed suspicion and ever growing annoyance. I’ve never been arrested and my last run-in with the law was a speeding ticket in 1974. I like baseball, songs with printable lyrics, and movies where the bad guys always lose.
To some, however, by the end of this piece, I’ll just be another “gun nut.” Still, here are some thoughts regarding “assault rifles.”
To be sure, there are such things as “assault rifles.” Mostly, these are gas operated, individually carried, magazine fed, shoulder fired, military weapons capable of (and this is important) fully automatic fire.
Short version: Hold the trigger back and they’ll empty their magazines (not clips) faster than you can read this sentence.
The idea behind “assault rifles” is to get so many bullets whizzing past the bad guys’ heads that they’ll want to hide behind something and stay there while you assault them. This generally works until they begin firing their “assault rifles” too. Then, who’s assaulting whom becomes less clear. Fog of war and whatnot.
Being a hunter, I know of a sporting rifle that vaguely resembles an “assault rifle” designed by John Browning in the early 1900’s. This rifle, even though it is named after its military version - the B.A.R. - is simply a semi-automatic that fires each time you pull the trigger. Many hunters own such rifles and use them safely and legally. I know this because I’ve hunted with such individuals.
There are also rifles on the market that closely resemble their military counterparts. They are also semi-automatic rifles and the vast majority of Americans who own them use them in a safe, legal, and responsible manner. Their resemblance to their military counterparts, however, does not make them “assault rifles.”
The problem that gun owners have with the continued use of the inaccurate term “assault rifle” is that they know that it's generally a tactic employed by those who’d like nothing better than to ban all firearms.
Gun owners have also found that, when laws are proposed that ban “assault rifles,” such laws can often be interpreted as encompassing the semi-automatic rifles and shotguns used for target shooting and hunting. As you might expect, we tend to believe that this isn’t a simple coincidence and we, therefore, regard the idea as a bad thing. One that we’re used to from such legislators but, still, a bad thing.
As for the effectiveness of such bans in reducing violence, an independent study of the federal assault weapons ban that expired in 2004 performed by the National Institute of Justice noted that: "We cannot clearly credit the ban with any of the nation's recent drop in gun violence. And, indeed, there has been no discernible reduction in the lethality and injuriousness of gun violence."
I think that’s because the problem is now, always has been, and always will be the human being attached to any type of weapon.
For whatever reason, there are murderous thugs amongst us who will willfully harm others and it’s been shown repeatedly throughout history that they’ll do this using whatever tool is at hand - including, in one case, the jawbone of an ass.
It’s nothing more than a dream, but I think that it’d be much more useful if those legislators now wishing to ban “assault rifles” would, instead, spend the same time and energy pushing for the strict enforcement of the thousands of gun laws already on the books and the immediate and harsh punishment of those who break them. Were they to do that, this nation’s gun owners would rise and stand shoulder to shoulder with them.
Unfortunately, this will never likely happen and the argument over firearms - of any type - will continue with no end in sight.