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The Cynical Deception Behind an “Assault Weapons Ban”

By December 22, 2015Uncategorized

This Guest Blog by Guy A. Relford originally appeared at the WIBC,  Indianapolis website http://www.wibc.com/blogs/gun-guy/cynical-deception-behind-“assault-weapons-ban”  

The “Assault Weapons Ban of 2015” was introduced in Congress last week by Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.), which seeks to renew and expand the prior Federal Assault Weapons Ban of 1994 (officially, the “Public Safety and Recreational Firearms Use Protection Act”) in effect between 1994 and 2004.  In announcing his bill, Rep. Cicilline evoked images of mass wartime casualties: “Now, let’s remember that assault weapons were first designed for the battlefield by Germans during the Second World War.  The sole purpose of their existence was to kill as many people as quickly as possible during military combat.”  

Rep. Cicilline’s comments were consistent with President Obama’s repeated calls for a renewed assault weapons ban, often saying that weapons “designed for the battlefield” do not belong in the hands of civilians.  Thus, the apparent purpose of an “assault weapons ban” is to remove “military” firearms from civilian hands.  But is that really true?

First, we need to understand that there is really no such thing as an “assault weapon.”  As it is applied today, the term is purely political in nature and is used to demonize, and with the intent to criminalize, a broad category of commonly-owned semi-automatic firearms (such as an AK, AR and AR or AK Hybrid version rifle) designed for civilian application that differ dramatically in design and function from their automatic military counterparts – including the “assault rifle.”  

The assault rifle is a fully-automatic or select-fire rifle capable of firing multiple times with a single pull of the trigger.  Indeed, the first weapon recognized as an assault rifle was the Sturmgewehr 44, a select-fire rifle produced by Germany during World War II (and very likely the subject of Rep. Cicilline’s comments about weapons “designed for the battlefield by Germans”).   Importantly, the German “storm rifle” and modern assault rifles such as the U.S. military’s M4 and its predecessor the M16, are machine guns –  firearms capable of fully-automatic fire.  Does that make a difference?  Absolutely.  Modern semi-automatic firearms are typically capable of firing 45-60 rounds per minute.  A machinegun’s rate of fire often approaches 1200 rounds per minute.  So yes, there is a dramatic difference between semi-automatic firearms like those that “assault weapons bans” seek to criminalize and fully automatic military assault rifles. 

However, if anti-gun politicians limited their calls for regulation to automatic rifles, they would be met with a very simple and very effective response:  fully-automatic weapons, i.e., machine guns, have been rigorously regulated and largely banned in the United States for over eighty years through the National Firearms Act of 1934.  As a result, gun control proponents have necessarily launched a two-stage attack on modern semi-automatic firearms that, unlike actual military assault rifles, fire only one round of ammunition with every trigger pull.

Their first strategy is to intentionally create confusion between the terms “automatic firearms” and “semi-automatic firearms.”  For example, presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, responding to the school shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary in which madman Adam Lanza used a semi-automatic rifle to murder students and staff said, “I don’t think any parent should have to fear about their child going to school . . .  because someone, for whatever reason . . . could possibly enter that school property with an automatic weapon and murder innocent children.”  

Those comments demonstrated either a dramatic misunderstanding of firearms or an intentional attempt to create confusion between automatic and semi-automatic firearms. 

But we don’t really need to speculate about gun control proponents’ motives.  The anti-gun activists at the Violence Policy Center have made their intentions quite clear.  In outlining the strategy to implement prohibitions of modern semi-automatic firearms like the AR15, the VPC candidly revealed its plan: “The weapons’ menacing looks, coupled with the public’s confusion over fully-automatic machine guns versus semi-automatic assault weapons — anything that looks like a machine gun is assumed to be a machine gun — can only increase the chance of public support for restrictions on these weapons.”  

This comment also reveals the second prong of the strategy behind proposed “assault weapons bans” – to criminalize the manufacture, sale and possession of firearms based purely on the similarity of their appearance to “machine guns.”

But surely proposed law-making shouldn’t be based merely on public confusion over the “menacing looks” of particular firearms.   There must be an actual substantive reason to ban a large category of firearms currently possessed by millions of law-abiding Americans other than appearance.  However, an examination of both the 1994 Federal Assault Weapons Ban and the currently proposed Assault Weapons Ban of 2015 reveals that these regulations are focused exclusively on guns that simply look scary.

At their base, assault weapons bans are directed at semi-automatic firearms that have a detachable magazine.  If limited to that definition, however, any such ban would encompass huge categories of firearms, including rifles like the Ruger 10/22, a ubiquitous .22 caliber rifle commonly used by youth groups and novice shooters – that even comes in a “Boy Scouts Edition.”     

Necessarily, in order to both create a potentially palatable piece of legislation and to further the agenda of creating confusion between actual military firearms and so-called “assault weapons,” anti-gun politicians have compiled an absurd list of “military style features” that defines such weapons.  That list includes cosmetic features like pistol grips, barrel shrouds, threaded barrels, flash hiders and foldable or collapsible stocks.  None of these features have any real effect on the lethality of a firearm – they simply make a firearm look more “military,” which is totally consistent with the strategy of attacking “anything that looks like a machine gun” based on the declared intent to confuse the public. 

For all these reasons, it becomes perfectly clear that attempts to ban “assault weapons” have nothing to do with the actual deadliness of any particular firearm.  Still, perhaps a ban can be justified based on the number of fatalities caused each year by “assault weapons”?  If semi-automatic rifles with “military style features” are consistently used in crimes, particularly homicides, then perhaps there is just cause to regulate them more strictly – or ban them altogether.  The best way to assess that issue is to examine the effect of the original Federal Assault Weapons Ban that existed between 1994 and 2004.

In two independent research studies, it was concluded that the assault weapons ban had no real effect on firearm-related homicides, based primarily on the fact that assault weapons were used in an incredibly small percentage of total gun crimes prior to the ban.

In a study conducted by the National Institute of Justice and funded by the U.S. Department of Justice, it was found that assault weapons “were used in only a small fraction of gun crimes prior to the ban: about 2% according to most studies.”  (Of course, this calls into question why there was ever a need for the ban in the first place.)  But based on such small numbers, and the fact that the ban had no real effect on crime, the study concluded that “should it be renewed, the ban’s effects on gun violence are likely to be small at best and perhaps too small for reliable measurement.” 

Similarly, a University of Pennsylvania study also concluded that the 1994 ban had no real effect on total gun violence.  

But perhaps things have changed dramatically since the prior ban expired in 2004?  After all, the public is lectured repeatedly by President Obama, candidate Clinton and anti-gun activists about the “epidemic of gun violence” that has erupted in America in recent years.  Perhaps so-called “assault weapons” are responsible – at least in part – for that “epidemic.”

First of all, there is no such epidemic.  Total firearm-related homicides are actually down 49% since a peak in 1993.  As of 2014, the total murder rate in the U.S. is at its lowest point since 1960, even as sales of firearms, including sales of so-called “assault weapons,” have soared. 

Consistent with these facts, the 2014 crime statistics released by the FBI just last week show a steady decline in the use of all rifles in homicides over the past five years – and the total numbers are dramatically low in comparison to murders committed with other weapons.  In fact, the reduction in the use of all rifles in homicides from year-to-year is steadily declining in a perfectly linear fashion:  367 in 2010, 332 in 2011, 298 in 2012, 285 in 2013 and 248 last year. 

To put those numbers in perspective, according to the FBI the number of homicides committed by “hands, fists and feet” in 2014 was 660, almost three times the number of homicides committed by all rifles, including assault weapons.  Knives were used in 1567 homicides in 2014 – over SIX TIMES the murders in which any type of rifle was used.  Even “blunt objects” such as hammers and clubs were used in many more murders (435) than rifles.  

Of course these facts beg an obvious question: if the use of any rifle (including anything the left would define as an “assault weapon”) in homicides is already very low and has further declined every year for the past five years, the total number of firearm-related murders has declined dramatically since 1993 and the murder rate in the U.S. is at a 55-year low, why is the left attacking “assault weapons”? 

This is where the public needs to understand the anti-gun agenda.  Gun control proponents are in this for the long haul, and they have no real illusion about any actual reduction in “gun violence” that any “assault weapons ban” would have.  They plan to kill the Second Amendment with a death by 1000 cuts. 

An assault weapons ban is being pursued simply because it is deemed to be “doable” based on the confusion of the public over what an “assault weapon” even is.  And once enacted, any such ban is simply a bridge to broader, more invasive gun control measures – and that is the deceptive intent behind the regulatory approach of the democrats in Congress, the president and Ms. Clinton.  Their strategy is one based entirely on the cynical view that they can continue to confuse the American public by portraying commonly owned civilian firearms as “weapons designed for the battlefield” and thereby erode the Second Amendment rights of law-abiding Americans.  And they amplify that confusion through the promotion of fear and the incitement of irrational public reaction to “anything that looks like a machine gun.”

An encouraging sign is that a majority of Americans appear to recognize this deceptive strategy for what it is.  According to an ABC/Washington Post poll released earlier this month, a majority of Americans now oppose an “assault weapons” ban, despite the best efforts of politicians and anti-gun activists to confuse the public as to the true objectives of any such legislation, including “The Assault Weapons Ban of 2015.”   Learn More On This Issue, Check Out


Written by Guy A. Relford

Guy A. Relford is a Second Amendment attorney in Carmel, Indiana. He is also the owner and chief instructor of Tactical Firearms Training, LLC in Indianapolis and the author of “Gun Safety & Cleaning for Dummies” (Wiley & Sons Publications, 2012). He hosts “The Gun Guy with Guy Relford” on WIBC radio in Indianapolis.

M+M, Inc, the manufacturer of the M10X™ Elite, Standard and M10-762™ type semi-automatic rifles targeted for the proposed ban supports independent voices like Mr. Relford who provide our entire firearms industry with a means to educate others about the issues of firearm ownership.