Several writers have recently advocated banning and/or confiscating AR-15 style rifles as a way to solving the problem of mass shootings in the United States. I wonder if those advocating such actions have really thought it though?
Although this may be a simple solution, it is by no means easy. We need to remember we are talking about property that was lawfully purchased and responsibly owned. These laws would be instituted after the fact. This is not generally something you expect under the rule of law; the Constitution prohibits ex post facto laws specifically.
It is also important to remember that there are over nine million AR-pattern rifles in the U.S. already. That doesn’t count millions of AK-family, semi-automatic rifles nor the millions more sporting rifles that have been made for decades (the AR-15 is over 50 years old, and semi-automatic rifles have been made since the late 1800’s). These rifles operate identically to the AR and are chambered in calibers of equal or greater lethality. If we could wave a magic wand and eliminate all AR platform rifles, there would still be millions of semi-automatic rifles available. Also remember that only a few states, like California, require registration of long guns (CA only after 2014), and locating those rifles would be problematic at best.
My first question to these individuals is “to what end?” This idea isn’t new; we tried a ban on so-called assault weapons from 1994-2004. The Justice Department found no significant impact on crime. Every year more Americans are killed by hands and feet than by rifles of all types, not just AR’s (FBI). They are not “cop killers”. According to the FBI, about 50 officers were killed each year, an average of eight by rifles of all types, from 2005-2014. The FBI only lists caliber, not model of rifle. However, with over one million law enforcement officers in the U.S., it is safe to say it is a very rare event when an officer is killed with any rifle, much less an AR-15. Meanwhile, millions of AR-15 owners continue to use them safely and lawfully every year for sport, competition, and self-defense.
My second question is “at what cost?” It costs money to implement the administrative bureaucracy to track millions of anything, and since there exists no federal registry, one would have to be created. The Canadians abandoned their ineffective long-gun registration after ten years and more than a billion dollars. Since we have nearly ten times the population and many times more firearms in the U.S., it’s safe to assume something similar would cost much, much more to implement in America.
There’s also a cost to liberty. Note the Second Amendment contains the phrase “shall not be infringed.” Similar language is used throughout the Bill of Rights. If courts can find a way around “shall not” they can find a way around any of the prohibitions in the first ten amendments. Liberty is not á la carte; when lost, it is lost across a wide spectrum of rights.
What about the loss of self-protection to those who choose to defend themselves with an AR-15? The AR is a great platform for self-defense; easy to shoot and easy to adapt to many individuals (think 6’3” husband and 5’4” wife). As part of the twenty-three executive actions signed in January 2013 by President Obama, the Committee on Priorities for a Public Health Research Agenda to Reduce the Threat of Firearm-Related Violence, under the direction of the CDC, released a report that doesn’t get much attention - mostly because much of it doesn’t fit the President’s agenda. In it, researchers found that while numbers remain disputed, estimates of defensive gun use range from five hundred thousand to more than three million per year. How do we account for the loss of lives, injuries, or security for those families who no longer can rely on the firearm of their choice? Shouldn’t we examine benefits as well as costs in such a contentious political debate?
Then there’s the social cost, which is something we don’t like to talk about in polite company. However, we only need to look to similar efforts in New York and Connecticut, or even LA’s magazine confiscation, to see very high levels of public disobedience. Besides the divisiveness of the issue, there is a very real possibility of violent opposition. This isn’t an excuse not to act, but not reconciling this cost before acting is at the very least irresponsible; at most, morally reprehensible. We could end up with more blood on our hands, not less.
What are the solutions? First, acknowledge that evil exists and it isn’t cowed by pieces of paper. Although terrorists and deranged killers may have different motives, their goal is the same - gain attention by killing as many people as possible. To think that a sign or a law is going to stop them is to avoid the problem entirely.
Second, enforce existing laws and punish those who use guns criminally rather than making criminals out of those with guns. Our current Justice Department has been woefully inadequate in prosecuting such crimes. Chicago sees double digit murders almost every weekend but the same individuals keep cycling in and out of custody.
Third, instead of using their influence to infringe on the rights of law-abiding citizens, maybe the media could stop 24/7 coverage of these murderers every time they act. Hollywood and the entertainment industry point the finger at the NRA for engendering a culture of gun violence; I would ask each Eagle reader to watch the latest action blockbuster or a few minutes of their grandkid’s Call of Duty game - and then watch any NRA-sanctioned shooting event on YouTube - and determine for yourself which one engenders a culture of violence.
Finally, we need to eliminate government-mandated gun free zones. They don’t work. They ignore evil. They have been proven ineffective many times over. There are numerous examples of armed citizens and law enforcement officers stopping mass shootings at malls, bars, and churches. There are exceedingly few instances where an armed citizen has misused a firearm intended for self-defense. We only need to look at Orlando, or the most recent terrorist attacks around the world to see the type of violence that threatens to land on our shores. Do you think that individuals armed with fully automatic weapons (not semi-automatic AR-15’s) and explosives are going to be stopped by wishful thinking? In every case they continue to kill until someone with a gun stops them. I’m not saying a gun guarantees success, or that no one will be killed or injured. But I can guarantee these killers will keep on shooting until they run out of ammunition or time. San Bernadino showed the effectiveness of restrictive gun laws - the killers simply ignored them, modifying their firearms and using illegal magazines. And lest we forget, one of our darkest days as Americans was caused by fanatics armed with nothing more than box cutters. Evil will not be easily deterred.
Mr. Lepore closed his commentary last week by saying “Nothing helps the advance of evil men more than good people doing nothing.” Disarming law-abiding citizens is actually worse than doing nothing; it is precisely the reaction evil men hope to inspire.