Erstwhile progressive darling Beto O’Rourke recently sought to jump-start his going-nowhere presidential campaign with a Hail Mary declaration that, if elected President, he’d ban “assault weapons”:

Americans who own AR-15s, AK-47s, will have to sell them to the government. We’re not going to allow them to stay on our streets, to show up in our communities, to be used against us in our synagogues, our churches, our mosques, our Walmarts, our public places.

His bold strategy (after all, the more-progressive-than-thou love it when their candidates supposedly speak truth to the NRA’s exaggerated power) pretty much guaranteed he’ll never be President.

Not that he has a shot anyway. He’s deep in the also-rans pack, he’s demonstrated a whole lot of weirdness, and that which endeared him to voters and donors during his failed run against Ted Cruz has already gone stale.

But, even if he manages to ascend to the White House, or even if one of his competitors picks up the idea and runs with it all the way to the Oval Office, and even if it somehow gets run through Congress and clears the Court, it’ll be a colossal failure.

The mainstream press and their parrots on social media would have you believe that AR-15s and their brethren are unusual and exotic firearms, whose sole purpose is “spraying bullets,” “killing lots of people quickly,” “mass murder,” and as “weapons of war.”

I’ve personally heard or read all of these descriptions and many more.

The reality is, to put it mildly, rather different.

In Monty Python’s famous cheese sketch, John Cleese requests forty-three different cheeses, ranging from the common (Camembert, Gouda, Edam) to the obscure (Savoyard, Saint-Paulin, Carré de l’Est), to the fictional (Venezuelan Beaver Cheese). Gun control advocates would have us believe that AR-15s are a Dorset Blue Vinney or a Japanese Sage Derby, rare and bizarre corruptions of a citizen’s reasonable right to own reasonable firearms under reasonable restrictions.

They are, in truth, the Cheddar of rifles. As Cleese noted, Cheddar is “the single most popular cheese in the world.” AR-15s are, if not the most popular rifle format in America, then certainly among the most popular. It’s estimated that there are five to fifteen million “assault-style rifles,” as the New York Times puts it, in the country.

The percentage of these rifles that have been used in crimes is microscopic. A conservative estimate at the number of civilian-owned firearms in America runs to about three hundred million, split roughly evenly between pistols, rifles, and shotguns. The vast majority of murders (90%+) are committed with handguns. Only a few hundred murders are committed in any year with a rifle of any variety. Again, there are roughly a hundred million rifles in the nation, 15% of which are AR-15s and other “assault weapons.”

This means that Beto’s ban and buyback (itself a tendentious term, since those guns were never owned by the government) would demand that millions – millions! – of Americans who’ve done absolutely nothing wrong would be called upon to identify themselves, present their legally-purchased and never-used-in-crime rifles to an agent of the government, and probably end up on a forever list.

Would they do so voluntarily and submissively?

Empirical evidence strongly suggests otherwise. Connecticut passed an assault weapon registration law. Compliance is estimated at 15%. That’s just registration – that’s just “tell us you have one.” New York’s similar law? 5% compliance. New Jersey passed an assault weapons ban (AWB), along with a ban on high capacity magazines. Of an estimated one hundred to three hundred thousand such firearms in the state, four were voluntarily turned in. Four. Australia’s buy-back program produced a 16% compliance rate.

So, the answer to the “voluntarily” question is “no.”

That would mean that law enforcement (LE) would have to identify down millions of owners (an impossible task), get court orders and/or search warrants, and invade their privacy in order to find these rifles. And, in the process, make felons of millions of people who’ve harmed no one.

Current experience shows that our friends, neighbors, and fellow citizens who work in LE have very little interest in doing so. Not only have many local LE officers publicly declared a position of non-compliance with federal gun-grabs, there’s a growing Second Amendment Sanctuary movement, wherein state or local jurisdictions declare that they will not spend taxpayer money on enforcing laws that they deem in violation of the Second Amendment.

This is the reality that even the New York Times acknowledges (albeit in reliably slanted fashion). The firearms vilified as “assault weapons” (more accurately described as Modern Sporting Rifles, but only gun enthusiasts are familiar with the latter term) are the Cheddar cheese of America’s gun culture. To think that they can be removed from civilian hands is a farcical delusion. To declare an intent to do so is either proof of a disqualification-level of incoherent irrationality or a blatant, pandering falsehood, born of media-whoring desperation.

The Left committed a permanent error when it allowed its intentions regarding gun rights to become widely known. Despite rampant denials, it’s pretty well cemented in every pro-gun person’s head that the Left wants to ban most or all guns. The efforts are piecemeal because they have to be: their strategists realize that the only path to their end goal is incremental and long-term.

Beto’s proposal is an outlier, but it does not stand as the only gun-control proposal emanating from the Left. Most are calling for “enhanced” background checks, whatever that means (and be very, very wary of such – they almost certainly would involve some form of subjective “should this person be permitted to buy a gun” judgment), and many are calling for “universal” background checks, which would cover private transactions. The latter is just as sneaky. The only way such a system could be enforced is with universal registration, which is the gun-control strategists dream: get a list of everyone who owns a gun, and taking them away suddenly becomes doable.

Gun owners are onto all this, and understand that there’ll never be enough regulation to get the Left to declare “OK, we’re satisfied, go on with your lives.” Their ideological foes would not simply ban Cheddar. They’d require us to forsake all cheese. One variety at a time.

Peter Venetoklis

About Peter Venetoklis

I am twice-retired, a former rocket engineer and a former small business owner. At the very least, it makes for interesting party conversation. I'm also a life-long libertarian, I engage in an expanse of entertainments, and I squabble for sport.

Nowadays, I spend a good bit of my time arguing politics and editing this website.


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