EDITOR’S NOTE: This is one of a series of articles on gun rights. Each addresses a common anti-gun trope.


“It’s too easy to buy an assault weapon!”

Consider how you would feel if someone complained “It’s too easy to buy a newspaper!” After all, freedom of the press and gun rights are equally protected by the Constitution. But, it is a reality in today’s political climate that the latter are under far greater assault than the former, despite it being quite arguable that the press, in the aggregate, behaves far more irresponsibly than gun owners do.

Lets, then, consider this complaint. To do so, we must decide what the complainer means.

Is it a lament about the ease with which one can purchase a rifle in America? For those unaware, here are some facts. To purchase any firearm from a licensed dealer (a transaction that happens tens of thousands of times a day), one must provide valid identification, complete this form, swear/attest that the information provided thereon is accurate (including statements regarding intent), and pass a NICS background check. In addition, one must comply with state and local laws, which vary substantially across the country. In some jurisdictions, those steps (plus actually paying the seller, obviously) are enough. In others, permits and licenses are required, and additional rules can make the purchase take days, weeks or months to complete. Even in the most gun-friendly parts of the country, however, the governmental burden on purchasing a gun is FAR more onerous than that for exercising our other rights. Still, some argue that this baseline is too easy, that there is no proficiency test required, and/or that the background vetting is insufficient. As to that last point, before people demand more restrictions, perhaps they should contemplate the recent mass shooting in Sutherland Springs, TX, where government failures allowed the shooter to buy firearms when he shouldn’t have been able to. Or, to the dozens of high-profile incidents where the existing system failed in implementation.

Or, is the complaint a special lament about “assault weapons?” Is there something special, uniquely powerful, or exceptionally dangerous about “assault weapons?” To this, I refer the reader to Gun Rights Lesson #909, which explains what the phrase “assault weapon” actually means and refers to, and illustrates that the idea of their special or outlier status is a false one. As further reading, I suggest Gun Rights Lesson #790, which discusses the political and rights-based aspects of a “weapons of war” argument. In fact, much of the controversy around “assault weapons” results from two related points. They are (to some) scary-looking and they are a common (but not ubiquitous) choice of mass murderers. As to the former – looks don’t kill, appearances are simply that, and just as a NASCAR stock car can resemble a street car but perform vastly differently, an actual military assault rifle can resemble an “assault weapon” aka Modern Sporting Rifle (MSR) aka “black gun” but perform quite differently. As to the latter? First, MSRs are the most popular rifle styles in the country. Second, their “scary” looks probably appeal to the sick minds that seek to carry out these mass shootings. Third, they can accept high capacity magazines. Of the three, the last is the only one relevant to lethality.

Lets consider that last point. First, high capacity magazines are not remotely the exclusive province of MSRs. Many rifles that the layman would not consider scary-looking are just as capable of accepting high capacity magazines and firing at the same rate i.e. one bullet per trigger. Second, and most importantly, high capacity magazines are a red herring. Fact is, magazine capacity limits would have made no difference in the mass shootings that have people clamoring for more gun control, but they’d actually hinder legal self defense. I discuss that in depth in Gun Rights Lesson #419.

Our two possible reasons for the complaint are thus addressed.

First, there are rules and restrictions associated with firearms purchases that do not apply to any of our other rights, and, no, it’s not easier to buy a gun than a case of beer. In fact, it is a right that has been burdened by the buyer’s intent, as a reporter discovered when she misrepresented her reasons for buying a MSR last year in Virginia. It is illegal, for example, to conduct a “straw purchase,” where you buy a gun for someone else.

Second, there’s nothing genuinely exceptional about “assault weapons.” In my experience, the people who complain about them overwhelmingly do so either out of ignorance or deliberate deceitfulness. The former is easily curable for those willing to learn. The latter is cynical leveraging of the former to advance the long-term gun prohibition agenda. In and of itself, an assault weapons ban will not make any difference in gun crime. As proof, contemplate the fact that we actually had such a ban, for a decade, and it had no measurable effect on gun crime. In fact, crimes committed with so-called “assault weapons,” which are defined solely by cosmetic features rather than functionality, constitute a tiny fraction of all gun crime. Furthermore, even if we magically vanished all these “assault weapons” from existence, the next mass shooter would have no trouble carrying out his crime with other rifles, or with hand guns, or with gasoline, or with a rented pickup truck, or with homemade explosives.

Thus, we have a trope born of ignorance and “scariness,” not of logic, reality or effectiveness.

So,

Gun rights lesson #202: It’s already much harder to exercise your right to buy a gun than it is to exercise many of your other rights. Before you demand it be made even harder, do a couple things: Learn some facts, demolish some ignorance, and demand that government do better with its existing regulations.

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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