09/23/04 — Guest editorial: Shooting holes in rhetoricabout ‘assault rifles’ ban

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Guest editorial: Shooting holes in rhetoricabout ‘assault rifles’ ban

As you know, the law banning so-called assault rifles died last week. Good riddance.

It was phony through and through. Even the name was a lie. The law did not ban real “assault rifles” — that is, rifles that fire in fully automatic mode, machine guns. Such guns fire multiple shots as long as the trigger is depressed.

Machine guns, incidentally, have been strictly regulated since 1934. They aren’t banned, but you have to jump through regulatory hoops and pay a federal tax to own one. There are many machine guns in private hands and almost none of them have ever been used in crimes.

What the 10-year-old “assault weapons ban” actually prohibited was semiautomatic rifles with military-features: bayonet lugs, flash suppressors and pistol grips. In other words, the law banned irrelevant features — the banned guns were and are no more lethal than guns that work exactly the same way but don’t have the “ugly” features.

Actually the law didn’t even ban those “ugly,” military-style guns. It banned the manufacture and sale of new ones for civilian buyers. Guns made before the law went into effect in 1994 were grandfathered. Those guns remained legal to own. The law merely drove up the price. The same was true of magazines that contain more than 10 cartridges. Magazines made before the ban remained legal, and there were millions of them.

During the 10 years this stupid law was on the books, you could always buy the weapons it was supposed to have banned. If you didn’t have the price of a pre-ban gun, you could simply buy a post-ban gun — reconfigured to comply with the law — that fired the same cartridge at the same rate with the same accuracy.

The law in fact had a perverse effect. It not only drove up prices, but it also raised demand. Many people who had little interest in “assault rifles” became interested and bought them simply because they didn’t like being told they shouldn’t have them.

There are many more such guns in America now than there was when the “ban” was enacted. If those guns were the menace the gun banners say they are, we would all be dead or wounded by now. The truth is such guns are used in only a small percentage of crimes and they are not, in the glib phrase of media know-nothings, “weapons of choice” for hoodlums. There’s an obvious reason for that: A rifle, any rifle, is more cumbersome than a handgun. That’s why criminals favor handguns — and why law-abiding people favor them, too.

The “assault-weapons ban” came in on a tide of lies and hysteria and it went out the same way. In fact, the media and the political hacks were telling the same lies at the end.

Blood would flow in the streets, they said. Our police would be outgunned and slaughtered by the gangsters.

None of that has happened. It won’t happen.

Yes, some maniac may go on a rampage with a so-called assault weapon, and the hysterics will yell that they told us so. But the fact is that no law can stop a homicidal maniac.

Another fact is this: Most of the people who buy guns in this country are harmless, law-abiding people just like you and your neighbors.

It is time we quit punishing those people for the crimes of the few.


John Rains, a former News-Argus writer, is a newspaper writing coach who lives in Granville County and is the author of “Shooting Straight in the Media / A Firearms Guide for Writers.”

Published in Editorials on September 23, 2004 11:40 AM