In an emotional state, we want to remove "assault weapons" from violent criminals. "Assault weapons" sound very dangerous, so on an emotional level, it seems to make sense to remove them from reach of criminals. But if we do, the criminal either obtains the weapon illegally, or they simply choose another weapon. The defender has become defenseless against such a person unless they too become criminals.
But who needs an assault weapon to defend themselves?
First, do you know what an "assault weapon" is? Unfortunately, you probably do not. But that isn't necessarily your fault. Gun ban proponents have tried to influence what that term means to broaden its scope, while at the same time using the term to frighten the uninformed populace. For general discussion purposes, we'll use the terminology from the US Federal Assault Weapons Ban of 1994. Several models of guns were named for specificity and reference, but several identifying traits were also used to provide common reference. Some of these traits included:
Semi-automatic rifles able to accept detachable magazines and two or more of the following:Notice something here. It has no indication of ammunition type, caliber, or capacity. It is semi-automatic, meaning with each press of the trigger you can fire one (and only one) round. A new round is automatically loaded into the firing chamber, but it is not automatically fired. Compare to a manual bolt-action rifle, where each round must be manually placed in the firing chamber by the person operating the bolt. Secondly, it must take detachable magazines. This allows quick reloading of ammunition. A fixed magazine would require the shooter to manually load loose ammunition into the rifle. (More than likely, the rifle manufacturer would sell "clips" of ammunition which would allow faster reloading of the magazine, but that is a separate issue.) Lastly, it must have two or more additional features. These features are meaningless to the operation of the rifle. In fact, having a grenade launcher mount is futile if you do not, in fact, own a grenade launcher.
- Folding or telescoping stock
- Pistol grip
- Bayonet mount
- Flash suppressor, or threaded barrel designed to accommodate one
- Grenade launcher mount
So, we now return to the previous question of, "Who needs an assault weapon to defend themselves?"
In 1992, following the trial and acquittal of four police officers who were seen on video beating one Rodney King, the streets of Los Angeles erupted into a riot. The riot was on such a scale that the police refused to enter portions of the city to rescue those being assaulted by the rioters. Now, the rioters did not have assault weapons. They had bricks and clubs, and they set fires. Some had small caliber hand guns. At the time, California had an assault weapons ban in force called "The Roberti-Roos Assault Weapons Control Act of 1989." So what could anyone do against an onslaught of terror like that of the 1992 LA riots?
A small enclave of Korean store owners were cut off from any police protection. They were going to lose their homes, businesses, and very possibly their lives to the vicious riot sweeping their home town. Laws notwithstanding, these people, the men, women, and children, armed themselves against the tide of terror coming toward them. Several of them armed themselves with assault weapons, despite the ban on the weapons. One owner was quoted as saying, "I'll shoot and worry about the law later."
Even with these weapons, hundreds of looters and rioters swarmed the area. For hours, the Korean-Americans fought them back. At one point, even the police attempted to help, but the police were overpowered and forced to flee, leaving the store owners to fend for themselves. Eventually, the riots died down, and the looters left. The store owners were left to clean up the debris, put out the fires by themselves, and attempt to recover their homes.
Ask yourself, what would have happened had they laid down their arms when the government said they could no longer defend themselves with "assault weapons"?
With events like Ferguson and Baltimore so close in memory, is it unreasonable to think riots like Los Angeles could happen again?
But even without riots, assault weapons have saved lives. In 2010, a 15-year-old Texas boy used his father's AR-15 to defend himself and his 12-year-old sister when they were home alone one afternoon and two home invaders attacked their house. In 2013, two men with a handgun broke into the NY apartment of a Rochester Institute of Technology student named Raymond. His AR-15 may have saved his life. Also in 2013, two armed attackers charged into a tax preparation office. A security guard with an AR-15 chased them away. In 2013, A drug-crazed Jasper Brisbon attacked a couple outside their home in Pennsylvania. After forcing his way into the home, the couple shot him with an AR-15.
And there are other examples. But the anecdotes don't prove anything by themselves. They only show how the helpless and the defenseless are made safer by possession of those weapons being threatened. The emotional reaction to find some way to protect the innocent is laudable and noble. But you do not protect the innocent by removing their means of defense.
When the US Federal Assault Weapons Ban of 1994 was reviewed for its effectiveness, it was found that criminals do not honor laws. Assault weapon violence may have decreased due to honest law-abiding citizens not possessing assault weapons. But gun violence did not. Moreover, violence in general did not decrease.
The National Institute of Justice published a research brief in 1999 entitled, "Impacts of the 1994 Assault Weapons Ban: 1994–96." In it, they concluded, "The public safety benefits of the 1994 ban have not yet been demonstrated." Further, "The ban’s short-term impact on gun violence has been uncertain, due perhaps to the continuing availability of grandfathered assault weapons, close substitute guns and large capacity magazines, and the relative rarity with which the banned weapons were used in gun violence even before the ban." - emphasis added
In 2004, the NIJ published a research report on the US Federal Assault Weapons Ban of 1994, the year the legislation was to expire. The study admitted, "And, indeed, there has been no discernible reduction in the lethality and injuriousness of gun violence".
And of final, and of most terrifying precognition of Orlando, this study predicted we would see exactly the type of emotional response to future attacks that we are seeing today:
"The notoriety likely to accompany mass murders if committed with [Assault Weapons] and [Large Capacity Magazines], especially after these guns and magazines have been deregulated, could have a considerable negative impact on public perceptions, an effect that would almost certainly be intensified if such crimes were committed by terrorists operating in the U.S."
An Updated Assessment of the Federal Assault Weapons Ban: Impacts on Gun Markets and Gun Violence, 1994-2003