At every opportunity, Hillary Clinton attacks, denigrates and marginalizes roughly a third of the American population — the 100 million who own firearms — with her promises to “do something” about this country’s “gun culture,” to reverse the Supreme Court’s decision in the Heller case that individual citizens have the right to own guns, to remove the protection from junk lawsuits Congress gave the firearms industry when it was faced with an organized assault (30-plus lawsuits) designed to put all gun companies out of business, and to bring back and expand the Clinton ban on the most popular firearms in America — semi-automatic rifles, best exemplified by the AR-15.
The problem is that neither she, nor Congress, can ban this ubiquitous rifle, which is owned and used by millions of Americans for hunting, competition and recreational shooting.
Before getting into the “why” she can’t ban these rifles, it’s critical to review exactly what the AR-15 model is, as well as what it is not.
The largely-ignorant media still willfully misinforms the public by calling this rifle an “assault weapon.” Duped by the gun-ban industry into repeating a term with no definition, but which was created with the express intent of confusing and misleading the public into banning this gun, the media becomes part of the gun-ban movement each time it repeats the scary-but-meaningless term “assault weapon.”
Josh Sugarman, executive director and founder of the Violence Policy Center, a tiny gun-ban group, is credited with creating the term as part of the effort to ban yet another slice of firearms, when he famously said, “Assault weapons’ menacing looks, coupled with the public’s confusion over fully-automatic machine guns versus semi-automatic assault weapons — anything that looks like a machine gun is assumed to be a machine gun — can only increase the chance of public support for restrictions on these weapons.”
Note the admission that these rifles are not machine guns. Ask almost anyone who is not firearms knowledgeable, however, what guns the now-defunct Clinton Gun Ban (the so-called “assault weapon” ban) of 1994 banned, and the response likely will be “machine guns.”
So, what was included? Basic, auto-loading (also called semi-automatic) rifles. They fire only once with each pull of the trigger. President Teddy Roosevelt hunted with a semi-automatic rifle. My first deer hunt, in 1962, was with a semi-automatic rifle, when I was 11 years old. There is nothing new, nor sinister, about self-loading rifles. What was new, however, was the interest in the semi-auto version of the M-16 rifle used by the military, and the opportunity to confuse the public because of these similar looks.
The AR-15 rifle cannot be “easily converted” to full auto, despite dire warnings from the gun-ban crowd, and to do so without a stack of paperwork and extensive background check from the federal government is a federal felony. It’s already against the law to convert a semi-auto to a full-auto firearm.
As to the “high power” nature of the AR-15, the .223 Remington cartridge (as well as the nearly-identical 5.56 NATO round) used in the AR (which, by the way, stands for Armalite, the company which developed the rifle) produces 1,250 foot pounds of energy. That .308 rifle I hunted deer with when I was 11 years old? It generates 2,500 foot pounds of energy — twice that of the “high power” AR-15. And, the .308 is not considered a particularly powerful cartridge.
In a case of unintended consequences, the failed Clinton Gun Ban of 1994 actually guaranteed that these rifles can’t be banned. Before the ban (which had a 10-year sunset provision), this rifle platform wasn’t particularly popular. Because of the ban and the publicity it generated, gun owners took another look at it and found a lightweight, ergonomically-designed, low recoil, fun rifle, and they bought millions. So much so that within the industry, the AR-15 now is called the Modern Sporting Rifle (MSR), and it’s used for hunting, for many forms of competitive shooting, for pure recreational shooting at the range, and some even have them for personal protection at their homes.
In the 2008 Heller decision the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed that the Second Amendment guaranteed (not granted) a pre-existing right of individuals to keep and bear arms. Further, it said that the government cannot ban guns which are in common use. While there is no universally-accepted number, it’s widely acknowledged that tens of millions of MSRs have been sold, and are owned by Americans. This certainly puts them in “common use.”
Despite the wailing predictions of mayhem if these instruments of evil are not banned, according the FBI Uniform Crime reports, each year more people are killed with fists and feet than are killed with rifles. And MSRs are yet a subset of the small category of rifles.
Short of stacking the Supreme Court with justices who would ignore the reality of the popularity of Modern Sporting Rifles as well as the well-established record of this category of firearm being used in very few murders, it would be difficult (some say impossible) for a President Clinton to resurrect and expand (as she has promised to do) the failed Clinton Gun Ban of the 1990s.
That will not prevent her from using the phony term “assault weapon” whenever possible, nor of promising to destroy gun companies by allowing them to be held liable for the misuse of firearms by people they did not sell guns to. This abuse of lawful gun owners may play well with her cocktail-party crowd, but millions of American voters see it as a direct assault on their life choices, their values, their culture and their freedom.
• Tom Gresham hosts the nationally-syndicated radio talk show “Tom Gresham’s Gun Talk.”
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