Gun Control: If It Feels Good, Do It

As I noted in my column this morning, the latest Reason-Rupe Public Opinion Survey found that 44 percent of Americans think people should be "prohibited from owning assault weapons." Other recent surveys have found substantially higher levels of support for banning "assault weapons," and one reason may be the wording of the questions. A Gallup poll conducted around the same time as the Reason-Rupe survey, for instance, asked whether people, if they could, would vote to "reinstate and strengthen the ban on assault weapons that was in place from 1994 to 2004." Sixty percent said yes. A recent ABC News poll asked, "Would you support or oppose a law requiring a nationwide ban on the sale of assault weapons?" Fifty-eight percent said they would support such a law. Unlike the two latter polls, the Reason-Rupe survey highlighted the impact of an "assault weapon" ban on individual freedom, which may help explain why respondents were less inclined to support it.

Strictly speaking, neither the expired federal law nor the bill Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) has proposed bans possession of "assault weapons." Like the 1994 law, Feinstein's bill includes a grandfather clause for current owners, who also are allowed to transfer those guns (subject to an unenforceable background check requirement). But Feinstein's bill effectively prohibits possession of new "assault weapons" by making it illegal to "import, sell, manufacture, transfer, or possess" any that are not lawfully owned when the law takes effect. The grandfather clause is telling because it implicitly acknowledges the uproar that would be provoked by an attempt to confiscate millions of guns, concedes the unfairness of taking away people's property after arbitrarily declaring it contraband, and belies the claim that the guns Feinstein wants to ban have no legitimate purpose. Feinstein says the exemption for current owners "protects the rights of law-abiding citizens who use guns for hunting, household defense or legitimate recreational purposes."

When the ostensible author of both the old "assault weapon" ban and the new version is so hazy on exactly what guns are intolerable and why, it is not surprising that the general public is confused as well, as shown by the definitions of assault weapon offered by respondents in the Reason-Rupe survey. Some pollsters also do not seem to understand what an "assault weapon" is. A recent CNN poll asked people if they supported "a ban on the manufacture, sale and possession of semi-automatic assault guns, such as the AK-47." AK-47s are selective-fire military weapons (a.k.a. "assault rifles") that can fire automatically, and such guns are already tightly restricted under federal law. Similarly, a recent Fox News survey asked respondents if they favored "banning assault rifles and semi-automatic weapons." Assault rifles such as the AK-47 are already illegal for civilian use. Semiautomatic weapons include every gun that fires one round, ejects the the shell casing, and chambers a new round when you pull the trigger—essentially, all firearms except for revolvers and single-shot weapons. So Fox News was asking people whether they favored legislation banning guns that are already banned and banning a very broad category of guns that are commonly used for self-defense, hunting, and sporting purposes. Fifty-four percent said yes, but it is impossible to say what that means.

This persistent confusion, 24 years after California enacted the first "assault weapon" ban, is a product of a deliberately deceptive strategy encouraging people to conflate military-style guns with actual machine guns. That strategy has been so successful that the debate over "assault weapons" is almost literally meaningless, with people supporting a policy they do not understand. The truth is, after all, hard to believe: Why would activists and politicians expend so much effort on legislation that merely expresses their aesthetic objections to guns that look like "weapons of war" but do not function like them? Perhaps they are, as defenders of gun rights fear, trying to prepare the way for more ambitious restrictions in the future after Feinstein's dictates fail to reduce gun violence, as they inevitably will. But looking for rational explanations may give gun controllers like Feinstein too much credit. Like drug control, gun control is best understood as a symbolic exercise.

Survey data suggest that at least some gun control supporters implicitly understand this. In the Reason-Rupe survey, only 27 percent of respondents thought the federal "assault weapon" ban would have helped prevent the Sandy Hook massacre (a demonstrably false belief), but 44 percent said the ban should be reinstated. In a recent CBS News poll, majorities favored stricter gun laws (54 percent), a ban on semiautomatic weapons with detachable magazines (53 percent), a ban on "high-capacity magazines" (63 percent), background checks for all gun buyers (92 percent), and "a national database that would track all gun sales" (78 percent). But only 23 percent said such policies would help "a lot," while almost half said they would help "not much" or "not at all."

Walter Kirn's recent New Republic essay on guns, which J.D. Tuccille ably dissected earlier today, further illustrates the felt need to do something about gun violence, even if you know it is unlikely to work. Kirn concedes that so-called assault weapons "are functionally similar to ordinary semi-automatic rifles, differing chiefly in their sinister cosmetics, not in their underlying ballistics." But he argues that "the gun-owning community" nevertheless should support a ban based on such irrelevant distinctions to "demonstrate precisely the sort of reasonable public-mindedness of which some believe it to be incapable." Surrendering to the ill-informed prejudices of gun banners does not seem reasonable to me. The approach that Kirn recommends—support irrational laws if they have wide support to show you are not a crazy extremist—would validate any policy that makes people feel better, regardless of its actual consequences.

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  • Tulpa (LAOL-PA)||

    She looks like the villain from Star Trek Insurrection on a bad day.

  • nicole||

    You leave Salieri alone!

  • fish||

    Fuck that! Pull her so tight she shuts up!

    Did anybody else hear her say that collapsing the buttstock (on a rifle so equipped) makes it fully automatic? Feeble old Bob Schieffer just nodding and smiling as she talked.

  • nicole||

    Look, I said to leave him alone, not Feinstein.

    Also, that's unbelievably stupid.

  • fish||

    What's stupid? My wanting to rejuvenate her into silence or the full auto reference?

  • nicole||

    The full auto thing.

  • Paul.||

    Rejuvenate her into silence. It'll never happen.

  • Tulpa (LAOL-PA)||

    Maybe she was thinking of a bumpfire stock.

  • GILMORE||

    DAMN YOU AND YOUR TRIGGER FINGER

  • Tulpa (LAOL-PA)||

    I have a bumpfire keyboard....

  • GILMORE||

    She's referring to bump-fire stocks

    http://bumpfirestocks.com/

    But whatever, they're all so ignorant its a performance entirely for themselves and some housewives

  • BakedPenguin||

    The director of The Name of the Rose (the movie Abraham did right after Amadeus) said that F. Murray was such a prick, he would have fired him if he could have. F Murray was apparently pissed off about having to take shit for years, so when he won an Oscar and finally got some juice, he was determined to Lord it over everyone he could.

  • ||

    Well, he deserved that fucking Oscar.

    "Let the earth quake! I've got somebody's Oscar!"

  • AlmightyJB||

    He didn't earn that Oscar. The government did.

  • ||

    Calculon: Everyone walked out. They hated it. I've seen plagues that had better opening nights than this. You said that Oscar was practically on my mantle.

    Bender: Now you know why I used the qualifier "practically".

  • BakedPenguin||

    "Signing bills into law was always your dream, not mine!"

  • ||

    "Well, that dream dies now! You're unfunny and untalented. That's why you're perfect for drama."

  • Tulpa (LAOL-PA)||

    In my experience, anyone who uses their first initial and full middle name is a prick.

    My thesis advisor wanted me to do this since my name overlaps with someone else who publishes in a related field. Luckily I found a workaround to avoid doing so.

  • Dallas H.||

    In general, yes, but SAG rules require you to have a completely unique name. For example, Michael J. Fox only uses that name because there was already a Michael Fox when he got his SAG card.

  • Corneliusm||

    We should take a cue and ban scary-looking senators.

  • JW||

    She looks like the villain from Star Trek Insurrection on a bad day.

    Maybe they had just opened the Ark from Raiders.

  • Adam330||

    "the debate over "assault weapons" is almost literally meaningless, with people supporting a policy they do not understand."

    The essence of democracy is that people support and oppose policies that they do not understand.

  • Tulpa (LAOL-PA)||

    Alexis de Tocqueville likes this.

  • Paul.||

    Democracy is the goal, not freedom.

  • Tulpa (LAOL-PA)||

    Semiautomatic weapons include every gun that fires one round, ejects the the shell casing, and chambers a new round when you pull the trigger—essentially, all firearms except for revolvers and single-shot weapons.

    Or lever or bolt action guns, or double barreled guns, or...

  • Tulpa (LAOL-PA)||

    The defining characteristic of semiauto is that no separate action of the user is required to eject and chamber the next cartridge.

  • Lennay Kekua||

    or a Taurus "semiautomatic" that is really screwdriver-action.

  • Brett L||

    I had a Taurus revolver you had to pull the trigger on 9 times to get all 5 chambers to fire if you didn't make sure to rotate the cylinder until it locked before firing. It was scary as shit the first couple of times. I never had that issue on the S&W .38 special manufactured around 1910 that I put 100 rounds through.

  • ||

    How old was it? I've used a Taurus ultralight that worked just fine. Nice little gun, actually, and cheap.

  • Tulpa (LAOL-PA)||

    It's exactly as you'd expect from a manufacturer with quality control issues -- half of them are great buys and half of them are absolute lemons. Same as my experience with Heritage Arms revolvers.

  • Paul.||

    Taurus made the only revolver I've seen fail. It's a revolver, how hard is it to make the cylinder rotate, have the hammer fall somewhere near to the center of the primer and go *bang*?

    I have a friend who has a penchant for cheap firearms... he hated that Taurus.

  • Tulpa (LAOL-PA)||

    The cylinder rotation is actually kind of complicated. I'd rather have a problem with a spring in a semiauto than a pawl in a revolver, that's for sure.

    My HA Rough Rider cylinder locked up after three loadings.

  • Paul.||

    Designing from scratch, sure. The diameter of the cylinder, the placement of the notches. But jeebus, once you get it one time, you can machine the things with computer precision.

    I mean, I'm no gunsmith, but I'll give a cheap auto a pass for jamming occasionally. Ammo manufacturer dynamics, the way the user holds the pistol, all those things can be a factor that are 'outside' the control of the manufacturer. But rotating a cylinder x degrees until a springloaded thingy pops into the notch thingy of the cylinder?

  • Tulpa (LAOL-PA)||

    I've also seen a Ruger Single Six revolver (which I will not tolerate any insults of!) jam with Remington Golden Bullets, because the thickness of the rims is so variable and the spacing between the cylinder and the frame is so small.

  • Tulpa (LAOL-PA)||

    And of course when a revolver jams you're screwed... you probably won't be able to clear the jam without tools.

  • Paul.||

    Ruger Single Six is one of the finest firearms ever to grace my hand. I will not insult the single six. If it ever had a malfunction, it was due to owner abuse, or retarded ammunition.

  • Tulpa (LAOL-PA)||

    RGBs are retarded, I'll give you that.

    The malf was caused by me trying to bond with people at my club... I gave the guy next to me at the range my box of RGBs since I was sick of them getting stuck in my 25 round 10/22 magazine. He was seriously pissed when they jammed his Single Six up so bad he had to take it home to fix it.

    It didn't help the bonding for some reason.

  • R C Dean||

    Yeah, that sentence really needs to go.

    For that matter, I believe a double-action revolver meets the definition of a semi-automatic: every time you pull the trigger, a round is fired and a new round is put in battery.

  • ||

    Incorrect. The user still must manually cock the hammer through the action of the trigger pull. There is at least one model of revolver that fits the definition of semi-automatic, however. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/W.....c_Revolver

  • Paul.||

    I'm not sure I see it that way. I pull the trigger, it goes bang. I pull the trigger again, it goes bang. The gears, bells and buzzers that make it do that are irrelevant.

  • ||

    "Math is hard! Tee hee!"

  • Paul.||

    I don't know what you mean by that, but I'm tempted to feel hurt.

  • ||

    I called you gay, you fucking queer. Keep your faggotry away from my 100% heterosexual guns.

  • Paul.||

    You can't insult me by calling me gay, or queer.

    You can, however, insult my math skillz.

  • ||

    Oh, ok. You suck at math, like a girl or something.

  • NeonCat||

    If she weren't dead, Ada Lovelace would like to have a word with you.

  • R C Dean||

    I pull the trigger, it goes bang. I pull the trigger again, it goes bang.

    Exactly. From the POV of the operator, what's the diff?

  • Tulpa (LAOL-PA)||

    In the statutes I've seen they define semiautomatic as requiring that the recoil energy be used to eject and chamber. In a DA revolver it's still your muscle power that's rotating the cylinder.

  • Paul.||

    A statutory definition? Sure. For instance, the statutory definition of an assault rifle is...

  • Tulpa (LAOL-PA)||

    Well, definitions are always arbitrary. The question is how useful the word is when you define it a certain way, and whether it matches what people already think the word means. The statutory definiton of semiauto seems to be a good one on both counts.

  • Paul.||

    I think it's a good definition from an engineering standpoint.

    The resulting difference between the double-action revolver and a true semi-auto, recoil operated weapon is ultimately accuracy.

    That 20lb trigger pull causes one to lose ones sight picture, whereas the .5lb trigger pull...

    But for instance, if I had a working Gatling gun, would that be considered an illegal firearm?

    It uses the muscle power required to turn a mechanical crank, but the result is damn near the same as a machine gun.

  • Gilbert Martin||

    "It uses the muscle power required to turn a mechanical crank, but the result is damn near the same as a machine gun"

    You'll need a lot more muscle power to haul the thing around and set it up before you get to the firing part.

  • DaveSs||

    Gatling guns are treated as semi-auto by ATF.

    Cabelas actually sells a kit that you can take the guts from two Ruger 10/22 rifles and assemble them into a Gatling gun.

  • Paul.||

  • Paul.||

    Wow, gun controllers actually refer to is as a "Gatling gun loophole!"

    http://vpcblog.wordpress.com/2.....-loophole/

  • Tulpa (LAOL-PA)||

    That has to be a joke. Look at the idiocracy version of history:

    Doctor Richard J. Gatling invented these monstrosities under the belief that fewer men would die in war. “Guns Save Lives?” What a foolish belief. It, of course, did not work as the U.S. Army realized such contraptions violated the Geneva Convention, thus passed on purchasing any. The sole exception was General Benjamin Butler, but the law caught up him and the U.S. Army executed him after the war.

    The First Geneva Convention didn't happen till 1864 and the US was not a participant; it wouldn't have applied anyway since it was an internal civil war; obviously the Geneva Conventions didn't forbid machine guns; and Butler served in Congress and became governor of Massachusetts after the war.

  • SugarFree||

    Diane eased the flash suppressor between the grey flesh of her labia and into her dusty vagina. She grimaced as she moved it back and forth, producing the grating scrape of dry friction. She pulled it out and tossed it away.

    "The pistol grip," she demanded, the loose flesh of her arm bouncing with frustration. Nancy's pendulous breasts swayed like a drunk going to vomit as she rifled through the pile of gun parts from the presentation.

    "Iz thish it?" she slurred, handing a part to Diane. It was a bayonet lug. "God-dammit!" she screamed, "Can't you fucking doing anything right?" Nancy's startled face made the perfect target. The lug caught her right above the eyebrow and it began bleeding. She blubbered for almost a mintue, blood and tears joining mascara and snot in a thick black river down her face.

    "Are you finished?" Diane screamed finally and Nancy nodded miserably.

    "That one," Diane pointed at a pistol grip by itself on the table. Nancy shuffled over and handed it to her. Diane ran her fingernail along the reticulated surface of the grip. "Perfect," she said. Nancy grinned idiotically, showing that blood and mascara had dyed her false teeth black.

    Diane snapped her fingers again and waved at the table. "Get me a clip too. A high capacity clip just like the one that killed those kids." She gasped between words as she worked the grip between her legs.

    "I thinsh they're called maguhshinzes," Nancy ventured.

    "I DON'T GIVE A FUCK WHAT THEY ARE CALLED!"

  • ||

    I stared into the abyss and the abyss stared right back.

  • R C Dean||

    So, these little filth fits just hit randomly, without warning?

    Must make life . . . interesting.

  • Jesus H. Christ||

    I think I'm going to be sick...

    I make it a habit not to click on links in the HyR comments, but now the comments themselves are just as bad. Gahhh.

  • ||

    This made me think of the Baron Harkonnen heart plug scene from Lynch's Dune for some reason. And that's a good thing. Thank you, NutraSweet. These other slobs may not appreciate your work, but I do.

  • ||

    Mmmmm...go on. *unzips pants*

  • JW||

    Where's Harry Reid in the gimp suit?

    You promised me!

  • SugarFree||

    1500 character limit. And Dagny keeps pestering me for crone-on-crone action. (At least I think that's what her bizarre late night missives are about.)

  • Adam.||

    I had to leave my desk I was laughing so hard. disgusting and hilarious.

  • R C Dean||

    It was the in-joke ending that got me. Well played, Sug.

  • Unindicted Co-conspirator||

    I think my penis just crawled back up into my torso, and started weeping uncontrollably.

  • IceTrey||

    Sullum, AK-47's haven't been made in 60 years. What your talking about is an AKM. Even Reason writers can't get it right.

  • ||

    You have used "your" incorrectly. PEDANTIC.

  • Jordan||

    After that clip vs. magazine subthread, is this really necessary?

  • IceTrey||

    I think so. It really kind of a confused paragraph. CNN calls AK-47's "semi-automatic" then Sullum says they are fully automatic and already banned. Which is true, but if you could get a hold of an actual AK-47 it would be 60 years old. A brand new "AK-47" is actually an AKM. I won't even get into AKMS and AK-74's!

  • Tulpa (LAOL-PA)||

    The other day I corrected someone who was writing about an AK-74, thinking it was a typo.

    Oops.

  • Paul.||

    You need to play more video games. That way you'd be more familiar with the different assault rifles available.

  • NeonCat||

    I believe he was quoting the CNN poll, so maybe you should correct them instead.

  • Mr Whipple||

    Gun Control: If It Feels Good, Do It

    So does anal sex. Bend over, biatch.

  • NeonCat||

    "Real gun control is hitting your target while having anal sex."

  • waaminn||

    Man that makes no sense at all man. Wow.

    www.Im-Anon.tk

  • prkralex||

    Apart from games AK-74M is the main service rifle in use in the Russian Army K-74M is the main service rifle in use in the Russian Army. Its production began in 1990. The rifle is being manufactured for the Azeri armed forces. Its also used by the
    armed forces of Afghanistan, Armenia, Belarus, Bulgaria, Georgia, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova, Mongolia, North Korea, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Ukraine and Uzbekistan.

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