Yesterday I noted that a local police chief claimed Michael McLendon, the Alabama man who killed 10 people on Tuesday, was armed with a machine gun. According to the Alabama State Police, he actually had two semiautomatic rifles, an SKS and an AR-15-style model produced by Bushmaster, plus a shotgun and a .38-caliber handgun. To no one's surprise, the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence latched onto those details as an argument for reviving the federal "assault weapon" ban:
McLendon fired more than 200 rounds from his military-style semiautomatic assault weapons….Assault weapons were banned under federal law until four years ago….
"This man needed the firepower of assault weapons to execute his plan of mass carnage. Alabama, and our nation, must take action to make it harder for dangerous people to get dangerous weapons," said Paul Helmke, President of the Brady Campaign.
It's not clear what Helmke means by "firepower." The AR-15 fires a small (.223-caliber) cartridge, and the SKS fires an intermediate (.30-caliber) cartridge. The guns identified as "assault weapons" are chosen based on their "military-style" appearance, not the size of their ammunition, and many large-caliber guns were not covered by the federal ban. Maybe Helmke is really talking about magazine capacity, since the federal "assault weapon" law also banned magazines that hold more than 10 rounds. But this has nothing to do with "assault weapons" per se; many guns that don't fall into that arbitrary category accept large-capacity magazines. In any case, since McLendon had multiple guns and multiple magazines (some of them taped together for extra-speedy reloading), depriving him of big magazines probably would not have made much difference. As for "mak[ing] it harder for dangerous people to get dangerous weapons," all weapons are dangerous (which is what makes them weapons), and it is virtually impossible, by definition, to identify seemingly harmless people who will one day go on murderous rampages for no apparent reason.