The front page of today's New York Daily News(right) features photographs of the children Adam Lanza murdered at Sandy Hook Elementary School in December, tastefully arranged in a square around the headline "SHAME ON U.S.: Assault-Weapons Bill Is Dead." Because if you oppose the absurdly arbitrary "assault weapon" ban sponsored by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), you hate children and want them to die. Inside, under the headline "Spineless Pols Spit on the Graves of Newtown Victims by Not Pushing for Assault Weapons Ban," Daily News columnist Mike Lupica says "any fool knows that Lanza couldn't possibly have killed as many children as quickly as he did on the morning of Dec. 14 without an assault weapon in his hands." Lupica is right. That is what a fool knows, or thinks he knows. But is it true?
Testifying before the Senate Judiciary Committee in January, Independence Institute Research Director David Kopel, a leading gun policy scholar, noted:
The murderer at Sandy Hook fired 150 shots over a 20-minute period, before the police arrived. In other words, a rate of fewer than 8 shots per minute. This is a rate of fire far slower than the capabilities of a lever-action Henry Rifle from 1862, or a semi-automatic AR-15 rifle from 2010. Indeed, his rate of fire could have been far exceeded by a competent person using very old technology, such as a break-open double-barreled shotgun.
So Lupica, like other supporters of Feinstein's bill, is simply wrong to think that Lanza needed a special sort of gun to fire as fast as he did. In any case, as Kopel pointed out, the criteria that legislators use to identify so-called assault weapons "do not ban guns based on how fast they fire, or how powerful they are." Rather, "the definitions are based on the name of a gun, or on whether a firearm has certain superficial accessories (such as a bayonet lug, or a grip in the 'wrong' place)." Feinstein's bill, for example, would ban the Bushmaster rifle that Lanza used by name while specifically exempting other rifles (such as the Ruger Mini-14, as long as it has a fixed stock) that fire the same ammunition just as quickly.
Lupica suggests that children's lives "could have been saved that morning if Adam Lanza had only been firing away with a handgun." In reality, handguns are the weapons favored by mass killers, including the one responsible for the deadliest shooting by a single gunman in U.S. history, at Virginia Tech in 2007. A handgun (a revolver) was also the weapon that San Francisco Supervisor Dan White used to assassinate fellow Supervisor Harvey Milk and Mayor George Moscone in 1978. That is the incident that Feinstein, who was a supervisor at the time and succeeded Moscone as mayor, cites to explain her persistence in pushing an "assault weapon" ban. "At a Senate hearing last week," The New York Times notes, "Ms. Feinstein said that she still could not get out of her mind looking for the pulse of Mr. Milk, her colleague at the time on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, and in the process 'putting my fingers in a bullet hole.'"
Feinstein was responding to a question from Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), who had the temerity to suggest that her bill violates the Second Amendment. Dan White's crime is clearly irrelevant to the constitutional issue, and it does not even make sense as symbolism. Because White killed Milk and Moscone with a revolver, Feinstein was essentially saying, we cannot tolerate barrel shrouds on rifles. Presumably Lupica, who praises Feinstein as "tough" and "noble," thinks that is also something that any fool knows. But it is hard to see how someone who is not a fool could believe it.
[Thanks to Michael Sohm for the tip.]