The NBC station in New York City recently discovered that the new and allegedly improved "assault weapon" ban championed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo has not done much to make guns less lethal, since the features it prohibited are mostly cosmetic. Reporter Chris Glorioso visited Long Island gun dealer Martin Tretola, who showed him the difference between an AR-15 banned by the SAFE Act and an AR-15 designed to comply with the law: They are pretty much the same, except the legal rifle has none of the features that offended Cuomo. That means no folding or telescoping stock, no protruding pistol grip, no thumbhole stock, no second handgrip or protruding grip that can be held by a nonshooting hand, no bayonet mount, no flash suppressor, no muzzle brake, no muzzle compensator, no threaded barrel, and no grenade launcher (grenades not included). Under the previous version of New York's "assault weapon" law, a rifle could have one (but not two!) of these features.
How much difference does that change make in practice? Not much. As Glorioso notes, the modified gun fires the same rounds just as rapidly and just as accurately. NYU law professor James Jacobs, who praises some aspects of the SAFE Act, tells Glorioso the post-ban version "differs only in how it looks, not in how it functions." Leah Gunn Barrett, executive director of New Yorkers Against Gun Violence, concedes that "the legal gun looks a lot like the illegal gun" and "can kill people." But she argues that some of the banned features could make a difference in a mass shooting. For example, "it is not as easy to manipulate and fire accurately [as] it would be if you had a forward-leaning pistol grip."
Glorioso adds that "some families of gun violence victims say they are frustrated by what they believe are efforts to skirt the gun control law." He quotes Joyce Gorycki, whose husband was killed in the 1993 Long Island Rail Road massacre (which was perpetrated not with an "assault weapon" but with a Ruger P-89 pistol). "Here we go again," says Gorycki. "This is what they always do. It's just a terrible thing. The gun manufacturers. I just don't understand them."
When gun manufacturers follow the government's arbitrary design decrees, they are complying with the law, not skirting it. If the resulting changes have no measurable impact on gun violence, that is the fault of the law, not the people who obey it.