Promoting assault weapons bans will confuse the public, help 'strengthen the handgun restriction lobby'

|The Volokh Conspiracy |

From the pro-gun-restriction Violence Policy Center, back in 1988, near the dawn of the "assault weapons" debate (emphasis added):

[A]ssault weapons are quickly becoming the leading topic of America's gun control debate and will most likely remain the leading gun control issue for the near future. Such a shift will not only damage America's gun lobby, but strengthen the handgun restriction lobby for the following reasons:

  • It will be a new topic in what has become to the press and public an "old" debate.Although handguns claim more than 20,000 lives a year, the issue of handgun restriction consistently remains a non-issue with the vast majority of legislators, the press, and public. . . . Assault weapons—just like armor-piercing bullets, machine guns, and plastic firearms—are a new topic. The 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. . . .

But the Violence Policy Center also noted the political danger of proposing assault weapons bans, especially coupled with proposing handgun restrictions:

America's handgun restriction movement has been cautious in its response to the assault weapons debate. Their reticence is understandable. By moving against a category of firearm that is not only a long gun, but difficult to define, they run the risk of appearing to prove the gun lobby right: that is, that handgun restrictions are merely the first step down the aforementioned slippery slope.

Keep these frank statements in mind if you hear people wondering why some allegedly "alarmist," "nutty," or "paranoid" gun rights supporters worry that bans on so-called "assault weapons" are just an attempt to help promote broader bans (such as on handguns).