"There is no reason mass killers can still legally buy their weapon of choice in America," says the headline over a Washington Post editorial that appeared in yesterday's paper, calling upon Congress to enact a new, broader version of the "assault weapon" ban that expired in 2004. Never mind that so-called assault weapons are not, in fact, the "weapon of choice" for mass killers, who overwhelmingly favor ordinary handguns. The Post says "assault weapons" are nevertheless intolerable because they are "capable of firing dozens of rounds in seconds." Never mind that the same is true of any gun that accepts a detachable magazine. The Post notes that a lawyer who is suing the businesses that supplied the gun used in the 2012 Sandy Hook massacre calls military-style rifles "the gold standard for mass murder of innocent civilians." Never mind that the lawyer and his colleagues cannot explain what makes these guns uniquely suitable for mass murder and uniquely unsuitable for legal uses.
The Post has been beating this drum for a long time. But when the federal "assault weapon" ban was enacted in 1994, the paper's editorial board was a little more honest about the point of it. While "it's ridiculous that the banning should even be an issue," the Post said then, "no one should have any illusions about what was accomplished. Assault weapons play a part in only a small percentage of crime. The provision is mainly symbolic; its virtue will be if it turns out to be, as hoped, a stepping stone to broader gun control." The mechanism for achieving "broader gun control" is the recognition that "assault weapons" account for a tiny share of gun homicides and that many other firearms are just as deadly—points that advocates of a ban are keen to obscure for the time being.