Assault Weapon Ban

Virginia's Thwarted 'Assault Firearm' Ban Illustrates the Folly of Trying to Distinguish Between Good and Evil Guns

Legislators who approved a bunch of other gun control bills could not agree on what features make a firearm intolerable.


Democrats in Virginia, after taking control of the state legislature last year, are delivering on their promise of new gun control laws. So far they have approved bills that will require background checks for all firearm transfers, limit handgun purchases to one per month, allow local governments to ban firearms on public property, and authorize court orders that suspend the Second Amendment rights of people who are deemed a threat to themselves or others. But a proposed "assault firearm" ban supported by Gov. Ralph Northam (D), which was blocked by a state Senate committee yesterday, proved to be a step too far, at least for now.

Such bans, which cover an arbitrarily defined category of firearms that supposedly are good for nothing but mass murder, are substantially less popular than other frequently proposed gun controls. Last year, Gallup found that 92 percent of Americans favored "requiring background checks for all gun sales," for instance, while only 47 percent thought it should be "illegal to manufacture, sell or possess semi-automatic guns known as assault rifles."

There are sound reasons to be skeptical of "assault weapon" bans, starting with the observation that the firearms they cover include some of the most popular rifles sold in the United States. Those guns are rarely used in crimes and, when they are, could easily be replaced by equally lethal alternatives. Then there is the far from trivial problem that no one knows what "assault weapons" are until legislators settle on a definition, a task that calls into question the entire enterprise.

The New York Times notes that Virginia legislators "failed to arrive at a consensus definition of what constitutes an assault weapon despite weeks of negotiations." R. Creigh Deeds, one of four Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee who voted against the bill, said there were "a lot of questions" about which guns should be banned.

Under the original version of the bill, which would have criminalized possession as well as importation, manufacture, and sale, "assault firearms" included semi-automatic rifles that accept detachable magazines and have one or more of 12 features—or "any characteristic of like kind," whatever that means. The forbidden features included folding or telescoping stocks, pistol grips, bayonet mounts, grenade launchers, silencers, flash suppressors, muzzle brakes, and threaded barrels. The final version of the bill, which was narrowly approved by the Virginia House of Delegates last week, eliminated the ban on possession and reduced the list of specific characteristics to 10, ditching silencers and bayonet mounts.

Allowing current owners of "assault firearms" to keep their property was politically prudent, since laws that require people to turn in their guns are highly controversial and widely flouted. At the same time, grandfathering the "assault firearms" that Virginians already own demolishes any claim by the bill's backers that they are eliminating guns they assert have no legitimate uses.

Striking bayonet mounts and silencers from the list of forbidden features also made sense, since bayonet attacks do not loom large in violent crime and banning rifles with silencers seems redundant once you have already decreed that people may not buy rifles with "a threaded barrel capable of accepting…a silencer." But those edits also call attention to the remaining features, which allegedly transform a legal rifle into a weapon that is suitable only for mass shootings.

When you replace a rifle's fixed stock with one that can be folded or adjusted for shooters of different sizes, you have not made the gun any more deadly. A grenade launcher may sound scarier, but it is of little use without grenades, which are strictly regulated under federal law. The other supposedly intolerable features likewise have more to do with a gun's appearance than its effectiveness in the hands of a mass shooter. They certainly do not distinguish "evil" guns used by murderers from "good" guns used by law-abiding people for legitimate sporting, hunting, and self-defense purposes.

Lest you think Virginia's gun controllers are ready to abandon that vain quest, Gov. Northam plans to try again. "We will be back next year," his spokeswoman promised.

[This post has been revised to clarify the legal status of grenades.]

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  1. The only “intolerable” firearm is the one used in a crime!

    1. The firearm is not the intolerable element in that situation.

    2. VA Governor Blackface is pretty intolerable.

      1. I’m going to have to agree with you. Damn it, I hate it when you’re right!

        1. I am almost always right. You just hate to admit it.

  2. Gallup found that 92 percent of Americans favored “requiring background checks for all gun sales”

    Serious question: Have any polls been done about requiring background checks for all pornography sales, all alcohol sales, all automobile sales, etc.?

    1. Given that we ALREADY have that…what’s the point in polling on it? It’s funny how gun control policy is run by people who have literally zero clue what the hell they are talking about.

      1. The want to know how many other polled Americans don’t know or care that the US Constitution protects the right OF THE PEOPLE to keep and bear Arms.

      2. It’s funny how [fill in the blank] policy is run by people who have literally zero clue what the hell they are talking about.

        There, FTFY

      3. Not totally true. You can buy a gun without a background check or paper trail at a gun show in a lot of states. I’ve been to one in Wyoming where you could do so. Now, in fairness, there are not a lot of criminals going to gun shows in Laramie, Wyoming to buy weapons to commit crimes with. The number of weapons sold there that end up at crime scenes is probably pretty minuscule, and not replaceable with guns procured from other sources.

        1. I’ve been to gun shows and literally have never seen a gun sold without a check and the whole nine yards (one of my friends loves guns). You cannot order one online without picking it up at a firearms dealer who will then make you go through the check and all.

          These idiots act like buying a gun is super easy and quick. It is anything but.

          1. Legally buying a gun requires checks & restrictions & paperwork.

            Acquiring a gun illegally is unrestricted.

        2. Only from private dealers. Most guns sold at gun shows are by FFL holders who are required by law to do a background check. That is why it was so stupid when Clinton changed the law to make it harder to get a FFL. Instead they should make it easier so more people have FFLs and thus more people would be required to perform background checks (and it will be easier to do one without having to go to a gun store to pay them to do one for you). Note: I am not supporting universal background checks but just pointing out the stupidity of asking for it while making it harder for people to get a FFL.

          1. Not private dealers, because they technically aren’t dealers, but private gun owners who are selling their own property.

          2. It wasn’t stupid of Clinton. He wasn’t trying to improve security, he was just trying to put a bunch of gun dealers out of business.

            See, when a gun dealer goes out of business, they have to turn over their log book to the BATF. Instant gun registration for all their customers!

        3. There is no gun show loophole. The laws are identical in and out of the gun show. A licensed gun dealer has to do a background check on a sale be it at a gun show or in their brick and mortar store. A private seller whether at a gun show, in their home or in a parking lot does not have to do a background check. There is no gun show loophole. There is a private sale rule. It’s not a loophole, it’s clearly written in the law. Anybody who claims there is a gun show loophole is either minsinformed or lying.

        4. The Bureau of Justice Statistics surveys of prisoners who carried or used a gun in their last offense (“Firearms Use By Offenders” or FUO) consistently shows that less than 1% acquired their gun at a gun show.

          The divide at gun show sales may be 60% licensed gun dealers and 40% private sellers i.e. collectors or used gun owners. The Obama Administration reported that as 40% of all crime guns bought through the gun show loophole. Anti-gun cranks still shop that percentile to this day. For the 2004 FUO it was 40% of 0.8% not 40% of the whole.

          I studied the 1980s “Armed and Considered Dangerous” gun using prisoner survey by Wright & Rossi and followed the FUOs for 1991, 1997, 2004. The effect of increasing gun sale restriction has been a decline in the percentile of criminals acquiring guns from retail sources (gun shops, pawnshops, gun shows and flea markets) from 21% to 11%. Grey and black market sources increased from 79% to 88%. The gun control nuts in the US won’t stop until we are like Mexico, 100% of everyone getting their guns grey or black market.

          1. Thanks for the cites. Dying thread, but I at least appreciated your work.

    2. Or providing everyone with free ice cream?

      Polls can provide a popular groundswell for anything you want it to.

    3. “Last year, Gallup found that 92 percent of Americans favored “requiring background checks for all gun sales”

      Are the people who are reported to favor Bloomberg Everytown UBC in these polls given any background information on how UBC goes far beyond the NICS background check for the gun dealer firearms transaction Form 4473? These are not informed polls. They do not reflect support for UBC. They do reflect support for NICS BG checks for gun transactions. (BTW: When Gallup Poll results favor gun rights over gun control, the anti-gun people poo-poo the credibility of poll results.)

      Background checks are done at Virginia gun shows by the Virginia State Police for $5 or less, about the cost of accessing the federal NICS prohibited person database. When I buy a gun at a Tennessee gun shop, the BG check costs me $10, TICS for county and state restricting factors plus NICS for federal prohibited person status.

      The cost of a Bloomberg Everytown Universal Background Check is $55 where it has been passed and implemented.
      The cost of a New York City background check to buy a rifle is $96. Plus a $140 purchase permit fee.

      UBC is a sin tax designed to discourage gun ownership by anyone; not just a background check to prevent federally prohibited persons from buying guns.

      My home state will do a $39 private check for a used gun sale. I know people who have sold guns who ask to see the buyer’s state handgun carry permit as proof they have passed a BG check and not been charged or arrested since; otherwise, the excessive cost of the used gun sale BG check more likely means used gun transactions without a BG check. The intent of the high fees ($39 or $55 or more) may be to stop used gun transactions but it just stops used gun transactions with a BG check.


      “… only 47 percent thought it should be ‘illegal to manufacture, sell or possess semi-automatic guns known as assault rifles.'”

      Poll question: “There is a hue and cry to ban lethal military/police style rifles known as “assault rifles”; however, FBI statistics show that far more people are murdered each year by what FBI calls ‘personal weapons’ than are murdered by all rifles combined.
      “Should these lethal ‘personal weapons’ also be banned?
      “_ Yes, I want government to save us from the scourge of personal weapons.
      “_ No, I am evil demonic & heartless and want the innocents to die. Mwahahaha!”

      Omitted background info.
      FBI: UCR 2018 Crime in the United States
      Expanded Homicide Data Table 8 Murder Victims by Weapon used
      672 Personal Weapons (hands, fists, feet, etc.)
      297 Rifles

      Yeah. The total focus of state and federal law enforcement should be on the millions of owners of AR-15s (which are a tiny fraction of the rifles used in a small minority of all homicides). Heaven forbid that the “ban the means from everybody” crowd realize you are far more likely to be murdered by hands, fist, feet, etc than be murdered by an AR-15. It might redirect the “public safety” focus to violent people, not guns or gun owners.

  3. As long as there is an amendment requiring a firearm license in order to vote.

    The second amendment say “shall not be infringed”. Therefore any restrictions placed on firearms will not be an infringement if placed on voting.
    Repeal the second amendment or shut up about made up things like “assault rifle”.

  4. It’s easy. An Assault Rifle is any firearm that makes me feel all icky. Regardless of whether it has the thing that goes up and down, or a fully automatic folding stock or a grenade catcher or a clip silencer bullet thingy. They are all bad-wrong.

    1. That was very, very, well said Kiwi

      1. “A assault rifle is any firearm necessary to the security of a free state, and incarcerating you for one is totes Constitutional”.
        /bureaucrats with taxpayer funded armed security

    2. I support all types of bullet thingies.

      1. Personally, I prefer numbered thingies.

    3. An Assault Rifle is any firearm that makes me feel all icky.

      You don’t like my love gun?

      1. Only if it comes with a fully automatic consent generator. Also you’d have to wear a silencer.

        1. “Also you’d have to wear a silencer.”

          You mean like a muzzle? Keep talking…

          1. Yes a muzzle break! And we’ll need one of those things that goes up and down. I gather that certain types of grips also form part of the love that is forbidden by both man and the gods.

            1. Hmm. May I ask if you used to comment here under a different handle, starting with an “i”?

              1. Not me. I’m exactly what it says on the label. A kiwi with libertarian tendencies. Been reading Reason since the early 2000’s but only bothered to start posting after the March 15 terrrorism attacks down in this part of the world.

                1. Thanks! Glad to have *your* perspective.

    4. Lol. Awesome, KiwiLib

  5. 2nd Amendment: A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.

    All gun control laws are unconstitutional and therefore illegal.

    1. Exactly. Why is that so hard to understand!?!

      1. It is easily understood by everyone.
        However, some will pretend to not understand in order to strip you of your rights, if you let them.
        NEVER vote for a democrat.

    2. Once I was debating gun control with a pro gun control supporter. She asked me if I supported letting felons have guns. She was aghast when I answered “yes, after they are off parole.”

      1. Yup. Once felons are done completing their sentence, the 15th Amendment no longer applies to them, so the 2nd amendment applies to them again too. Along with protections of Liberty and 4th amendment.

      2. Ask all gun banners if they would support requiring whatever permit/license they advocate in order to vote.
        That quickly separates the infringers from the freedom lovers.

  6. Can you really be this stupid? They’re not trying to distinguish between good and bad guns.

    They’re trying to distinguish between bad guns they can get away with banning now, and bad guns they’ll have to come back for in a few years.

    “Good guns”, to the gun controller, denotes guns owned by the government.

    1. Grenade launcher? What stupid planet have these morons been living on that they think that’s a legal norm (granted, it sure as hell should be….)?

      1. Americans have let Lefties run things for too long.

        Arms include and are not limited to: rifles, swords, knives, grenades, bombs, tanks, ships, aircraft, pistols, silencers, ammo, cannons, brass knuckles….

        Websters Dictionary 1828
        ‘ARMS, noun plural [Latin arma.]
        1. Weapons of offense, or armor for defense and protection of the body.

        1. You forgot to mention the dildo in your back pocket.

          1. How did YOU get in my back pocket?

            1. Excellent.

            2. I knew you had a loveable side. Touché.

          2. I remember some numbnuts politician in California was aghast at the idea of a chainsaw bayonet. Never mind that the thing was a pure novelty and would not be practical.

          3. It’s not a dildo, it’s a rife propelled vibrator. 🙂

            1. Buttigieg approves of that device though. Sorry, couldn’t help myself.

    2. Ban guns with bayonet lugs as ‘too dangerous’, demand compromise, then get all frantic about all these other unbanned guns, that are just as powerful as the ones even the Right admitted were too dangerous when they compromised.

      1. I tried explaining that to a former progressive friend. For years gun owners have been promised that they just want reasonable compromise. And we went along, but many of us soon realized that as soon as we compromised they started asking for more. Now, we have drawn a no tolerance line and they don’t understand why we won’t “just compromise”. Also, I asked if it is true compromise, what are they giving up? His answer was “we would like to ban all guns or at the least severely restrict who can have one but we are willing to let you have your deer rifles and such.” I have to at least give him points for honesty.

        1. Gun rights and abortion rights peoples know they are dealing with prohibitionists to whom reasonable regulation is prohibition. And compromise is always in the direction of bans, outright or defacto prohibition.

  7. They could have just asked Samantha Bee what an “assault weapon” is. I’m sure she would have been overjoyed to help the Virginia senate with that.

    Douche bag.

    1. Bee highlights an infuriating pattern in American government, where a small zealous brand of extremists continue to exert their power and influence over the rest of the country.

      Washed up Lefties like Samatha Bee hate the Founders, the US Constitution, and civil rights like the right to self defense.

      1. To be fair, for the most part the founders were a ‘small zealous band of extremists’. Samantha Bee would be more than happy if the U.S. remained a British possession.

        1. That is interesting you bring that up since I firmly support banishing all traitors outside the USA after they lose Civil War 2.0

          The Tories knew that they needed to leave the USA after the Revolutionary War. Me thinks Lefties won’t get the hint.

        2. I remember recently (last year or the year before) several progressive media outlets ran an op Ed how the US would have been better to have lost the Revolution. One of their biggest arguments was that England banned slavery before the US. But the forgot to mention that England’s biggest market for slaves had been the US before the Revolution and that the US banned the importation of slaves before England ended it’s slave trade. English Parliament also forbid the colonies from ending slavery or even emancipating slaves prior to the Revolution. I wonder how much England losing such a large market impacted their decision to ban slavery?

  8. A grenade launcher may sound scarier, but it is of little use without grenades, which have long been banned for civilian use.

    Not an expert on the subject, but it seems that 3-D printed grenades should be pretty simple to construct.

    1. You can 3D print an inert shape, but an actual grenade means explosives, which aren’t sold cash-n-carry. IIUC you can in fact buy actual explosive grenades – but each one requires a $200 NFA Destructive Device tax stamp, so a day of plinking gets kinda expensive.

      1. Lots of explosives can be made in the home.

        1. Stable enough to survive being fired out of a barrel?

          1. If you’ve got the right recipe, sure. It isn’t as though the laws of chemistry operate differently in your kitchen than they do in a munitions factory.

      2. Once you explode a registered grenade, you have to contact the ATF to have it deleted from the National Firearms Registry. I believe you do get to keep your canceled NFA registration tax stamp, which is a cool collector’s item.

    2. Manufacturing an explosive device that can withstand the pressure of being fired while still being capable of exploding when it reaches it’s target is not a simple process. Since the dawn of the black powder age they have tried to perfect it, with varying success. Even today grenades will sometimes explode in a M203, M320, MK19 or M79. When I was at Ft Sam Houston in the mid 1990s their was a guy in our barracks who was on med hold. He had lost all the fingers on one hand from a malfunctioning grenade when firing a M203.

  9. “Such bans, which cover an arbitrarily defined category of firearms..”

    Yep. This was pointed out way back during Bill Clinton’s presidency : Assault weapons are not functionally different than any other semiautomatic rifle. It’s only their military cosmetics which makes them so popular with gun nuts and mass murderers.

    Which leads to A Modest Proposal that I’ve devised to settle this issue once and for all. Certainly permit the manufacturer and sale of “assault weapons” – as cool looking and scary as possible – but made only in hollow plastic, with one of those noise-generator-things that goes rat-ta-tat when you pull the trigger. That way gun nuts and mass murderers won’t have their constitutional right to play GI Joe infringed.

    See? Problem solved.
    (You’re welcome)

    1. So the 20 million plus people who own AR15s are either gun nuts or mass murderers? Also, pistols are far more common in mass shootings than all long arms combined.

      1. Of course they are. That is why there were 20 million murders in the US last year – at least according to the news I read. Every gun nut is an elite sniper as well as a murderer and to prove it once per year they stalk and kill one person using their AR15. Mostly using the grenade bit or the bayonet as they are so gun-nuttery and murderery.

        I’m amazed that any of you are still alive.

        1. I sense invisible [sarcasm][/sarcasm] tags around that comment.

  10. It’s not that the Dems couldn’t agree on the features to ban, it’s that the hangover is starting to set in and those 4 politicos jumped ship given the writing on the wall for the next election.

  11. Sadly, Sullum says nothing in defense of the right to keep and bear arms. He speaks of questions about the “reasonableness” of firearm-limiting regulations and about public opinion polls. He discusses the politics of the process of limiting rights, not the importance of the rights being diminished.
    You would think that Reason would want to discuss the principles.

  12. By far, most ‘gun crime’ is committed using a handgun.
    It’s very telling that they’re going after firearms which would be useful in repelling tyranny.

    1. Don’t worry, they’ll get to the handguns next. It’s what they ran on throughout the 60’s, until—and I’ve no idea how it started—the wave of bills allowing CHLs started to flood states.

      Just got to get the low-hanging fruit first. With a constituency of middle-class and up Karens, that’s scary black rifles. But they’ll get to the rest eventually if not stopped. Look at Australia. Or Britain.

  13. I love Buttigieg saying we shouldn’t allow guns like he carried in Afghanistan.

    What fucking soldier is carrying a fucking AR-15 in a warzone? They are carrying M-4, M-15, etc — which, no, you cannot legally purchase here.

    1. To be fair, though in no way a fan of any sort of gun control, we were taught to fire our rifles on semi-automatic during most situations. You tend to be far more accurate and less likely to burn through a magazine to quickly. Even in suppressive fire situations, the protocol was to fire one shot a second. In basic in 1995 we put thousands of rounds, spent 6 weeks on the range in some form (not every day but at least once a week, sometimes 5 or 6 days a week), but we only fired our M16A2s on burst once, with one 20 round magazine.

      1. But since fully automatic weapons are very strictly regulated, and legally owned ones have been use in pretty much 0.00% of shootings, I have to wonder why you bring this up.

        1. Pendantic.

        2. But assume I was for banning automatic rifles (despite saying I wasn’t nor indicating anywhere that I supported banning them or automatic weapons). Because it is far better for you to think you scored a point against a straw man.

  14. I really wonder how many people have been murdered with bayonets attached to rifles.

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  16. Curiously, 2 of the 4 dem senators who killed this ban are from NoVa suburbs, which means Bloomberg will probably fund some wine moms to primary them when they’re up for re-election in 4 years (if he hasn’t burned all his $ trying to beat Trump).

    1. Bloomberg previous thought he had the McAuliffe Admin total bought and paid for.

      The plan to repeal carry permit reciprocity unraveled very quickly as I recall.

      Virgina Democrat politicians somehow don’t always stay bought by their paymasters. A few actually respond to the folks who elected them.

  17. “A grenade launcher may sound scarier, but it is of little use without grenades, which have long been banned for civilian use.”

    So, weapon bans do work.
    Gotcha, loser.

    1. Weapons bans only work when people choose to obey them. Remember that civil disobedience thing?

  18. The best part of this article is the implied assumption that it was some technical disagreement with a clause or two of the text in the bill that killed the bill in committee. Not the 20,000 plus armed Virginians who showed up on Lobby Day peacefully protesting the proposed bills.

    1. Federal law 42 U.S.C. § 1983 provides that both a municipal government employee and the employing government body can be held liable for damages when said employee violates your constitutional rights

      According to the US Supreme Court it is unconstitutional to :

      – Charge a fee for the exercising of a right (Harper v Virginia Board of Elections 1966);

      -Require a precondition on the exercising of a right (Guinn v US 1915, Lane v Wilson 1939)

      – a State may not impose a charge for the enjoyment of a right granted by the Federal Constitution. (Murdock v PA 1943, Lowell v City of Griffin 1939, Freedman v MD 1965, Near v MN 1931, Miranda v AZ 1966)

      -Delay the exercising of a right (Org. for a Better Austin v Keefe 1971);

      -Register (record in a government database) the exercising of a right

      (Thomas v Collins 1945, Lamont v Postmaster General 1965, Haynes v US


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  20. The points of owning a military rifle or close replica is
    (a) military marksmanship training,
    (b) historical collectible value, and
    (c) the fact that military guns are designed to be user maintained and repaired without a lot of expensive gunsmith time.

    Among my guns I have an AK variant Yugo M70AB2 built on a semi-auto receiver. I shoot it in the military matches at the gun club. “Military features” preserved include bayonet lug, pistol grip, folding stock, grenade launcher sights, threaded barrel, flip up night sites, cleaning rod under the barrel, sling swivels. Oh, I could strip the military features but then it would have no military historical value left. But, it would still fire bullets out the barrel as a lethal weapon without the “ugly” parts. If I keep the gun with the military features intact, I should be treated as a felon? Why? Because the government can’t do a thing to control violent criminals, so it felonizes guns and the people who own them as a pretense toward public safety?

    BTW. My go-to guns for home defense are a .38 five shot revolver and a 12ga pump shotgun. On the mountain for protection, I have taken a .22 mag pump rifle or a .357 leveraction carbine. The Yugo Kalashnikov goes occasionally for target practice. It is not a super weapon.

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