speech last night, President Obama said the government should “make it harder for people to buy powerful assault weapons like the ones that were used in San Bernardino.” In its front-page editorial on Saturday, The New York Times used stronger language, saying, “It is a moral outrage and a national disgrace that civilians can legally purchase weapons designed specifically to kill people with brutal speed and efficiency. These are weapons of war, barely modified and deliberately marketed as tools of macho vigilantism and even insurrection.” On the same day, New York Times columnist Gail Collins agreed that “assault weapons,” which she said “seem to be the armament of choice for mass shootings,” should be banned. Hillary Clinton, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, concurs.In his
What exactly are these evil guns that are good for nothing but indiscriminate slaughter? Judging from their own words, Obama, the New York Times editorial board, Collins, and Clinton—like most people who support bans on so-called assault weapons—do not know what “assault weapons” are.
The president and the Times call the guns they want to ban “powerful,” which suggests they fire especially large rounds. But caliber has nothing to do with the legal definition of “assault weapon,” and AR-15-style rifles like those used in Santa Barbara fire “low-caliber rounds that are less deadly than those used in many handguns,” as the Times itself noted in 2013.
Obama—who called the Bushmaster XM15-E2S used in the 2012 massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, “fully automatic”—also seems to think “assault weapons” are machine guns. So does Clinton, who in 2008 advocated “sensible regulations” to keep “machine guns” away from “folks who shouldn’t have them.” Machine guns are already strictly regulated by the federal government, which since 1986 has banned sales to civilians.
The editorial board of the Times seems dimly aware that “assault weapons” are not machine guns, since it says they are “modified” (albeit “barely” or “slightly” modified) versions of guns used by soldiers. Likewise Collins, who correctly calls the guns she wants to eliminate “semiautomatic,” meaning they fire once per trigger pull—unlike machine guns, which fire continuously, or assault rifles, which can fire either way. But Collins, who claims “semiautomatic weapons are totally inappropriate for either hunting or home defense,” clearly does not understand how broad that category is, encompassing any gun that fires, ejects the empty casing, and chambers another catridge when you press the trigger. The semiautomatic weapons that Collins deems “totally inappropriate for either hunting or home defense” include many different models of hunting rifles and virtually all modern handguns except for revolvers.