Gun control is once again at the center of the national debate. As usual, following tragedies like Newtown, gun-control advocates hope to seize the opportunity to push through long sought-after reforms. The pro-gun rights crowd should be skeptical about the efficacy and constitutionality of such reforms.
The Supreme Court held in District of Columbia v. Heller that the Second Amendment protects the right to self defense with a firearm against unreasonably onerous encroachments by the federal government. In McDonald v. City of Chicago, the Court expanded those protections to the state governments, prohibiting states and localities from similar unreasonable encroachments. Gun-rights advocates should understand, however, as all reasonable people should, that the right to self defense with a firearm is not absolute. Yet gun-control advocates should also understand that the vast majority of gun-owners in this country are law-abiding people who use those guns for sport, recreation, hunting, and the lawful defense of self and others.
Below I examine some of the current proposals and whether gun-rights advocates should support them.
“Assault Weapons” Ban: You can often tell the difference between a gun-rights advocate and a gun-control advocate by whether they place scare quotes around the term “assault weapon.” Under both the 1994 Assault Weapons Ban and newly recommended bills an “assault weapon” is defined by cosmetic features, not by whether the gun has uniquely dangerous functions. Assault rifles, on the other hand, which are produced for military applications, have selective rates of fire, usually a choice between single shot semi-automatic (each trigger pull discharges one round) and fully automatic (rounds will discharge rapidly for the duration the trigger is pressed). Assault rifles have been heavily regulated since the New Deal.
Assault weapons were defined under the 1994 law by features that have little or nothing to do with lethality. One such feature, a folding stock, allows people of different heights use of the weapon. Another feature, a “barrel shroud,” protects the user from touching a hot barrel. Collectively, these features make the guns look more dangerous, meaning they look more like guns used in movies, but they do not make them more dangerous.
Moreover, assault weapons are rarely used in gun crimes. In 2011, nearly 13,000 people were killed by…