A New Approach to Assault Weapons Control

It’s literally two sentences:

“Any firearm with a detachable magazine of any capacity, external feed mechanism of any capacity, or internal magazine greater than 10 rounds capacity, shall be considered a Class III weapon under the National Firearms Act (NFA). In addition, any and all external or aftermarket mechanisms designed to increase the rate of fire of an otherwise-legal firearm are comprehensively banned.”

First, this proposal bans no guns, which should mollify those who view firearms bans as unconstitutional, bad policy, incentives for black marketing, or simply unfair to law-abiding gun owners. By banning nothing, this proposal acknowledges and recognizes the need to protect rights guaranteed by the US Constitution. Rather, this proposal makes it possible for law-abiding citizens to exercise their rights to the fullest, while blocking those who might constitute a danger. It bans nothing; it does require owners to meet higher standards of accountability, making it at least a proposal not inconsistent with conservative values, and worthy of serious consideration across ideological lines.

Second, this proposal sidesteps technical arguments about what constitutes an “assault weapon”. There is such a definition (see above video), but there are so many variations and gradations that trying to establish a definition that satisfies everyone is often impossible.* Therefore, this proposal identifies the one design feature that allows users to kill large numbers of people very quickly, reload instantly, and continue killing: the large ammunition capacity and rapid reload capability afforded by detachable, high-capacity magazines, which serves no other purpose beyond facilitating the mass killing of human beings. Period. There is one environment, and one only, in which one may require this capability: a battlefield. This also prevents the kind of travesty that occurred with the 1994 Assault Weapons Ban, when gun companies simply changed stocks and removed bayonet lugs to turn banned AK-47s into legal, so-called “sporters”, which were still every bit as lethal as the original weapons. While some detachable-magazine weapons carry less than ten rounds, the ability of the aftermarket to create higher-capacity replacement magazines is prodigious, making the classification of all firearms built with detachable magazines as Class III weapons essential.

Third, there is a burgeoning market in aftermarket items designed to increase the rate of fire of traditional semiautos, enabling them to fire at rates comparable to fully-automatic machineguns. These make previous controls on fully-auto weapons obsolete; this obsolescence, along with the fact that almost any semiauto can be made to fire this way, demands the classification of these weapons with other weapons that fire at those rates. Whether that type of sustained rapid-fire capability is the product of internal or external mechanicals is of purely academic interest. If it can fire like a machinegun, it should be regulated like a machinegun. And practically any semi-auto can be made to fire that way-for more examples than you can count, go to YouTube and type in “bump firing.” Go ahead. I’ll wait.

Did you see that? Who knew?

Fourth, this proposal does not require amending the Constitution, and may not even require the passage of new laws: it is possible that the changes to the NFA necessary to implement this law could be done administratively, bypassing the torturous and unlikely-to-be-successful legislative process. In any case, the NFA has been the law of the land for more than 80 years, and is unlikely to be overturned.

Note: this proposal does not ban ANY guns. Rights are respected. The overwhelming percentage of firearms would remain legal and available; this proposal applies only to weapons which have been specifically engineered to kill people in large numbers, and even then, requires only that prospective owners meet the standards that have applied to owners of fully-automatic weapons since 1934. As most, if not all, legal semi-autos can be made to fire in a manner indistinguishable from full-auto (so-called “bump firing”), they should be regulated in the same common-sense Constitutionally-approved manner that other full-auto weapons are (and have been) in the US for more than 80 years. We know it can work; there is precedent. Before the NFA, the Thompson submachine gun made the Twenties Roar; after the NFA, crimes involving legally-owned full-automatic weapons dropped away to almost nothing, and have remained there ever since.

Pass it. Pass it now.


*Generally speaking, an “assault rifle” embodies four design characteristics: a straight-line stock with a pistol grip (for recoil control during rapid fire); a detachable high-capacity magazine; a cartridge that splits the difference in power between a full-powered rifle, and the pistol bullets used in submachine guns; and  selectable semi-auto/ full-automatic capability (Semi-auto fires one bullet with each pull of the trigger; full-auto is the sustained rapid fire associated with machine guns.). While only the first three are included on most “assault rifles” sold to the civilian market, a wide variety of simple, inexpensive add-ons (such as so-called “bump stocks”, triggers that fire multiple rounds, and trigger springs and cranks), or even simply adjusting the way the gun is held, can enable the gun to fire in a manner indistinguishable from full-automatic, making the lack of select-fire less of a difference than it seems at first. Likewise, weapons that embody all these characteristics except the bullet, such as civilian-market Uzis, are included, as they lack only the ability to reliably kill at long battlefield ranges. Hence the use of the term assault “weapon” instead of assault “rifle.”