-

The Observer is a Student-run, daily print & online newspaper serving Notre Dame & Saint Mary's. Learn more about us.

-

viewpoint

Rage against the machine gun

| Tuesday, August 30, 2016

This summer’s all-too-familiar mass shootings have once again turned the nation to the topic of gun control. One particular class of weaponry that has been under discussion is so-called “assault weapons.” What is an assault weapon, and why are policymakers talking about regulating them? To answer these questions, it is necessary to look at history.

Infantrymen in World War II fought predominantly with two types of firearms. Some troops were issued battle rifles — bolt-action or semi-automatic rifles firing full-power cartridges. These weapons were highly accurate and lethal but limited in their rate of fire. Other soldiers carried submachine guns that could fire pistol-caliber bullets as long as their triggers were depressed, but were limited in accuracy and power. In 1943, German engineers invented a rifle that blended these two approaches, firing a cut-down version of the German battle rifle cartridge in either fully automatic or semi-automatic mode. The weapon was dubbed the Sturmgewehr, or “assault rifle.” Over the next generation of rifle designs, intermediate cartridges and detachable high-capacity magazines became ubiquitous. The popular civilian variants of these firearms, restricted to semi-automatic fire, are the “assault weapons” that are currently under scrutiny.

It’s important to note that the military origins of assault weapons do not inherently make them dangerous or a valid target of regulation; microwave ovens were also once military technology. Rather, assault weapons are worthy of scrutiny because they are suboptimal choices for most civilian applications. The weaker intermediate rounds fired by these weapons limit their range and lethality, making them less suitable for hunting than their battle rifle ancestors. The large size of a rifle naturally makes it difficult to carry in self-defense, whether open or concealed; when used defensively inside a building, its high-velocity bullets can penetrate walls, increasing the risk to bystanders. The successful defensive uses of these weapons are at best niche applications and could be carried out equally well with another firearm type.

The one category in which assault weapons are unmatched is the ability to put large amounts of lead downrange with speed and accuracy. In contrast to their full-powered battle rifle counterparts, an assault weapon is easier to keep on target during rapid fire. While this is great fun for law-abiding citizens, it’s also exactly what is sought by a mass-murderer. Though they are used in less than two percent of all gun crimes, assault weapons have turned up in the arsenals of terrorists in San Bernardino, California; Orlando, Florida and Baton Rouge, Louisiana, as well as spree killers in Sandy Hook, Connecticut; Aurora, Colorado and far too many other places that have appeared beneath the words “Breaking News.” In the absence of regulation, we’re only going to see more of these stories.

A modernized assault weapons bill should be modeled after an excellent law already on the books — the National Firearms Act (NFA) of 1934. Passed in the wake of Prohibition-era gang violence, this law severely restricted private ownership of machine guns, explosives, silencers and short-barreled firearms. Though not banned outright, the purchase of such a weapon requires an extensive background check (including photographs and fingerprints), registration and a tax payment. A new bill would elevate assault weapons to this same level of regulation. Neither full-power battle rifles nor fixed-magazine rifles would be affected by this legislation, and the law would not be retroactive.

Contrast this law with the portion of the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994, passed under Bill Clinton. The bill banned weapons based on their external characteristics, such as rifles with two or more of the following: a folding stock, a pistol grip, a bayonet lug, a silencer, a flash suppressor or a mount for a grenade launcher. Enterprising gun manufacturers simply designed rifles that incorporated only one of these features to retain legal status. Moreover, no part of the law targeted the trinity of detachable magazine, intermediate cartridge and semi-automatic action that made these guns so deadly in the first place.

By this point, there are doubtless those who are chafing at the idea of regulation on Second Amendment grounds, maintaining that “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.” Yet the same Constitution contains Article I, Section 8, Clause 16, which gives Congress authority to “provide for the organizing, arming, and disciplining, the Militia, and for governing such part of them as may be employed in the Service of the United States.” The legal underpinnings of the NFA-type law proposed above have already been upheld by the Supreme Court in U.S. v. Miller (1939).

Even given the legal authority, I know this proposal will be a tough sell to gun-rights advocates. Allow me then to suggest a compromise. To ensure smarter, more effective gun policy, it’s time that we also repeal one of the most pointless laws ever penned — the Hughes Amendment to the Firearm Owner’s Protection Act of 1986. This law tightened restrictions on machine guns even further, making it illegal to manufacture new ones. This massive supply restriction caused prices to spike — FOPA-compliant machine guns are now practically antiques and cost as much as a new car. And for what? If assault weapon crime is currently infrequent, crime committed with legal machine guns had been practically nonexistent. Making automatic weapons available fresh off the assembly line to an already tightly-regulated consumer base won’t cause any more violence than it did in the 52 years between the NFA and the FOPA.

The time has long since passed for American gun legislation to be updated. Restricting (not banning) the ownership of assault weapons while eliminating unnecessary restrictions against automatic weapons is the policy which best reflects the modern reality of gun ownership in our society.
Stephen Raab, an MSM Candidate at the Mendoza College of Business, graduated Notre Dame with a Bachelor’s in Chemical Engineering in 2016. He enjoys matching wits with all comers at sraab@nd.edu

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

Tags: , , ,

About Stephen Raab

Contact Stephen
  • DanH

    No. Next issue.

    • João Pedro Santos

      It’s too complicated for you to reason, hum?

  • Trey Brakefield

    So, the author’s argument, in summary, is that we should label guns with “the trinity of detachable magazine, intermediate cartridge and semi-automatic action” as assault-weapons and then regulate them like “the National Firearms Act (NFA) of 1934” while also repealing the “the Hughes Amendment to the Firearm Owner’s Protection Act of 1986”.

    This is the first reasoned and logical discussion on “assault weapons” I’ve heard to date. It truly points out the ridiculous nature of current “assault weapons” bans that are “based on their external characteristics” while also pointing out the ridiculous Hughes Amendment as a law that fixed a non-existent problem (while also proving that a government registry can be abused by simply closing for additions). The Hughes amendment made any registry even more unacceptable to gun-owners since they know requiring registration for ownership to be legal is then only one controversial law from an effective ban on common arms (by closing the registry).

    The author’s proposal also bases “assault weapons” definitions on something far more logical.

    This would truly be a compromise.

    However, the author is idealistic in his suggestion. There are numerous scary looking black rifles that gun-controllers want banned that would easily fall outside of the authors suggestion simply because they don’t use an intermediate cartridge (like the AR-10 that shoots .308 rounds that are also common in hunting). The gun-controllers would no doubt reject this proposal because they’d simply (and more accurately than before) claim that these unregulated rifles are too “high-powered” (while, no doubt, also still ironically claiming that they support hunting). Likewise, the author also completely ignores many applications where intermediate rounds in semi-autos have been used for decades outside of war: varmint control. Most varmint rifles are semi-auto and also use intermediate rounds because varmints that harass crops and herds are often fast moving and small targets (requiring multiple shots) and aren’t large animals (therefore not requiring full sized cartridges).

    I’d love to think we’re in a place where at least logic-based compromises (like that of the author) could be reached in this debate but gun-controllers have proven (through illogical, feature-based, assault-weapons bans and unnecessary expansions of existing laws like the Hughes amendment) that they don’t want this argument based on logic. They want it based on fear. That’s why they are constantly promoting gun controls based on extremely rare “mass shootings” even though gun murder rates and gun crime rates are at nearly all-time lows not seen in decades. Of course, in publicizing these mass shootings as often and as long as they do, they are only promoting more copy-cats. Of course, more copy-cat mass shootings means more public fear and therefore more they can exploit to pass more illogical, useless, and infringing firearms laws.

    I do applaud the author for trying, though.

    • João Pedro Santos

      Extremely rare mass shootings? They are way rarer in other countries. And it’s not a coincidence.

  • BuckShot Brown

    I have grown tired of these red herring issues designed to create profit for certain groups of people without addressing the real issue. The real issues are the lack of mental health care and Islamic terrorism.
    RAGE AGAINST RED HERRINGS

    • João Pedro Santos

      So are you saying you support universal healthcare (which would the best way to deal with mental illnesses)? Or is that also a “red herring” for you?

  • Abraham Collins

    No deal. All gun control is unconstitutional.

    • João Pedro Santos

      False. Being “unconstitutional” is something that is highly dependent on how SCOTUS rules. Anyway, the 2nd amendment should be repealed. Owning a object that is only used to commit crimes shouldn’t be a right.

      • Ryfyle

        So get rid of your computer, any power tools, your car, any stationary, and just about anything can be used for a crime.

        • João Pedro Santos

          Are you serious? The point is: computers and cars’ main purpose is not to commit crimes. But since you talked about cars, let me tell you that one cannot drive a car without a license. But by some weird reason people can have a gun without a license. And while cars’ main purpose is for people to be able to move from one place to the other, guns’ main purpose is to injury other people.

          • Ryfyle

            Actually you can drive a car without a license it would be unlawful, the lack of a license dose not physically prevent you from driving the Vehicle. A Firearm is designed to fire a Projectile. What you do with that function is up to the user, the user could use it for hunting or self defense against a threat. A broken glass bottle or a machete can also be used to kill others with the added bonus of being far more quiet and affordable.

          • João Pedro Santos

            And you need a hunting license to be able to hunt. So I don’t understand your comparison. Using a broken glass bottle can indeed kill someone but it can’t kill dozens of people at once like a gun can do. It isn’t just about the possibility of causing harm or not. It’s also about how much harm it can cause.

          • Ryfyle

            The bottom line is that people are going to kill people regardless of legislation. You propose making Lawful gun owners criminals.

      • Ryfyle

        Do you know what the Bill of rights even is? Cause thats what gives you tour Constitutional Rights.

        • João Pedro Santos

          Your point being… Would you mind reasoning without using arguments from authority?

          • Ryfyle

            That’s what is does. thats the whole point of the Bill of Rights, Unalienable Rights to the American Citizen . If you Repeal one you might as well repeal them all of the amendments,

          • João Pedro Santos

            Slippery slope fallacy.

          • Ryfyle

            We could go on about how thin the wall is for laws regarding hate speech is. I can assure you that Freedom of speech is just as dangerous the right to bear arms.

          • João Pedro Santos

            Actually hate speech laws are very useful to fight bigotry. And hate speech is not “free speech”.

          • Ryfyle

            Or we could go on about political dissidents and other things that can be labeled “Hate Speech”.

          • João Pedro Santos

            You’re joking, right?

          • Ryfyle

            With millions of Ballots in the DNC getting thrown out during the primaries and the media blackouts, there’s a lot suppression of speech going on.

          • João Pedro Santos

            Yes but that has nothing to do with hate speech so I don’t understand your point.

          • Ryfyle

            Speaking of Authority, you seem to be the type that would be happy living a Cell. Where the Authority does all the thinking and action for you

  • João Pedro Santos

    It’s hard to believe that there is a first world country in which owning a gun is considered a human right but having access to healthcare isn’t.

    • Bostonterrier97

      The world has many different countries with many different laws and “rights”. It is big enough to accommodate everyone, if a person is unhappy where they are living they can emigrate to another country. Why should the US be like other nations? That would lessen diversity overall. If a US citizen wishes to have socialized healthcare in lieu of owning and carrying a firearm, they can move to a country which offers it.

      • João Pedro Santos

        Do you really think people can emigrate that easily? Have you ever talked to an immigrant? Your comment is too far away from how reality works. About the fact that you think that the US should oppose universal healthcare (a basic human right in a lot of countries, such as the right to life or freedom of expression) in the name of diversity… Do you support Sharia in the name of diversity because people living in countries such as Saudi Arabia or Iran allegedly can just move if they don’t like living there?

    • gdogs

      Self protection is a human right, whether your country’s government acknowledges it or not is irrelevant. The 2nd Amendment doesn’t mean that the government has to provide you with a gun, just that it can’t keep you from owning one (though a felon might disagree with that statement). So yes, owning a gun is a right in the US, it doesn’t mean that you get a free gun. Just as healthcare is a right in the US (though it is not Constitutionally protected), it just just doesn’t mean that you get medical attention for free. Apples and oranges brother.

      • João Pedro Santos

        When you say that you think that people should be denied healthcare because they have no money (yes, you said that), that shows how awful you are. Not arguing with people with such mentality.

  • Jeff Munnecke

    The first logical article I have read coming from Gun Enthusiasts. He didn’t even mention any gestapo tactics for house searches and stated “restrict” not “ban”.

    There needs to be concessions on both sides of this argument, and the author expresses some. The sign of a good negotiation with difficult parties is when neither party is happy but accepting of the agreement. Gun owners will not get what they want, people for gun control won’t get what they want, but the idea is to make progress, increase safety, and keep people satisfied not happy.

    Maybe if we could get the NRA to put some money were their mouth by putting money into lobbying for universal healthcare; as they state, often, they we need to increase mental health awareness and treatment. Fund it, Prove it, make your case by actually working to fix a problem and not changing labels or packaging to fit into loopholes found. They throw enough money around , why not use it for something beneficial and not for bribing government officials and blockading others.

  • João Pedro Santos

    Easily leave? With what money? And what about immigration restrictions? Canada and Europe may be visa exempt for American tourists, but they aren’t so for people who want to live there.

    • Bostonterrier97

      Money? Get a second job and save your money. Canada and Europe have strict immigration policies? Find a different country: stop whining and take responsibility for your life, I’m not your parent.

      • João Pedro Santos

        I’m actually an European citizen (from a country in which I don’t need insurance to go to a hospital) which means that I can live in most European countries without ever needing to apply for a visa. Plus, I have a decent job. So you’re hitting at the wrong person, dude. More important, I’d recommend you to stop whining about “people who whine” and take responsability for your life instead of judging others. What an idiot.

        • Bostonterrier97

          Then why are you complaining? Tired of living in Europe? Why are you trying to foist one of the European systems on the US? Take your BS elsewhere MORON.

          • João Pedro Santos

            Great, xenophobia and insults. Now you gave me a reason to report you.