On Jan. 24, Sen. Diane Feinstein introduced her new bill, the Assault Weapons Ban of 2013. Here’s a link to her Senate page so you can read it for yourself: http://www.feinstein.senate.gov/public/index.cfm/assault-weapons.
On the summary page, she writes: “Mass shootings in Newtown, Aurora, and Tucson have demonstrated all too clearly the need to regulate military-style assault weapons and high capacity ammunition magazines. These weapons allow a gunman to fire a large number of rounds quickly and without having to reload.”
Let’s analyze the “assault weapon” definition. In separate commentaries we’ll address the “military style” weapons part, the high-capacity magazine part, and what the senator proposes to do with all of the existing assault weapons and high-capacity magazines.
What’s an “assault weapon” as defined in the bill? Look at the summary page or the full text of the bill for specifics, but generally:
• Any semi-automatic rifle or handgun that has a detachable magazine and has one feature from a specified list (pistol grip, folding or telescoping stock, barrel shroud, threaded barrel, etc.) is an assault weapon.
• Any semi-automatic shotgun with one feature from a specified list (folding or telescoping stock, pistol grip, a fixed magazine that can hold more than five rounds, etc.) is an assault weapon.
• In addition, the bill specifically names 157 rifles, pistols, and shotguns as “assault weapons.”
The text of the bill itself includes this whopper: Any combination of parts from the feature list and any frame or receiver of any rifle or shotgun on the list are banned. So, we’re not banning the entire gun that matches the description, but we’re also banning all of the parts.
I believe that the term “assault weapon,” as defined, is more concerned with cosmetic features not with the lethality of the weapons themselves. I believe that by classifying certain weapons as “assault weapons” with the intent to create more restrictions over them does nothing to keep us safe.
Here are a few examples to illustrate the inconsistency in the above descriptions: One of the most common semi-automatic rifles in the country is the Ruger 10-22. Introduced in 1964, Ruger has sold millions of this rifle. It’s a great rifle to introduce new shooters to the sport. It fires the 22-inch-long rifle cartridge, which is at the very low end of the lethality spectrum. Could it kill someone? Absolutely. Is the 22-inch-long rifle the cartridge of choice among criminals? Absolutely not.
We have a 10-22 that came with a standard, wooden rifle stock. A few years ago we put a new folding stock with a pistol grip on it. Under the definition of the new bill, it’s now an “assault weapon.”
It’s the same gun, fires the same round, and yet simply changing the stock makes it an “assault weapon?”
Here’s another Ruger example: The bill specifically calls out the Ruger Mini-14 Tactical Rifle, model number M-14/20CF, as being an assault weapon. Go to the Ruger website where they list their Mini-14 models, http://ruger.com/products/mini14/index.html. There are 14 different models of the Mini-14. Eleven are offered in 5.56 mm (the same round used by our military), and three are offered as the Mini-30 model in the more powerful cartridge 7.62x39 mm (the same round used in the AK-47 rifle used by terrorists world-wide). The Tactical Rifle version comes in four different configurations; three have standard rifle stocks, one has a pistol grip. The only configuration banned in the bill is the one with the pistol grip.
Ten Ruger models fire the exact same round, 5.56 mm, and are just as lethal as the one with the pistol grip. Three models fire a more powerful round, and are more lethal than the one that’s called out in the bill.
Yet the one that’s banned is the one with the pistol grip?
Due to the narrow definition of “assault pistol” in the bill, in my almost 50 years of shooting I can only think of two handguns that would be classified as “assault pistols” under the bill: handguns with threaded barrels, and the Model 1896 Mauser Broomhandle pistol.
The threaded barrel allows you to attach sound suppressor. The suppressor or silencer (which does not make the gun silent, but it does make it quieter) by itself is a Class III weapon under the National Firearms act of 1934 and already requires a much more extensive background check than your typical firearm.
And the old Model 1896 Mauser Broomhandle pistol (produced from 1896 to 1937), which was the basis for Han Solo’s gun in “Star Wars,” might also be considered an “assault pistol” because the magazine inserts into the action in front of the trigger guard and not through the grip of the gun.
Threaded barrels on pistols are not common and without the already more highly restricted suppressor, having a threaded barrel doesn’t get you anything. And if you owned a Mauser Broomhandle you probably wouldn’t shoot it because it’s a collector’s item.
In the bill there are some AR-15 type weapons scaled down to pistol size on the list of specifically excluded weapons, but AR pistols are about as common as threaded barrels and Mauser Broomhandles.
So, the definition of “assault pistol” is so narrow the bill does not turn many handguns into “assault pistols.” thus, not many will be regulated under this legislation.
Our next example is the Remington 870 shotgun, which is a 12-gauge, pump action shotgun. Ours has a telescoping stock, a pistol grip, a barrel shroud, holds six rounds in the fixed magazine and is extremely lethal.
Yet it’s not an assault weapon even though it has four of the prohibited features included in the bill. Nor is it specifically named in the ban. Why? Because it’s a pump-action, not a semi-automatic.
Both pump-action and semi-automatic shotguns shoot the same rounds: bird shot, buck shot, slugs, non-lethal, etc. The semi-automatic is banned, but the pump is not? A pump-action shotgun is less lethal than a semi-automatic shotgun?
And the final example is a shotgun that’s not banned, but based on the definition used in the bill it should be. The FNH USA Model SLP is named on page 65 of the bill and is specifically excluded from the ban, so presumably it’s OK to own the SLP. Here’s a link to the FN website for this model: http://www.fnhusa.com/index.php?cID=520. The SLP is clearly a semi-automatic shotgun and the fixed magazine holds more than four rounds (it holds six). But it’s specifically exempt from the ban?
Now, I’m not writing this to help the senator fine-tune her legislation, nor to add to the list of banned weapons.
I’m writing this to illustrate that the legislation is misguided and wrong-headed. She’s well intentioned, I’m sure, but by simply defining some weapons as “assault weapons” for the purpose of restricting their future manufacture, sale, or transfer does not change the lethality of the weapon, nor does it change the number of lethal weapons available to either law abiding citizens or to criminals.
I don’t see the connection between the bill and how we’d be safer after its passage.
The bill may change how the weapons are configured, but pistol grip or not, whether it’s called an “assault weapon” or not, a Ruger Mini-14 in 5.56 will shoot the same size holes. Ruger will still be selling 13 other types of rifles that are equally or more lethal than the one that’s banned.
Pistols with threaded barrels may be banned, but they’re not that common in the first place. Very few pistols will fall under the legislation, so what’s the point?
Semi-automatic shotguns may be banned, but criminals will still be able to acquire pump-action shotguns which are just as lethal. And if they really want a semi-automatic shotgun, they can just pick up an FNH USA Model SLP.
How exactly are we safer?
According to the FBI Uniform Crime Report, in 2011 8,600 homicides were committed with a firearm, 323 homicides (4 percent) were committed with a rifle, 356 homicides (4 percent) were committed with a shotgun, and over 6,200 homicides (72 percent) were committed with a handgun. The FBI doesn’t even indicate how many were committed with an “assault weapon” within the categories of rifle, shotgun, or handgun.
The overwhelming type of gun used by criminals is the handgun and yet the legislation targets rifles and shotguns more than handguns. The number of “assault pistols” the bill creates is minimal in comparison to the number of “assault rifles” and “assault shotguns” and “assault gun parts” that would be created by the bill.
Here’s a link to an article written by New York City Police commissioner Ray Kelly: http://www.nypost.com/p/news/local/scourge_of_nyc_streets_eZuOUMryiS38ewn9UuFlBM.
While I disagree with some of his views, the statistics in New York City are interesting: 90 percent of illegal guns seized were handguns. Less than 3 percent of the guns seized, 77 out of 2,779, were “assault weapons.”
“In only three of nearly 1,400 shooting incidents last year were ballistics associated with assault weapons.”
As I read through the rest of the article I was struck by the measures they’re taking to reduce gun violence. Are they simply passing additional laws to restrict gun ownership? Or are they focusing on the criminals who use the guns to commit the violence? Let me be clear: They’re enforcing the existing laws on the books and taking the guns away from the people who should not have them prior to the violence taking place. That’s how they’re reducing the violence in New York City.
How can the senator’s bill really be a public safety measure if we’re focused on the smallest population of gun types used to commit the crimes?
How are we going to be safer by focusing on the gun and whether it fits the definition of an assault weapon or not, rather than focusing on the criminals who use the guns?
What did former chief of staff, current Mayor of Chicago Rahm Emanuel say at the beginning of the President’s term? “Never let a good crisis go to waste?”
Is that how we govern now? Rather than put in place good public policy we exploit a crisis to enact what we think we can ram down the throats of the unsuspecting electorate?
Or is this just the next baby step in the incremental process to ban all guns?
• CPA Bill Richardson and his wife, Annelle, have lived in Ahwatukee for more than 17 years. They have four children and one grand-child.