Should Assault Weapons Be Banned Essay Typer

When five schoolchildren were murdered at an elementary school in Stockton, California, in January 1989, the public learned a new phrase: "assault weapon." To most gun owners and non-owners alike, it was a brand new term.

It was also confusing. Whenever "assault weapon" laws have been enacted, they apply to guns that are not machine guns. Yet many people who support such laws think that the guns involved are machine guns.

We can trace the origin of the public confusion back to the Stockton crime. The criminal's murder weapon was a Norinco AKM-56S semi-automatic rifle. Norinco is a large Chinese manufacturer of many products, including military arms and equipment for natural resources extraction. The group has close ties to the Chinese military. "Norinco" is an abbreviation for China North Industries Group Corporation.

Because the firearm is made abroad, the importation of the rifle into the United States was allowed only because federal regulators found it to be "particularly suitable for or readily adaptable to sporting purposes." (18 U.S. Code sect. 925(d)) (Attorney General "shall authorize" imports of firearms that meet the definition.)

The initials "AKM" stand for "Avtomat Kalashnikova modernizirovanniy." Translated from Russian: "Modernized Automatic Kalashnikov." In 1947, Russian inventor Mikhail Kalashnikov created one of the world's best-known automatic rifles: the AK-47. The type 56 was a model that began production in China in 1956. Over the years, China has distributed this automatic military gun to many military allies, guerillas, and terrorist groups.

Automatic weapons are generally not importable into the United States for sale to citizens. (18 U.S. Code sect. 925(d)). In an automatic weapon, when the user presses the trigger, bullets are fired continually. Popularly, automatics are called "machine guns," and that is the term used by the federal statute that very strictly regulates them, the National Firearms Act of 1934 (26 U.S. Code sect. 5801 et seq.).

For the sporting purpose of hunting, machine guns are generally unsuitable. Humane taking of an animal is supposed to involve a single precisely aimed shot, and sometimes a quick second shot. Spraying bullets at the animal is forbidden.

To make the gun importable into the U.S. for civilian sale, Norinco had to change the gun's internal operation. Instead of being an automatic, the gun had to be a semi­-automatic. In a semiautomatic, pressing the trigger fires only one bullet. This is just like every other normal gun, such as revolvers, bolt actions, lever actions, or pump actions.

After a bullet is fired, the empty cartridge case is left behind in the firing chamber. (The case had contained the bullet, primer, and gunpowder.) In a semiautomatic, some of the energy from the gunpowder burning is used to: 1. eject the empty case from the firing chamber, and 2. load a fresh cartridge into the firing chamber. Then the user has to pull the trigger to fire a shot. One trigger pull, only one shot.

Semiautomatics were invented in 1885. Today, they constitute the very large majority of American handguns, and a large fraction of rifles and shotguns.

When Norinco altered its model 56 to be semiautomatic only, the new model was the 56S. Changing the automatic model 56 into the semiautomatic 56S made a huge difference in operation and in law.

The U.S. Supreme Court in the 1994 case Staples v. United States sharply distinguished automatics from semiautomatics. According to the Court, there are some weapons whose ownership has a "quasi-suspect character." Examples, according to the court, are grenades or machine guns. In contrast, semi­-automatic guns have always been "commonplace and generally available," said the Court. The Staples case was about an AR-15 semiautomatic rifle, and the point applies to semiautomatics generally.

(By the way, "AR" stands for "ArmaLite," the company that invented the rifle. The "AR-17" is a shotgun, and the "AR-24" is a handgun.)

Thus, when the automatic Norinco 56 was turned into the semiautomatic 56S, it had a very different legal status. The change also made practical difference. An automatic gun can fire much faster than a semiautomatic.

However, the internal mechanical changes to the 56S made almost no difference in the rifle's outer appearance. On the outside, the Model 56 and the Model 56S looked exactly alike, except that the former has a selector switch, allowing the user to choose automatic fire.

So it was understandable that most people who saw an AKM-56S for the first time would immediately think it was an AK-47. The AK-47 is a very famous gun, and the AKM-56S looks the same, unless a person is looking very closely and knows what to look for. Because of internal parts, the AK-47 can fire much faster than the AKM-56S. But in outer appearance, there is essentially no difference between the two guns.

Most Americans thinks that machine guns should be banned or very strictly regulated. They distinguish machine guns from normal guns, which fire only one shot at a time. A gun with the appearance of the 56S was bound to cause confusion.

This confusion could help advance gun control. In 1988, gun prohibition strategist Josh Sugarmann wrote that the public and press had grown tired of the handgun ban issue. He urged a shift of "assault weapons," and explained why "assault weapon" bans had a better chance of being enacted than handgun bans:

The weapons' menacing looks, coupled with the public's confusion over fully automatic machine guns versus semi-automatic assault weapons—anything that looks like a machine gun is assumed to be a machine gun—can only increase the chance of public support for restrictions on these weapons.

Sugarmann was exactly right.

As soon as the media began covering the Stockton crime, the vast majority began calling the criminal's gun an "AK-47." Even today, this misinformation persists.

In 1989, most Americans were dependent on the mainstream media for all their news. So they believed media reports that AK-47 rifles were for sale over the counter in gun stores all over the United States. Understandably, they favored greater restrictions on whatever guns the media was talking about.

In 1989–'90, public opinion polls showed support for "assault weapon" bans at 3:1 or 4:1 in favor. In recent years, the issue has become closer to an even split, with ban support often under 50%, and sometimes lower than opposition to the ban.

The change is because a large number of Americans (perhaps about a quarter or a third) over the last three decades have learned what the "assault weapon" ban is about. It does not involve the AK-47, or any other machine gun. Instead, it involves guns that operate exactly the same as the predominant type of ordinary handgun.

Still, there are many Americans who have not learned the difference. People who have little or no personal experience in using firearms are especially vulnerable to deception. Some media figures, politicians, and commentators continue to perpetuate misinformation.

Confusion was inevitable in February 1989, when the "assault weapon" issue was brand new. Three decades later, some public officials and media continue to speak inaccurately. So-called "assault weapons" are not machine guns. Bans on guns that have a military "style" are based on the appearance of firearms, and not their function.

The only reasonable response to the massacre in Orlando is to ban the sale of military-style assault weapons. All else, I’m afraid, is just noise.

If this ensconces me in an ideological corner, I’m fine with that. If it insults the Constitution, so be it — any other response would do far greater harm to our freedoms. Or we could argue for a while and then do nothing. We’ve tried that course of action many times, and it doesn’t work.

An Islamic State sympathizer was able to go into a gun store days or weeks ago and buy both a pistol and an AR-15-style semiautomatic assault rifle, which he used to kill 49 men and women at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando. Had he been armed with the pistol alone, he still would have killed people — but not so many. Keeping military-grade combat weapons out of the hands of maniacs should not be a controversial idea.

The Second Amendment enshrines the right to keep and bear arms, and the Supreme Court has ruled that this is an individual right, not a collective one. The court has made clear, however, that this does not preclude reasonable gun control measures. Not all weapons must be considered suitable for private hands.

When the framers wrote of “arms,” they were thinking about muskets and single-shot pistols. They could not have foreseen modern rifles or high-capacity magazines. They lived at a time when it was impossible to imagine one man barging into a crowded room and killing more than one or two people before having to reload and surely being subdued. Today it is not only imaginable but also tragically commonplace.

Orlando shooter Omar Mateen used an AR-15 style rifle to kill at least 49 people, officials say. Here’s what you need to know about the gun some are calling “the gold standard for mass murder.” (Gillian Brockell/The Washington Post)

No hunter needs an AR-15 to bring down a deer. None of us needs such a weapon to defend our families against intruders. And for those who believe assault rifles offer protection against a hypothetical tyrannical government — or who perhaps consider the present government tyrannical — I have sobering news: If and when the black helicopters come, they will be accompanied by tanks.

Why focus exclusively on the guns? Because other proposed solutions would violate the letter and spirit of the Constitution — and surely wouldn’t work anyway.

One of the presidential candidates — I don’t want to sully this column with his name — has suggested a ban on Muslim immigration. The idea would be laughable if it were not so dangerously un-American.

First, it would be useless. The Orlando murderer — I don’t want to use his name, either — was born not overseas but in New York, just like the presidential candidate in question. And in the San Bernardino, Calif., killing spree, also inspired by the Islamic State, the wife was an immigrant but the husband was born in the United States. The self-radicalization of American citizens is not going to be solved by banning all believers in Islam from entry.

Which would be impossible, of course. I suppose immigration officers could ask every foreign visitor whether he or she is a Muslim, but then what? If the answer is no, wave them through? Stop them for further questioning if they “look” Muslim, whatever that means? Don’t you think Islamic State operatives might be smart enough to have Bibles in their carry-ons rather than Korans?

Attempting such a prohibition would also be obscene in a nation that enshrines religious freedom in the First Amendment. Enough said about this loathsome idea.

Another possible response would involve more vigilant surveillance. The Orlando shooter had been interviewed by the FBI at least twice because of alleged extremist leanings or connections. He was apparently on a terrorism watch list for a time but was removed after authorities decided there was no need to keep him under suspicion.

By all means, Congress should immediately ban gun sales to anyone on such a watch list. But that wouldn’t have helped in Orlando. No level of surveillance remotely permissible under the Constitution would allow authorities to detect all instances of self-radicalization and act on them. We put people in jail for what they do, not what they think.

Should there be universal background checks for gun purchases? Yes, of course. But the Orlando killer passed a background check. It is not possible to have a free society without the presumption of innocence.

Freedom is possible, however, without the right to buy military weapons designed for killing sprees. Banning them would not end mass killings, but it would mean fewer deaths. If we do not act, the blood of future victims will be on all of our hands.

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