The Problem With Reinstating the AWB

[This is going to be a post about guns, and it does include pictures of them]

Fair warning: I am far less anti-gun than most people who share my other sociopolitical positions tend to be.  I believe in gun control.  I believe that the US's gun laws are pretty fucked and need some serious overhaul.  I also believe that said overhaul needs to be sensible, measured, and written by people who know what they're talking about.

In recent weeks, in the wake of the mass murder at Sandy Hook Elementary, I've been bombarded by requests from the cause orgs I'm on the email lists of, asking me to sign petitions in favor of reinstating the 1994 Assault Weapons Ban, which expired in 2004.

I have not signed these.  And I'm not going to.

This is not to say that I am against the idea of tightening our current gun laws.  Not at all, not even a little bit.  But there are some major problems with just saying "let's reinstate the existing AWB".

Firstly, that the old ban was bullshit.  It created the phrase "assault weapon" out of thin air (much like the partial-birth abortion ban did with its title) to describe a very broad class of guns that could best be described as "Guns That Look Scary."  It banned certain combinations of features that sounded reasonably unnecessary, without actually reducing the availability of the style of guns it ostensibly banned.

Let me ask you something, real quick.  When someone says the phrase "assault weapon", what kind of gun do you think of?  Something like this, right?
Bushmaster M4A2, which counts as an "assault weapon" for purposes of the 1994 AWB because of its folding stock, pistol grip, and bayonet lug.
It's scary-looking.  It's a semi-auto civilian version of a military rifle, and it serves pretty much no purpose for an average person to have aside from "this looks cool/makes me feel cool".*

Here, let me show you a gun that was specifically made for the AWB era to conform to those rules:

Gee, that looks really similar.  Identical, even.  And it nearly is; same mag capacity, same pistol grip.  They just removed the bayonet mount and changed the stock to fixed-length.

So...how did the AWB make things safer, again?  Will the fixed stock make it kill fewer people or something?  Was there a rash of gun-based stabbings with bayonets that we needed to crack down on?

If an assault weapons ban is passed that ends up being nothing more than a reinstatement of the old ban, the opportunity and social will to push for real change that was created by the ugly events of last week will be wasted, and the NRA will have won another round by keeping the conversation stagnant.

I don't want cosmetic change.  I don't want lip service that still leaves ridiculously-unnecessary weapons and accessories widely and legally available.  There's much kerfuffle about "politicizing" the deaths of so many children, but which is more politicizing?  A political move for show and constituent goodwill that makes a mere incremental difference in the rates of gun violence in this country?  Or a real change to try to prevent the like from happening again?

Here's what I'd like to see from a new gun-control law, in no particular order:

  • Reinstate the limit on high-capacity magazines.  I'm tempted to say drop it to 5 instead of 10, because what on earth could you be hunting that actually needs 10 shots to drop it?  If you need 10 rounds to drop your prey, you're either a terrible shot and shouldn't be firing guns around other life-forms anyway, or hunting things that probably shouldn't be hunted and why are you doing this?  I realize this makes target shooting less fun because you have to keep stopping to either reload or switch to a fresh mag, depending on how many mags you own, but...tough titties.  A less smooth and flowing sport shooting experience, or mass murders a few times a year?  Not exactly a tough decision, unless you've had a truly successful compassionectomy.  (And if you have, what the fuck are you even doing here?  Go away.  Return to the WND swamps from which you came.)
  • Standardize controls on the process of acquiring guns.  I personally know someone who has purchased guns while traveling to other states where things are far less restrictive, then brought them back into California, rather than deal with the waiting periods and trigger lock and background check requirements here.  That shouldn't be possible - or at least, it shouldn't be that simple.  
  • Same for issuing carry permits.  When my gun-nut ex and I were driving cross-country, we'd had to plan for which states allowed what in regards to his gun, whether it had to be locked in the trunk, could be in the glove box if unloaded, or could be sitting on the dashboard in plain sight.  States set their own qualifications process for getting a carry permit, and some have reciprocal agreements to honor each other's permits, and some don't, and that's frankly ridiculous.  
  • Mandatory registration of all guns.  I'm not under the illusion that this will do anything to stop certain elements of society from having, acquiring, selling, etc. under the radar.  I knew people in Tennessee who could literally make a gun start to finish including the ammo.  And there's always a criminal element willing to flout the law.  But again, as has been pointed out many times, all the shootings in the past few years have been carried out with guns legally acquired, and no major shooting has ever been stopped by an armed bystander, so I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that reducing/controlling the total number of guns in circulation is probably going to help somewhat, or at least not make things worse.
  • Common-sense restrictions on what caliber guns people can legally keep in their homes.  You do not need a fucking .45 or .44mag handgun for self-defense.  A 9mm will suffice perfectly well for that purpose.  Nor do you need a rifle in 7.62x39, which is a MILITARY ROUND.  7.62x39 was made for a Russian machine gun, and is what the AK-47 shoots.  What in the world does a civilian need military rifle rounds for?  Serious question.  What are you doing that you need this?  Explain to me why your safety can only be guaranteed by keeping weapons of war in your house.  I'd really like to know what the hell you get up to in there.
  • For collectors or fans of exotic guns and ammo, I suggest a compromise.  You can own them, buy them, etc.  But they must be kept under lock and key at a licensed shooting range or gun dealership.  You can access and shoot them whenever you like, but there is absolutely no reason whatsoever to need to keep a Russian sniper rifle in your bedroom.**  
  • Speaking of which, tighten licensing and monitoring and regulation on gun dealers.  No more of this swinging by Walmart to pick up a new gun.  Require that the same procedures for licensing, sales, and background checks be followed at gun shows as in regular shops.  (In an ideal world, I'd like to see gun shows go the way of the dodo entirely, but I think that would probably provoke too much pushback to be feasible right now.)
The opportunity we have right now to create meaningful change in the way this country handles guns came at an incredibly high price.  Let's not squander it on simply reinstating what few limits were wrested from the resisting grasp of the NRA nearly 20 years ago.  We need to do better.

*I sympathize with this feeling as a justification for owning a particular gun, I really do.  Why else did I have a Desert Eagle .50 or my FN PS-90?  For feeling like a badass.  Duh.  I had a thigh-holster for the DE and I was excellent with the PS90, out-shooting gun-nut ex and one other with my PS90 and non-magnification optic, standing, versus their rifles on bipods with scopes and them shooting prone.  I really truly enjoyed owning both of those guns, going shooting regularly and honing my skills as well as having fun with it.

"I wanna feel like a badass" is not sufficient justification to keep such guns available when weighed against the lives of children, though.  No matter how cool the gun is.

**I speak from experience.  Gun-nut ex's favorite rifle was his Dragunov, and it spent an irritating amount of time just laying around our room rather than in the giant gun safe it was supposedly kept in.

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