Why do gun-rights defenders oppose any restrictions on the firepower of semi-automatic rifles?

Terry Morris writes:

Since no one else has asked, I will: Will you elaborate on your closing statement in the previous entry in which you say that you are not necessarily opposed to limiting the fire-power of semi-automatic rifles intended for civilian use?

LA replies:

Here’s what I meant. I do not understand why civilians should be able to own weapons capable of firing scores of bullets in rapid fire. The primary reason for firearm ownership, the reason why the right of gun ownership is absolutely essential, is self-defense. How does self-defense require a weapon—such as the weapon used by the Newtown mass killer—with a magazine containing thirty or fifty bullets?

By the way, just as I was writing the above, I finally understood the meaning of the imprecise and much maligned phrase “assault weapon.” They are called assault weapons because they are weapons designed to kill the maximum number of people. They are not weapons designed for self defense.

So, I would like knowledgeable gun owners, of whom many post at VFR, to explain why they oppose any legal restriction on the number of bullets that can be fired by a semi-automatic rifle without changing the magazine. I also would like them to explain why they oppose mandatory background checks in private, one-on-one firearms sales.

I ask those who respond to keep their comments to a digestible length, and in particular to avoid an excess of technical detail, which is distracting and confusing to non-gun owners such as myself. Stick to the essential issues.

- end of initial entry -

Corey N. writes:

I would say that the single most important reason justifying gun ownership is the one underlying the Declaration, and the battles of Lexington and Concord: that for rightful liberty to prevail, the people must have the ability to exercise greater force than the government. If they do not, the government can and eventually will become a tyrant.

Sovereignty rests with whoever can exercise the most force. If the people are to be sovereign, the people must be able to enforce their will. However, having that ability also means the people must have the responsibility and strength of character to exercise it wisely. One could easily make the case that the current population of the USA does not have these traits. If so, one could also make the case that the current population of the USA in some manner deserves a period of extended bondage, not liberty.

John Dempsey writes:

The Second Amendment in the Bill of rights was designed to grant the citizenry the ability to be armed not for self-defense but as an inhibitor against government abuses and tyranny. It was not instituted simply for self defense as you seem to suggest. It is about preserving the military power of the people to defeat the standing army of a tyrant.

I don’t think we can fight a standing army of a tyrant with a revolver.

Daniel M. writes:

Once they start to limit anything on semi-autos, that’s it. It starts with the “assault weapons,” then it’s just regular semi autos, then pretty soon we’re left with single shot .22’s. which we have to get the evil regime’s permission for. That is what has happened in Europe, and even one step back is surrender.

Ed H. writes:

You have found the correct principle to stand upon. Guns have a legitimate value for self-defense. In my view, the perfect home defense weapon is the five round, 12 gauge shotgun which is devastating, doesn’t require great marksmanship, and has limited range and less of a chance of penetrating walls and killing innocent people. Almost all conceivable self-defense situations will be at close quarters. How can you justify the claim of being in imminent danger if your target is 100 or 400 yards away, which is the design range of assault rifles? Pistols are also justified as they are lightweight and can be carried beyond the home, where muggings frequently occur.

I can sense the hackles of gun owners rising. Their claim is that the government is the real enemy. I agree, but statements like this always show an almost total ignorance and indifference towards how government really acquires power. The left has gotten this far with no real confrontation, so maybe, just maybe, gun owners have missed what really counts. Furthermore I believe the left has no workable plans on confiscating guns, and probably is not interested in them anyway. In fact they are quite happy for their enemies to do nothing more threatening than sitting home, cleaning their guns, storing ammunition and dreaming of the Big Shootout which will never come. Meanwhile the left takes charge of communications systems, the military, media, schools, and the judiciary. In a matter of one generation conservatism has been painted as an irrelevant anachronism populated by cranks, gun nuts, and knuckle draggers. People who can’t get excited about anything but ammunition calibers, magazine capacities, and rates of fire have done all they can to contribute to this image.

To show how this works you need to notice how masterfully the left has used the Connecticut murders to their advantage, right down to the podium tears of the alien-in-chief. Armed with cameras, a lying press, and an emotionalized and mindless public, the left has juxtaposed images of dead children with cold, indifferent (and white) gun owners rushing out to buy even more guns. With weapons like that why does the left need puny guns?

They have won without firing a shot.

LA replies:

Ed H.’s observations about how gun defenders are playing into the leftist script are acute.

I would also note that the first two commenters in this thread, by arguing that the justification for the type of weapon under discussion is the need to fight government tyranny, seem to be implicitly conceding that such weapons are indeed NOT necessary for self-defense.

Karl D. writes:

I agree that having a clip that holds anymore than 10-12 rounds is not necessary for self defense. That being said, Lanza, or anyone else intent on causing mass death, could easily have prepped a dozen or so clips holding ten rounds each and replaced them in the weapon within a couple of seconds. So this would have made little difference in any situation where there is not an armed individual for the gunmen to worry about. [LA replies: I made the same point in the earlier entry, where I said: “If all this mob-style hysteria is about a law that would not even have stopped the mass murder that set off the hysteria, what is this whole debate about? I’ve already answered my own question: it’s about mob-style hysteria.”] Had he been using a revolver it would have taken him much longer to re-load. Same with a bolt action rifle. Basically anything that does not use clips would be much more difficult.

Clark Coleman writes:

A comment by Stewart W. in the earlier entry is a pretty concise answer to the question you ask in this entry: Why does anyone need a high-capacity magazine firearm?

Stewart W. wrote:

If our society is dangerous enough for the police to need high-capacity handguns and semi-automatic rifles, it’s dangerous enough for civilians to need them. Anyone confused on the matter can reference the 1992 LA riots and the Korean shopkeepers.

LA replies:

Good point. Such high capacity weapons are needed to defend oneself not against ordinary crime, but against large-scale minority mayhem, which has occurred numerous times before and is extremely likely to occur again.

David B. writes:

You ask why there should not be restrictions on the firepower of semi-automatic rifles. To speaking bluntly, most gun owners believe it will not end there. It will go step by step to complete confiscation of all guns from law-abiding citizens. When have liberals ever stopped after a tactical victory?

Speaking of background checks, when I have bought a gun at a gun store, I show the seller my driver’s license. He then goes to a computer and checks me out before completing the sale. [LA replies: Of course we know that at gun stores and gun shows background checks are required. The present issue is background checks in private sales from one individual to another.]

I happen to be a gun collector with a special interest in World War II weapons. The term “assault rifle” came into general use after the war and describes a weapon that has “selective fire.” This means a switch that enables it to fire either semi-auto or full automatic. These weapons fire an “intermediate” round, less powerful than the 30 caliber round of the M1 Garand (the standard American weapon in WWII). The Germans introduced the first weapon of this type during 1943-44 (fortunately in small numbers). When it was shown to Hitler, he called it a “sturmgewehr.” In German, this means “storm gun,” or a weapon “designed to kill the maximum number of people,” as you write.

In America, “sturmgewehr” was translated to “assault rifle.” The American military stayed with the 30 caliber (7.62) round and replaced the M1 with the M14 in 1957, while the Soviets had adopted the AK-47, a weapon similar to the German WWII Sturmgewehr. Both had 30-round magazines with a selector switch.

LA replies:

Ok. So, as I thought, the primary purpose of “assault rifles” is to kill as many people as possible, not to defend oneself from (ordinary) crime.

Alan M. writes:

I agree with most of the comments so far but only partially with Ed H.’s comment.

A fundamental principle of the Founding is that power flows from the people to the government. The people retain all rights not delegated to the government including the right to replace that government if it should become tyrannical. A right without the ability to enforce that right is no right at all. The U.S. is the only country to retain that principle both in theory and in practice.

Ed’s comment, “statements like this always show an almost total ignorance and indifference towards how government really acquires power,” is correct in that it is the left has been marching through the institutions of Western civilization. But that is because it was the only way they could acquire power—by stealth. Ed confuses interim strategy with the ultimate goal. He misses the abuse of power in most of the rest of the world and in recent history where force is used to establish tyranny. Islam’s jihad by immigration is a similar example. Ultimately, both the left and Islam establish and maintain tyrannies through the barrel of the gun. It is only a matter of when they feel they have enough power to be open about their true intentions and methods. The soft tyranny we face now is still backed by the power of the gun but it is hidden. The disarming of conservatives is and always has been a key goal of the left because it means they will ultimately face no resistance when they bare their fangs.

So Ed’s point is a distraction from the issue at hand. Either a power flows from the citizenry and they have the ability to exercise that power in the horrible instance when it becomes necessary, or citizens only have the power that the leadership will allow them to have, and we are Europe. That the tyrants are currently pursuing their ends by other means is irrelevant to the discussion.

I haven’t seen a comment on background checks. I really nothing against them, though there are those who argue that the registration of guns is the first step towards confiscation. In our pluralistic, immoral society, background checks seem to be a reasonable limitation and indeed seem to have put a speed bump in Lanza’s plans recently.

Being foolishly superstitious at times, I have been waiting for the third major loss for conservatism as things often happen in threes. Perhaps this is at least an attempt at it. First there was the SCOTUS Obamacare decision. Then Obama was re-elected and with it the realization that the left was in charge. Now we have this push to destroy the principle behind the Second Amendment. That is the last remaining piece of the Republic and it is the last guarantor of our rights. To lose it would be to ensure there is no way out of the dark hell into which the left is taking us should all other efforts of resistance fail.

RJ writes:

One case for gun rights is seldom mentioned: preventing genocide at the hands of a government with an absolute monopoly on violence. This was picked up in a recent post on your blog and also here.

In terms of self-defense, it’s really quite simple:

The shotgun and the pistol are the correct weapons for self-defense against hoodlums. They are short range weapons that have a lower risk of going through wallboard. The pistol has the advantage of concealed carry.

The high-powered assault rifle with a high capacity magazine is the correct weapon for self-defense against a murderous government. In capable hands and with a scope it can deliver lethal energy out to 500 yards (or more, in some cases) against multiple, organized opponents.

Hannon writes:

Ed H.’s comment implies that he believes the Left have been indifferent to gun ownership in their successful bid for cultural and political hegemony. With their ability to win hearts and minds without firing a shot they have shown that those who conflate the personal ownership of arms with sovereign power are not only irrelevant but dangerous in modern society. This view of liberal success misses the point that implicit in their own progress is the armed backing of the state, whether state and local police, National Guard, FBI, ATF, regular armed forces, etc. The liberal establishment is happy to have a militarized component of government because it is the only force that can allay their fears of gun-toting hicks overrunning the countryside. Liberal power is backed by force, similar to the way U.S. political and economic might is ultimately backed-up by submarines with nuclear missiles and other means of deadly response.

LA replies:

If the justification for private ownership of assault rifles is the need of the people to defend themselves and their liberties from the armed force of a tyrannical state, shouldn’t there also be private ownership of machine guns, tanks, jet planes, and nuclear bombs? After all, can assault rifles in the hands of individuals prevail against an all-out armed government tyranny?

Sam writes:

I for one have no in-principle objections to limiting the firepower of semi-automatic rifles. I can, however, see why one might oppose such restrictions. In addition to the basic right of individual self-defense, there is also the right to collective self-defense against a tyrannical government. For individual self-defense against an agressor, a handgun will be sufficient in most cases. At a certain point, however, limitations on available firepower might hamper the ability of civilians to engage in effective resistence against a tyrannical government. A nation armed only with handguns is not in a tactical position to mount a serious challenge against a military armed with assault weapons. A nation armed with rifles and other arms is a position seriously to compromise the ability of a government to impose its will. Thus, we have something of a tradeoff; the more lethal the weapons in the hands of the citizenry, the better their capacity to resist tyranny, but the greater the risk of mass-casualty events such as the one in Connecticut. The less lethal the weapons in the hands of the citizenry, the less able they are to resist tyranny but the less likely it is that they will suffer mass-casualty events. Given the increasing depravity of our culture, as well as the increasingly tyrannical nature of our government, I have no opinion about which state of affairs represents the lesser of the two evils.

LA writes:

Here’s why I thought Ed H.’s point about the conservatives playing into the left’s script was acute. The left’s argument is that privately owned assault rifles are not needed for self-defense, and that they can be used in mass murders, and therefore they should be banned. Instead of responding to that argument, the gun-rights defenders just keep insisting on their right to own guns, as though the Second Amendment were unquestionable. But as a liberal said recently, simply appealing to the Second Amendment begs the question: why should we have the Second Amendment? Why is the Second Amendment justified? And since the left does indeed—as we all know—want to bet rid of the Second Amendment (if not through constitutional means, which is impossible, then through unconstitutional means, as with Obamacare), simply appealing to the right to own arms does not carry the argument. The reason for the right to own arms must be explained. And specifically the reason for the right to own assault rifles must be explained. But if the only reason conservatives give for the right to own assault rifles is to defend against a tyrannical government, that is a position (a) which many people will not accept, and (b) which is non-responsive to the left’s main argument, that assault rifles are not needed for self-defense.

Conservatives always lose because they fail to respond to the left’s arguments, but instead just keep repeating their own arguments.

Sam writes:

Your last comment is right on. I was listening to a guest host on Glenn Beck’s radio show earlier today, and a caller said that it would be wrong to restrict his right to own the gun of his choice simply because he “wanted one” and that it was none of the government’s “business.” He compared gun ownership with ownership of a corvette, and used liberal talk of free choice and all of the rest. The mindless non-entity hosting the show thought that this was an excellent point and proceeded to elaborate upon it.

Within a nano-second after this caller got started I could think of at least a dozen obvious counter examples to the “If I want it, I should be able to have it” argument, counter examples that an intelligent twelve year old could probably conjure up. I listen to a fair amount of talk-radio and other right wing commentary, and at a philosophical level they are the Polish cavalry up against the Blitzkrieg.

Alan M. writes:

You wrote:

“After all, can assault rifles in the hands of individuals prevail against an all-out armed government tyranny?”

Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan would say it would at least be an open question and victory would come at a high price.

Doug H. writes:

You are correct when stating no one needs a large capacity such as 20-30 round clips. A great personal home protection gun is a very short 12 gauge shotgun like the Mossberg or Remington 870 designed specifically for home defense. I bought one right after I had a home invasion. Yes, I did say after. I wish I would have had it during. There is nothing like being confronted by a man coming from your daughter’s bedroom at 4 in the morning that makes you long for weaponry of all sorts. (Miraculously, my daughter wasn’t sleeping in the bedroom and our little dog alerted us.) The shotgun gun is great when filled with buckshot. It will not penetrate multiple walls injuring neighbors, and when struggling to get the sleep out of your eyes, aim is not critical.

As far as self defense on the street, that is a different story. Most people need more rounds because they are poor shots. I can’t count the number of times I have seen experienced cops empty a clip and never hit the criminal.

All that said, the primary purpose of guns is to defend oneself from a tyrannical government. You need the same level of fire power they have to stop the threat of violence. Realistically, there is no longer any way to have as much fire power as even our local governments now possess.

Still, I did go out and buy a very powerful long range weapon with a 20 round capacity. Logically, it didn’t make sense, but the liberal “feeling” side of me feels better owning it.

Mauro C. writes:

You asked for gun owners to explain why they oppose legal restrictions on magazine capacity. Here are my reasons.

One of the main focuses of VFR has been on black criminality, so I hardly need to state that criminals often gang up on single victims. Furthermore it is very difficult to fire accurately in high stress situations, and it often takes more than one shot to actually STOP a bad guy. Seen in this light I would much rather have a 30-round magazine in my AR-15 or AK-pattern rifle than an ineffectual 10-round magazine. When you’re facing mob criminality, the more rounds the better. [LA replies: I notice that you say mob criminality. You obviously would not walk around town with your AR-15 to use against a mugger, but you would bring it out in the event of a home invasion or large-scale and continuing mob violence.]

Now a matter of terminology. While a magazine technically does hold bullets (bullets being the projectile actually fired), the correct terminology is “round” or “cartridge” for a single unit of ammunition. David G.’s comment in a previous entry already pointed out the distinction between “magazine” and “clip.” If we are to have a discussion on firearms I think it’s important to use correct terminology. [LA replies: Got it. Thank you.]

Thank you for all your work on VFR; it has truly changed my life and how I view the world. You are in my prayers.

LA replies:

I’m glad to hear that! Thank you very much.

Alan M. writes:

Your note about why you approved Ed’s comment is bang on—you always seek to challenge our thinking and bring it to a higher level. The question about needing assault rifles for self defense is a good one, has been answered elsewhere, and I will try to research the best answers today.

Note that the left has applied the term “assault weapon” to semi-automatic weapons, while David B.’s point is that assault weapons as originally named were select fire or more commonly known as machine guns or sub-machine guns. This is another example of the left’s misuse of language and applying emotion to words. It works perfectly for them and we are always failing to confront their word games.

LA replies:

Oh, evidently I mis-read David’s point. I thought he was saying that the rifle in question was a semi-automatic.

RJ writes:

You wrote:

But if the only reason conservatives give for the right to own assault rifles is to defend against a tyrannical government, that is a position (a) which many people will not accept, and (b) which is non-responsive to the left’s main argument, that assault rifles are not needed for self-defense.

You are absolutely correct—few people will accept the argument at this time. The people must be educated, in the same way that they were educated about the virtues of concealed carry over the past few decades.

I think Jews for the Preservation of Firearm Ownership (here) are doing a great job in this regard. Until such time as people buy the argument, the seemingly irrational gun-nuts are left to make the case.

Of course, events can happen that change attitudes in a hurry. A massive crime spree following another economic downturn could do it.

LA writes:

Early in this thread, a reader who has commented occasionally sent a comment which was interesting. Then I came to his last paragraph:

As one additional note, to be absolutely blunt, under no circumstances will I accept some Manhattanite dictating to me what I can and can not do in order to protect my life and the lives of those close to me, nor said Manhattanite’s impressions of what is and is not necessary. Manhattan is one of the best-controlled areas on the planet, with the NYPD one of the largest single-city armed forces on the planet, and they focus where the money is. If you were living in the Bronx or Queens, or Camden, I think you would have a very different reflex reaction to this question.

I wrote to him:

As I was reading your comment in preparing it for posting, I came to your closing paragraph. Your hostile, ad hominem, and idiotic remark about a Manhattanite imposing his will on you—when in fact I was asking knowledgeable readers for their views on a subject on which I did not have a set opinion—disqualifies you as a commenter at this site.

Todd S. writes:

Regarding this post, see this from Timothy Carney of “The Examiner.” He does a great job explaining so called semi-automatic weapons. [LA replies: I linked and recommended the Carney article the other day.]

I spent 21 years in the Army and bought a Smith and Wesson AR15 last year. I bought it for sport shooting and home defense. Why? Because I can work this gun with my eyes closed after 21 years of using it. I understand that a good 12 gauge pump is probably safer in a close setting, but for me it comes down to being comfortable with a weapon.

Having said that, my thoughts are benign regarding high capacity clips. I have no need for one, other than possible convenience on the a shooting range.

HT writes:

You wrote:

If the justification for private ownership of assault rifles is the need of the people to defend themselves and their liberties from the armed force of a tyrannical state, shouldn’t there also be private ownership of machine guns, tanks, jet planes, and nuclear bombs? After all, can assault rifles in the hands of individuals prevail against an all-out armed government tyranny?

Logically you are correct, but in terms of politics assault rifles are difficult enough as it is.

Technologically, it is not clear that counterinsurgents need all the heavy hardware that you mention. 9/11 cost $500,000 for the terrorists to pull off and provoked us to spend trillions of dollars. The balance of power is shifting away from big powers due to technology. Consider these two videos (here and here), which could provide a glimpse into our dystopian future:

Ben S. writes:

There are two things to argue about regarding “assault weapons”—whether there is a Constitutional right to own them, and whether there ought to be a right to own them, Constitutional or otherwise.

On the first point, I assume that you agree the Second Amendment confers an individual right to keep and bear arms. [LA replies: Of course.] We then have the clause “[T]he right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.” In other words, the right must be preserved to its full extent; it cannot be compromised. To disallow someone from having an assault rifle in an era when any properly equipped soldier has one would definitely be an infringement their right to bear arms, and thus unconstitutional. [LA replies: By your reasoning the ban on machine guns violates the Second Amendment; registration laws and background checks violate the Second Amendment; keeping guns from felons and psychotic killers violates the Second Amendment; indeed any ban on private individuals owning nuclear weapons violates the Second Amendment. If that is what the Second Amendment means, then the liberals are right that the Second Amendment must go. By pushing the Amendment to its logical extreme, you are assuring that it will be disregarded and dismantled.]

If it were nevertheless preferable that some class of weapons be banned, then the Constitution should be amended accordingly. I would support exempting nuclear weapons from Second Amendment protections (as should have been done in 1946) [LA replies: I wrote my above reply before I read this paragraph, but my point holds], but I also believe that ordinary citizens ought to be able to arm themselves so as to match soldiers on the battlefield, and thereby to constitute a common militia that will thwart foreign invaders and domestic tyrants. To put the latter point bluntly, citizens should be well enough armed that they can kill soldiers and policemen, since that is the only way they will be able to deter a despotic government from tyrannizing them.

Richard W. writes:

You ask:

If the justification for private ownership of assault rifles is the need of the people to defend themselves and their liberties from the armed force of a tyrannical state, shouldn’t there also be private ownership of machine guns, tanks, jet planes, and nuclear bombs? After all, can assault rifles in the hands of individuals prevail against an all-out armed government tyranny?

The theory of the militia has always been that the individual rifleman retains possession of his rifle, and maintains his skill with it through diligent practice. I believe this concept traces its origin from the longbow archers of England in the Middle Ages. The skilled longbow archers on several occasions defeated the heavily armed professional soldiers of their day, the armored cavalry, culminating with the famous Battle of Agincourt. [LA replies: Indeed, the English expertise with the longbow which resulted in the defeat of the mounted French nobility at Agincourt stemmed from the constant training and practice of the common people in English villages.]

Machine guns and tanks are termed “crew serviced weapons” because they are not typically fielded by an individual. Even a basic machine gun usually requires a crew of two or three to run efficiently, and to breakdown and transport as they weigh up to 100 lbs when assembled on a tripod. Crew serviced weapons are typically held at armories and controlled by a chain of command, such as the national guard, or town militia in the colonial period. The Revolutionary War’s first battles, at Concord and Lexington, were a result of the citizen militia of those two towns resisting the British Army in their attempt to capture and destroy military supplies held by the militia in Concord.

From the point of view of people who believe in the concept of the citizen soldier the only weapon that is really required is the military rifle, precisely because it is the weapon one is expected to muster with. The AR-15, the focus of the ire of gun banners like Sen. Diane Feinstein, is a civilian version of the M-16 rifle that the U.S. Army has carried since Vietnam. It is identical to the military weapon except for it does not have the ability to fire in full-automatic mode (firing continuously with one pull of the trigger). The 20 and 30 round magazines are the standard issue magazines for the AR-15 rifle.

It’s not often remarked on that the U.S. Constitution was written to prevent the existence of a standing army [LA replies: I am not aware that the Constitution prohibits standing army], and to encourage militias. Were we to take the original concept of the Founders seriously, then every competent adult male would be issued an AR-15 at the age of 18 after completing a course of basic training, and take it home along with a few magazines and a supply of ammunition. This is exactly how the Swiss are organized. Every citizen a soldier and a rifleman.

But the reality is that we are no longer a society in which this concept is workable. The character of much of our citizenry is far too low to permit them to function as militia members.

In some sense losing the individual right to own the standard rifle of our army is merely a formal acknowledgment of the state of weakness and dependency that we have descended to as a society. As a group we are no longer competent or worthy to defend ourselves, but rather must rely on others to do so for us. Our forefathers were competent men, capable of such things. We are overgrown children, and military rifles are not children’s toys. Such is the fruit of 80 years of liberal assault on our institutions, values, and character as a people.

Bill W. writes:

It is not possible to limit the number of rounds a firearm can fire, if that firearm has a detachable magazine. An analogy would be: limiting the length of a cord you can plug into an electrical outlet. The outlet doesn’t “know” how long the cord is, so you can’t make an outlet that can only accept a cord of less than 10 feet. So the only solution is to ban long cords or ban outlets. Similarly, if the firearm has a removable magazine, it doesn’t “know” how much the magazine can hold. The only solution is to ban “high capacity” magazines (which was done with the so-called “Assault Weapons Ban” of the 1990s——except for ones manufactured BEFORE the ban went into effect) or to ban firearms with removable magazines. The problem with banning the magazines themselves is that they are just pieces of stamped sheet metal and springs, and are not a huge challenge to make. So the only thing to do is ban the weapons themselves.

You may then ask, why shouldn’t such weapons be banned? If the militia argument doesn’t convince you, or the anti-riot argument, I doubt any argument will. Personally, I subscribe to the slippery slope argument. We have seen it in action: some types of firearm will be banned (or in the U.S., some states will ban firearms), yet shootings keep happening. The solution then must be to ban MORE types of firearms. Eventually, you become anarcho-tyrannical Great Britain, where criminals have whatever weapons they want, while law-abiding people who protect themselves from criminals are themselves charged with crimes.

Paul L. from Texas writes:

I’d like to reveal a different perspective on the Second Amendment issue.

I generally think the primary aim of the Second Amendment is not for legitimate insurrection against a runaway government, nor do I think it was configured to allow for simple personal defense and hunting. The historical context seems to suggest that those purposes were indisputably assumed, just as we could argue the “freedom of religion” idea was universally understood to mean “freedom of Christian religion.”

At the time of the authorship of the Constitution, America had weak police forces, was largely rural, and still had unsafe borders. Able bodied men were expected to be called up for defense as necessary. It was not only a right, it was a duty.

On the few occasions militias were called up, they were used as light infantry. So-called “assault” weapons are squarely and firmly in that category of use.

I can see a treatment of the Second Amendment that calls for outlawing or severely restricting civilian ownership of SAMs and fighter jets and tanks and the like. However, to outlaw outright what a modern day militia soldier would need to use, if called upon to uphold the peace, seems to fly in the face of the intention of the Amendment.

In the present day, we have a standing army and sophisticated law enforcement departments which address nearly all of the protection needs as presented in the original historical configuration.

Nevertheless, the Second Amendment remains, its rights and implied duties remain, and it is certainly useful. A culture of all able bodied men being able to help shoulder the duties of protection of the populace is a help to law enforcement, increases harmony between civilians and the military, and discourages even the idea of attack or invasion. Because, as Yamamoto famously said, “Behind every blade of grass is a man with a gun.” And, yes, it is also a strong deterrent against attempted tyranny.

Switzerland is the nearest approximation to this ideal. There is no “Swiss Army.” There is just “the Swiss.” The kind of integration between weaponry, training, and civilians which enables that sort of culture is what we should be driving towards.

I personally think we need more of the “well-regulated” part of the Second Amendment, but in its original meaning, not the typical liberal configuration. Well-regulated in the historical context meant, “well trained.”

Paul Henri writes:

Your premise is flawed:

The primary reason for firearm ownership, the reason why the right of gun ownership is absolutely essential, is self-defense.

The reason the right is in the Constitution is to protect against government tyranny (even O’Reilly admits that), whether it is direct tyranny or an arguably indirect tyranny in allowing widespread violence by a group favored by the government against a disfavored group.

Self-defense has often been given as a reason, but those who claim this reason do so knowing this reason follows from the language of the Constitution. The Founders did not need to add words such as “self-defense” or “hunting” or “anarchy” because they had already written the right of ownership. The usage for self-defense or hunting or protecting against anarchy would logically follow from ownership. It did not occur to them that these additional words would be needed to refute arguments made by the left who are currently in control and have made up their own minds and insist on explicit language except when government power is extended by the courts.

Revolver clips are available and take about five seconds to insert.

The presence of these weapons means we won’t have to make them or import them if they ever become necessary to defend ourselves against government initiated tyranny or government sanctioned tyranny or anarchy. The British long rifle was one of the most powerful guns of the time. If assault weapons had existed at the time of the writing of the drafting, I have no doubt the Founders would have either left the Constitution as written or added language to ensure more powerful weapons such as grenade launchers and anti-tank weapons were allowed. (The long rifles at the time were already armour piercing.) These rifles were an essential weapon in the British government’s arsenal, and the Founders knew that similarly-armed citizens made mighty foes. The intent of the right was to protect against tyranny, and if an error is made, it should be made in favor of opposing tyranny, and those opposing the right to bear arms are the ones with the burden of proving with clear and convincing evidence the need for some restriction.

Criminals, soldiers of a tyrannical government, or privateers are going to possess the most powerful weapons they can find. Those trying to protect themselves need to hang onto as many of their rights as possible. We talk about separatism as a possible solution to traditionalists. We can forget about it if we cannot protect our proto-communities. The presence of these weapons in millions of hands is a major deterrent.

I am writing with no editing, so my arguments might not be organized perfectly.

LA replies:

I didn’t need to edit your comment at all; it is very well written.

Stewart W. writes:

To follow up and perhaps clarify what Clark Coleman pointed out and you elaborated: during “rule of law” a pistol and shotgun are your best defense against ordinary crime, but during mob anarchy, you need a high-capacity semi-automatic rifle for defense of yourself, your family, and your property.

To extend on this thought, it is important to recognize that the difference between an “assault rifle” and a semi-automatic rifle like an AR 15 is not merely a semantic one. The true assault rifle, as defined by the Germans during WWII, is able to shoot in full-auto, like a machine gun. It is tactically useful for providing suppressive fire used when engaged in offensive, squad-level military operations. The rifles we citizens get to purchase may look like assault rifles and have 30-round magazines, but from a tactical standpoint they are more useful in a defensive role, when faced with multiple (and often less-organized) attackers. They allow you to defeat the attackers at a greater distance, and generally to drive a mob from the area. This is exactly how the Korean shopkeepers kept their stores from being looted and burned during the LA riots. [LA replies: I have never rioted.]

Of course, I also generally agree with the Second Amendment-based arguments, that it is important for the citizenry to remain a credible threat against government tyranny, but I suspect that the significant majority of AR 15 pattern rifles are purchased not with Lexington and Concord in mind, but rather Katrina.

LA writes:

I thank readers for their extraordinarily intelligent and informative comments.

Steve W. writes:

I would argue that a semiautomatic, gas-powered rifle, known by liberals as an “assault rifle” [LA replies: many people in this thread have called it an assault rifle], is an excellent home defense weapon, especially if you’re in the country. In urban situations, a pump-action shotgun is preferable due to the massive impact and lack of penetration in close quarters or what we called CQB in the military. But a rifle is needed for longer-ranged combat. Having additional rounds in the magazine makes it easier to defend one’s home at long range and also gives one the ability to fire warning shots without worry of wasting ammunition, as a five or 10-round magazine would demand.

For those who believe as I do that the Second Amendment is a check on government by an armed citizenry, a semiautomatic rifle is a perfect tool. Liberals love to say (like sports columnist Jason Whitlock) that an armed citizenry would have no prayer in a war against a powerful central government like ours with B-2 bombers, cruise missiles, Predator drones and other high-tech weaponry. They’re fools who don’t know their history. Afghanistan is one example. Both the Soviets and ourselves have departed / are departing a war we can’t win against a foe armed with nothing more than small arms, some mortars, old Soviet RPGs, bomb-making ingenuity and a few heavy machine guns or autocannons mounted on the beds of pickup trucks (technicals). They have no radar. No surface-to-air missiles. No GPS-guided bombs. And they’ve defeated two of the world’s best militaries.

Asymmetrical tactics always triumph against a conventional foe.

Now on to magazine limitations, which are ridiculous, especially when it takes even a moron one or two seconds to feed a new magazine into an AR-15 or AK-descended rifle.

As for the 100-round magazines (known as C-mags), their tendency to jam makes them nearly useless. They never feed correctly. Even the standard 20- or 30-round box magazines are usually never filled to capacity because of the pressure it puts on the magazine spring, which can cause misfeeds.

John C. writes:

You note that we hoplophiles [LA replies: Hoplophiles? Those who love heavily armed infantry soldiers (hoplites)?] fail to address the arguments of the lefties, when you write today:

I would also note that the first two commenters in this thread, by arguing that the justification for the type of weapon under discussion is the need to fight government tyranny, seem to be implicitly conceding that such weapons are indeed NOT necessary for self-defense.

I personally tend to use a variety of arguments when discussing with an uninformed, but well-meaning type. you often, yourself, mention that there is no point in engaging lefties with detailed arguments, given their manifest bad faith and duplicity. I myself see most gun grabbers as some of the worst examples of duplicitous lefties, hence, why deal as though they are acting in good faith?

LA replies:

The present context is different from the one to which I was referring when I said that. Here we have a raging national call for gun control, and conservatives must counter the liberal arguments if the liberals are not to sweep all before them.

Stewart W. writes;

“LA replies: I have never rioted.”

Now, that’s a riot.

John Dempsey writes:

This particular argument of the left—that assault rifles are not necessary for common, everyday “self-defense”—is a straw man. At minimum, it is irrelevant, as I stated in my above comment. So why should we have to respond to it at all? [LA replies: I couldn’t disagree more. Many people in good faith, including conservatives, think that this is true and need to hear an answer. And indeed, many people in this thread have acknowledge that assault rifles are not necessary for everyday self-defense, but are needed for other types of self-defense. So these things need to be explained.]

As for the reason conservatives give for the right to own assault rifles, as being to defend against a tyrannical government, that’s the purpose of the Second Amendment. Here is a well-documented history of the Second Amendment. It might serve to the explain the issue to those “people [who] will not accept” this reason conservatives have for the right to own assult rifles. [LA replies: I think several participants in this discussion have able explained the same.]

LA writes:

There are several more comments in my Inbox I still have to post, but I think that after that this thread will have become long enough and I would ask readers not to send any more comments unless they feel they have something really new to say or unless there is some poing that must be answered. Otherwise this disucssion will become like a meal that is spoiled by being too large.

Kathlene M. writes:

I have a sincere question related to the long thread about guns: When the United States had the 1994-2004 assault weapons ban, were gun owners harmed by that law? The ban didn’t lead to a larger ban on guns or ammunition, so that would seem to negate the slippery slope argument if the ban were renewed. Other than whether the law was effective at curbing crime or not, could someone please explain how the ban harmed gun owners? Gun owners still had access to guns and ammunition. (Not trying to pick any fights here, just sincerely wondering about this.)

LA replies:


Notice your anticipatory cringe? That indicates the power of the conservative gun orthodoxy. There are many people for whom no dissent, not even any reasonable questions, are allowed.

For example, when I initially wrote that I was “not necessarily opposed” to restrictions on the size of gun magazines, one reader told me (in an unposted comment) that this was “shocking.”

But at VFR you don’t have to fear that orthodoxy. We’re having a good discussion which is advancing our understanding of the issue.

Kathlene replies:

Thanks for acknowledging that, because I thought by posing the question I’d be attacked, not by you but by a few commenters.

LA replies:

But haven’t you noticed that nobody has been attacked in this thread?

Kathlene replies:
Yes, I have, but I attributed that to your editing skills. :) [LA replies: None of the comments that have been posted in this thread contained any personal attacks on other commenters that I had to edit out.]

Didn’t one of your readers get angry with you for “lecturing” him when you were simply exploring a topic?

The topic of guns is sacrosanct with many conservatives, which is probably why liberals criticize conservatives as “clinging to their guns.” I know nothing about guns and I’m sure many Americans don’t know much either. So it’s important as you’ve said that conservatives know how to answer these questions, like how did the assault weapons ban harm gun owners and Americans overall?

Paul L. (not the same Paul L.) writes:

Several of your commenters have dismissed the utility of an “assault weapon” for home defense. I would suggest that this is not correct. An AR-15 fires a small, .22 caliber bullet at high velocity. You will find that a projectile like this has very limited bulk penetration. Any barrier that it will pierce can also be pierced by a shotgun firing buckshot. At the same time, an assault rifle is lightweight, has significantly less recoil and blast than a shotgun, while possessing a high stopping power. Secondly, it is wrong to say that an assault rifle has no utility beyond defending against mass unrest. Many “ordinary” criminals operate in groups. If I get burgled by more than two burglars and both of them are armed. The magazine capacity of the AR-15 would allow me to blunt their advantage significantly in firepower. This is incidentally the reason why the police carry this type of weapon in their squad cars.

Furthermore, one should not underestimate the amount of ammunition one should reasonably have at the ready. The 50 percent of NYPD shootings last year involved more than five rounds fired per engagement, and 26 percent of incidents result in more than 13 rounds being fired. It is in this light that the 30 round magazine for an AR-15 begins to make sense.

Graceia writes:

My argument is not really about the gun laws people wish to enact, as much as it is the “slippery slope.”

Just as abortion was originally touted to be only for extreme cases—so, too, would this infringement be only an opening to further and further expand the ban. Those who wish to control others (for their own good or the good of society) will never, never stop. It is delusional to think that this debate would not continue and more and more restrictions would be enacted.

As a free people, we must be vigilant in protecting our freedom. Too much has been lost already.

Mark B. writes:

This article helped me understand much more why the AR-15 is such a fine weapon and prized by so many, including hunters; and convinced me that I would like to own one. I hope you’ll read it.

Andrew B. writes:

It amazes me how much sedition (i.e. the many claims of your readers that “I need an AR-15 to take on the U.S. Military and Police”) has been enshrined by the so-called “right” as the reason people should be able to own assault weaponry. If this is the case, one must ask why people cannot own working tanks, fighter aircraft, tactical bombers, chemical and biological weaponry, and nuclear artillery and intercontinental ballistic missiles. The U.S. government certainly has all of that, and you would need such weaponry if you really expected Civil War II and wanted to win it.

The Second Amendment is perfectly clear that the reason for private gun ownership is to enable the people, especially the group of able bodied males who are what is meant by the term “militia,” to participate in the security of the State (“A well regulated militia being necessary for the security of a free state, etc.”), not to be able to take on the U.S. Military in combat. The secondary rights of self defense, hunting, and sport flow from the prior right of firearms ownership in the purpose of defending the State from hostile domestic and foreign action.

People who are not able to defend the State—the insane, felons, foreign aliens, minors, etc., do not have a natural right of gun ownership and use in America, and thus do not possess rights to self-defense and hunting. This is one way we still retain traditional concepts of outlawry, where felons were placed “outside the protection of the law” and thus liable to be killed by those who found them, as they no longer possessed a “right” of self defense. And the State can obviously set the terms for exactly how the people will be armed to cooperate in its defense, so to claim that it cannot chose to regulate the unorganized militia by dictating or mandating what weapons are available is ludicrous, as it would empty the words “well regulated” of all meaning.

In Switzerland, the State mandates all able bodied males possess automatic weaponry and ammunition at home as militia members. In the U.S., we forbid such weaponry. Both choices are legitimate, and flow from We the People through our government, self-regulating our own behavior.

Steve D. writes:

You ask why I oppose more restrictions on gun ownership? Simple: because the left wants it so much.

For decades, they have salivated over the possibility of enacting gun control legislation—any kind of gun control legislation. An “assault weapons” ban, if enacted, wouldn’t be the last attempt. Leftists get a crazy gleam in their eyes whenever the subject comes up, and would dearly love to ban semi-autos, shotguns, revolvers, air pistols, samurai swords, and pocket knives if they only could.

The proper way to oppose the left in this matter is a separate question. Tactics can vary; but the goal, if we expect anything deserving the name of victory, cannot. For years conservatives have talked about a “line in the sand.” This is it. There can be no more retreat; because if we allow ourselves to be disarmed, we surrender the one clear advantage we still have. A government that isn’t afraid of a violent reaction from the populace it rules is the most dangerous force known to man.

LA replies:

This seems overheated, since we already had an “assault weapons” ban from 1994 to 2004, that was not the “Last Step” of the left toward achieving tyranny.

Alex B. writes:

I hope you will permit a Canadian to comment on this matter.

You write:

“Conservatives always lose because they fail to respond to the left’s arguments, but instead just keep repeating their own arguments.”

There is no winning an argument with the left. When in the last fifty years have you been able to win a reasoned argument with them—especially by following the rules as they have framed them? They lie, they twist your arguments, they demonize you, and the media work for them. You can’t explain any reasons to them. They are not starting a debate—they are starting a campaign to ban guns. They are already calling for confiscation.

I am not saying that standing on principle in defence of the Second Amendment will win you this fight; your left is very strong and emboldened now. But trying to resist this demonic force by honestly responding to its questions, designed purposely to frame you, is as losing a strategy as for a Republican candidate to try to win a TV debate with a Democrat by not deviating from the CNN moderator’s questions.

It’s only you who see this as a debate; moreover—as an honest debate with an opponent arguing in good faith. They see it as war, and wage it accordingly. No wonder you are losing. [LA replies: I get your point, but there is in fact a public debate going on, and it is largely one-sided on the left, and gun defenders need at least to engage in that public debate to show the public that there is a rational other side to the issue and try to sway public opinion to their side.]

The left has never met a principled stance from the right. You’ve only ever tried to fight it with reasoned arguments followed, after the loss, with surrender of the principle that was the matter of the argument. I imagine how happy they are now, watching you discuss how many rounds you really need in the magazine for self-defense. If you don’t muster a principled stance now, on the last principle that still preserves a chance for you to put up a fight—sometime in the distant future, when you’ve finally had enough—then when?

Rod B. writes:

Over the past several days, the whole issue of weapons, gets muddled in the prose of piety and indignation, To me, there are legal consequences, for committing murder. Had Lanza lived, the bigger problem to me, would be the fact, Connecticut has no death penalty. Would be looking at 50 plus years of state confinement, as a sentence, be anymore palatable to the grieving?

The slippery slope of whether 10, 12, 20, 30 rounds in a magazine is acceptable, in part goes back to the basis of the Constitution, A base line of what would be needed for response, was dictated.

Today, shooting sports do involve high capacity magazines, from target, to three gun (handgun, shotgun, rifle). The basis of this that is there is a set time, or set amount of rounds required to complete the course. Recreationally, there is a use, and it has been not a problem, outside of the shooting circle,

The AR class of weapons are used to hunt varmints, deer, and other animals, just as the traditional sporting type weapons. In reality, they are fun to shoot, require control and focus, like any other weapon.

Robert B. writes:

Had the shooter chosen a shotgun, he would have needed no more than two or three rounds of buckshot to kill every child in the room—he would have been able to kill more people than he did. Also, the AR-15 rounds are only slightly bigger than a .22, you know. It is the velocity that makes them (marginally) more lethal.

Similarly, how hard is it to make a Molotov cocktail from a glass bottle, a rag and some gas? How many classrooms full of children could he have killed with a duffle bag full of them? A half dozen? A dozen?

LA writes:

My question for myself is: Will I, after perusing this excellent discussion again, be able to arrive at an at least tentative overall position on gun control? I’ll find out.

December 22

LA writes:

Last evening I said I hoped to be drawing this discussion to a close. Since then many more comments have come in, totaling 4,000 words. I don’t know if I can prepare and post them today.

LA writes:

The other day a reader asked for advice how to lessen the trauma of dealing with the dominant liberalism. I suggested that he avoid direct one-on-one debates with liberals, because they are “evil liars” and will only make him feel crazy.

Others, in this thread, took that to mean that I was saying that we should not debate against liberal arguments at all, or even pay attention to them and understand them. They said this reaction against my comment that conservatives do not respond to liberal positions but only keep repeating their own arguments and so always lose. I did not mean what they thought I meant. Obviously we need to know and fight liberal positions.

I simply meant that the reader, who from his background and previous private remarks to me I knew was upset at having direct back and forth exchanges with liberals, should not do this. I also would not do it. That doesn’t mean that we do not need to debate against liberal positions—particularly regarding gun control—in our own forums.

Posted by Lawrence Auster at December 21, 2012 11:36 AM | Send

Email entry

Email this entry to:

Your email address:

Message (optional):