In Defense of the AR-15 June 16, 2016Posted by Sobek in News.
My sister asked me, “can you explain to me why AR-15s are legal for civilians to own? … The arguments against them seem pretty compelling, so I’m just wondering what the other side’s argument is.”
I don’t feel like answering that via text message, so I’ll put in here. That way I can put her some knowledge, and maybe get geoff off my friggin back two two whole friggin minutes maybe.
BTW, she asked the question sincerely and respectfully, so she will get a sincere and respectful answer. If she had asked it rudely, or without wanting an answer of any sort – well, I still would have given her a sincere and respectful answer, because she is my sister and I love her. I don’t claim any original thinking in any of the following. I didn’t come up with these ideas, but I can’t attribute them properly because they are everywhere, if you’re willing to look. The only original thinking I’ve ever done about guns is here, and I can’t promise I’m the first person to think those thoughts, only that I didn’t get them from someone else.
1. The first answer is about philosophy of government. Do you believe that citizens have the right to own what they want, unless the government is expressly granted authority to ban or restrict ownership? Or do you believe that private ownership of property is based on the grace of government? If the latter, then the question is, “why should the government let you own ____?” Otherwise, the question is “where does the government get the power to stop you from owning ____?” And I left those blanks in there because it can apply to anything dangerous, like knives, or swimming pools, or cars. Again, this is a question of philosophy of government. Do we own property by right, subject to the power we, the People, grant to the government to restrict that ownership, or do we own property because the government has all power to decide what we can own, and has deigned in its benevolence to let us own certain things? You can probably tell where I stand on the issue because of how I framed that question, but let me state it plainly: I believe in freedom of the individual, and that government is instituted to protect rights. I do not believe in totalitarian power of the state. If you disagree, be prepared to explain why that is the best system for mankind, but be mindful that you are on the side of some very nasty people, while I just paraphrased Thomas Jefferson.
If government does have the power to restrict gun ownership, then what is the source of that power? To the totalitarian, the answer is simple: government can do what it wants, when it decides in its wisdom (ahem) that what it wants is good and beneficial or necessary. If you believe in the liberty of the individual, then answer is much more difficult. Where in the Constitution does the government get the power to ban any kind of gun? Even if the 2d Amendment does not guarantee an individual right, but rather a collective right – or even if we wrote the 2d Amendment out of existence, where would the government get the power to ban AR-15s, or any other kind of weapon? The answer, sadly, is the Interstate Commerce Clause. If you accept that answer, then please embrace your totalitarianism expressly, because such an interpretation of that much-abused clause places no restrictions on the government whatsoever.
2. The much-maligned AR-15 is not a uniquely destructive or lethal weapon. Oh, the media wants to convince you it is, but they also don’t know the difference between an AR-15 and an AK-47. The AR-15 is simply a style of rifle. It was designed by Armalite, which is where the “AR” part comes from, and is a wildly successful weapons platform, so it has been copied extensively, and you can buy one from Colt, or Bushmaster, or lots of other manufacturers, or you can build your own. Some people think “AR” stands for “assault rifle.” They are wrong.
With that in mind, the suggestion that the AR-15 should be banned is sort of like suggesting that Porsches should be banned. Cars are potentially lethal, right? They kill more Americans every year than shootings, right? Porsches are really fast, and speed contributes to lethality, and they are super fun to drive fast, so why not ban them? If it would save even one life, wouldn’t that be worth it? Except that no, it wouldn’t save even one life, because car buyers would simply get a different kind of fast car, of which there are many. Ban the AR-15? Fine, I’ll buy an SKS, or an AK-47, or a SCAR, or some other cool rifle. You will not have saved even a single life, all you will have done is made otherwise law-abiding citizens into criminals.
3. So why not ban all assault rifles? Well, Congress has tried, but it can’t be done. In order to ban a gun, you have to define the gun. As soon as you define it, a manufacturer will change the design so the new generation of guns doesn’t fit the definition. That’s how you end up with stupid laws that split two virtually identical weapons platforms into groups of legal and illegal. And again, you will not have saved even one life.
There’s another reason such an idea doesn’t save lives: you don’t need a rifle (of any sort) to commit mass murder. Seung-Shui Cho killed 32 people and injured 17 more at Virginia Tech, and he was armed with two pistols. That’s five more people than Adam Lanza killed at Sandy Hook. A rifle ban, no matter how comprehensive, would not have saved a single life in Virginia – not even of Cho had been interested in following the law.
The real problem at Virginia Tech was not about gun bans, or mental illness. It was about a defenseless target group with no capacity to stop the attacker. Anders Breivik, who murdered 77 people in Norway in 2011, was able to rack up such a staggering body count because, from first shot to last, he had more than one hour of utterly uninterrupted shooting against a completely defenseless target group. Oh, and he didn’t have an AR-15. He had a Ruger Mini-14 and a Glock pistol. An AR-15 ban would not have saved a single life – not even if Breivik had been interested in following the law.
4. But shouldn’t we “do something”? I’m in favor of doing something – strongly in favor, in fact – if I can be convinced that the “something” can rationally be shown to solve or ameliorate the problem. If the impulse is to simply “do something,” then why not ban abortions? Ah, but that’s different, isn’t it? Because banning abortions wouldn’t stop mass shootings, right? No, probably not. But neither would banning AR-15s. Why is one of those statements so obvious, and the other not? If your impulse is to “do something,” then be prepared to explain how your “something” of choice has some reasonable probability of bringing about the desired end. Otherwise, you’re practicing shamanism – you may as well sacrifice a chicken to appease the gods of mass-shootings.
Sometimes the “do something” takes the form of banning certain elements or features, like the “shoulder thing that goes up.” (Classic.) None of these proposals ever have any rational relationship to lethality. Banning a muzzle shroud does not make an AR-15 less lethal. Banning a bayonet lug will not make it less lethal. Requiring a lock on the magazine release, or limiting magazine size, or banning collapsible stocks, will not make the weapon less lethal. These purely cosmetic efforts are a sign of ignorant desperation, not of any real intent to solve a problem.
5. Everything I’ve said so far has been a backwards defense of the AR-15. To suggest that government has no power to ban the weapon, or that banning it would not achieve the desired ends, is not really a defense of the AR-15 as such, is it?
Firearms exist because they are effective tools. The AR-15 exists because it is an effective subset of that kind of tool. If you want to stop an attack by an opponent who is physically superior, an AR-15 will do that marvelously well. If the AR-15 is banned, you can achieve the same or similar effect with a different kind of rifle, of course. But if there is no positive benefit from the ban, and therefore no reason for the ban, then it should be left to the consumer to decide which, if any, weapons system to use.
6. What of the argument that the 2d Amendment was written in a time when no one could have imagined the AR-15? I have two responses to that. First, no one in James Madison’s day could have envisioned Harry Blackmun claiming that the 3d Amendment requires states to allow women to chop their babies into little bits and sell the organs for medical research – since when did liberals get so concerned with original intent?
My second argument is to consider the musket. What was a musket, in 1791? It was the single must effective hand-held killing device the world had ever seen. The framers knew this. And they wanted everyone to have one.
So what guns, reasonably speaking, should a private citizen be allowed to own? My answer is simple: anything that a tyrannical government could conceivably use against us. That is how Thomas Jefferson would answer. That, my friends, includes the humble AR-15.