If you are firing at a person, a blast from a shotgun is much deadlier at close range* than the intermediate-size cartridges fired by AR-15s and other so-called assault weapons. That fact might count in favor of shotguns as self-defense weapons, but it also makes them more dangerous in the hands of criminals. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) nevertheless shares Biden’s affection for shotguns, listing hundreds that are exempt from her proposed “assault weapon” ban. A shotgun was also the weapon that President Obama picked to show he is is no gun banner (despite the fact that he wants to ban guns) in a widely mocked White House photo.

Contrary to the impression left by such favoritism, there is nothing inherently virtuous about shotguns, such that they can be used only for legitimate purposes and never to hurt or kill innocent people. On the same day that Biden lauded shotguns as the ideal weapons for home defense, a young man used one to murder three people in the Los Angeles area. In fact, shotguns are used in crimes considerably more often than the “assault weapons” that Biden and Feinstein say pose an intolerable threat to public safety. A 2004 study sponsored by the National Institute of Justice estimated that “assault weapons” (mostly pistols) were used in something like 2 percent of gun crimes before they were banned by a federal law that expired that year. By comparison, according to the National Crime Victimization Survey, shotguns were used in 5 percent of gun crimes in 1993, the year before Congress passed the “assault weapon” ban. In a 1997 survey of state and federal prison inmates, 7 percent of those who had carried a firearm while committing the crime for which they were serving time said it was a military-style semiautomatic, while 13 percent said it was a shotgun.