Biden: No, Obama and I haven't given up on the assault-weapons ban

Read to the end of the interview at NPR for his thoughts on the “black-helicopter crowd” worrying about the government trying to confiscate all guns, even as some Democratic members of Congress admit they’d like to see that happen. A taste:

Block: If you look at the numbers the vast majority of deaths in this country are not from assault weapons, they are from handguns. Are you really fixing the main problem?

Biden: No, you are not fixing the problem. That is like saying, does it make any sense to ban cigarette smoking while you still have global warming going on? C’mon. Does that fix the environmental problem? No. But it saves some people’s lives. Do you say the fact that we took lead out of gasoline? Does that solve the problem? No. It doesn’t. We still have too many emissions going into the air. But it helps. I find that a bizarre argument; if it doesn’t solve the whole problem but, guess what? The fact is that it does impact. The people I go to, to look to, when we talk about assault weapons and magazines; talk to the police officers. They are tired of being outgunned. They are tired of being outgunned.

Block: Well when you say it does save people’s lives there has to be some sort of calculus here, right? There has be to be some point where you say, is the number of lives that we save, does that outweigh the burdens and restrictions we put on millions of Americans. How do you draw that conclusion?

Biden: Tell me what the burden is that you have to buy three clips with 10 rounds versus one clip with 30. The cost is the same. What is the burden? What am I doing to infringe on your constitutional right? You can think of a thousand burdens we put on people that, in fact, are [INAUDIBLE] impact positively on society. It is one thing if you can tell me the burden is onerous.

The same could be said by more aggressive gun-grabbers about banning all semiautomatics, right? If you can still buy a revolver, what’s the burden? If you can still buy a shotgun, what’s the burden in banning all semiautomatic rifles? This gets to the heart of the objection from gun-rights supporters: The assault-weapons ban is so arbitrary that it must, logically, portend more aggressive regulation later. No one who thinks stricter gun control is the key to reducing gun violence would rationally stop at a class of weapons that look like machine guns cosmetically but function the same way as other, non-prohibited semiautomatic rifles. In fact, note how he switches from talking about assault weapons to talking about high-capacity magazines when the interviewer presses him on balancing people’s rights against the efficacy of new regulations. It’s easy to understand the argument against the magazines even if you don’t agree with it: It’s a smaller incursion on a gun owner’s rights than limiting his access to weapons and in theory it might limit the toll from a mass shooting by forcing the shooter to pause to reload more often so that bystanders can grab him. It’s harder to argue that taking the Bushmaster used by Adam Lanza off the market would save lives when permissible weapons like the Ruger Mini-14 fire just as quickly. You’ll have to ban that one too eventually, and many others, if you’re aiming for more than a symbolic gesture. But give Biden credit for one thing: Almost alone among Democrats, he’s been willing to admit that the new gun-control push won’t do much to stop the sort of horror that ostensibly inspired it.

But read the whole thing, especially the part where he crows about 56 percent support for banning “assault weapons.” We saw yesterday in a very different context what a slight change of phrase in a poll question can do; I wonder what would happen to the numbers on assault weapons if pollsters found a more accurate, less terrifying term to describe them. Here’s the real question, though: Why is Biden continuing to push the AWB when Reid insists there aren’t even 40(!) votes for it in the Senate? (Obama’s new chief of staff went so far on Tuesday to insist that the White House will “find the votes” for the AWB, which is nonsense on stilts.) He has two goals here, I think. One: He wants to insulate the White House from the backlash among liberals to the AWB’s failure by trying to push it off on Reid. He and Obama are still committed to it 100 percent; it’s that damned Democratic majority leader who’s gone wobbly. And two: Maybe he thinks that, by reaffirming the White House’s interest in it even at this late hour, he can squeeze 51 Democrats to vote yes when Feinstein introduces the AWB as an amendment to the main gun-control bill. That would be a moral victory insofar as it’d let O claim that a majority of the Senate voted for the ban even if it couldn’t pass cloture. And it’d make it a little easier for the White House to demagogue Republicans as the sole obstacle to the bill’s passage, even though that’d be a transparent lie.