Question for Stacey Abrams: Would you support banning AR-15s and confiscating those in circulation?

She … does not answer directly.

This is no academic question for Georgia gun owners either, as their gubernatorial election is a pure toss-up right now. In fact, the latest poll has Abrams ahead by a point, the first time she’s led in any survey in three months. If a blue wave arrives next week, there’s every reason to believe she’s the next governor.

Good thing both houses of the Georgia legislature are dominated by Republicans!

Don’t take too much comfort in the legislature’s ability to thwart Gov. Abrams, though. Her winning in Georgia will resonate nationally just as Andrew Gillum winning across the border in Florida will. Gillum is running as a Bernie-style progressive; if he can beat a Trumpist like Ron DeSantis in the ultimate purple state, lefties will take it as proof that progressivism is viable nationally in 2020. Likewise, if Abrams can win in a red state like Georgia after declaring on national television that she’d ban the AR-15, that’ll be seen as evidence that gun-grabbing is feasible on a national level. All it takes is Democratic control of government. Georgians have less to fear from Abrams herself signing a bill to ban “assault weapons” than they do from an Abrams win emboldening Dems in Washington to revive gun bans.

“There is very little that can be done to protect vulnerable communities when the AR-15 is present,” she says when asked why she’d ban the gun, citing its firepower. If by “vulnerable communities” she means schools, that’s true — but it’s true of any gun (certainly any semiautomatic) used in an ambush attack. I assume that’s why she focuses on the AR-15’s firepower instead of its ability to fire rapidly in volume, which is the chief cause of high death tolls in school shootings. If she focused on rate of fire she’d be forced logically to call for a ban on all semiautomatics, which would be much riskier politically than zeroing in on the AR-15. The latter has been stigmatized because it’s the weapon of choice for deranged killers who imagine themselves as super-soldiers. Handguns have not. If she strays from wanting to ban stigmatized weapons to wanting to ban weapons commonly thought of as basic self-defense implements, she may fumble away the election.

As for the threat posed by AR-15s to less vulnerable communities, it’s small. In 2016 it was used in just two percent of gun deaths, and that two percent included the mass murder at the Pulse nightclub. The same year rifles as an entire class of weapons were responsible for a fraction of the deaths caused by knives. The reasons for that should be obvious: Most killers or would-be killers are trying their best not to get caught. They don’t want to carry around something that’s unwieldy and likely to be seen by witnesses when they could get the job done with a smaller, easily disposable weapon. The only type of murderer who insists on using a semiautomatic rifle is the psycho who’s looking to rack up a body count and wants the world to know that it’s his. If Abrams is sincerely worried about reducing the national/state death toll from gun violence it’d make more sense for her to focus on semiautomatic pistols than the AR-15. But, again: Risky! Better to focus on the stigmatized weapon as a symbolic gesture of gun disapproval than gamble your political future.

It’s standard in the U.S. for gun debates to ignore the actual facts of how guns are used and misused, though. For instance, suicides are by far the most common type of death resulting from gunshots. There are few communities more “vulnerable” than those who are very depressed and contemplating the end; if they were forced to find less lethal means of ending their lives, some who succeed with a gun would inevitably fail with a less lethal option and survive. Semiautomatic pistols (any pistol, really) are more likely to be used in suicides than an AR-15 is, again for obvious reasons. So why doesn’t Abrams want to ban those (or does she)? Lefties who hope to eliminate all semiautomatic weapons notwithstanding the right to self-defense guaranteed by the Second Amendment can at least cite the all-but-certain decline in suicide rates that would follow if they got their way. What would Abrams say to that? Yes to banning the majority of guns in the United States or no because making empty gestures on this subject is more conducive to electability? Own the logic of your position.