While we all wait around to see whether or not the President is going to cave on gun control legislation, the editorial board at USA Today has published a lengthy screed about the need for moderation in what the Democrats should be asking for. They’re on board with a ban on “assault weapons” (along with extended magazines and other attachments) but they think that a mandatory “buyback” program or other forms of gun confiscation are a bridge too far. Why? Because it would cause people to stiffen their spines and reject the entire package.
In the real world, a federal ban on these military-style rifles would be a tough enough pill for Congress to swallow, given what would almost certainly be feverish opposition by the NRA, gun-makers and many gun owners.
But the legislation would absolutely be doomed if it included a mandatory buyback provision, making millions of law-abiding firearm owners criminals for not selling their rifles back to the federal government. Anything smacking of confiscation would breathe life and energy into the not-from-my-cold-dead-hands crowd, endangering law enforcement and likely putting a full stop to any further gun safety measures.
A better proposal would mirror the assault weapons ban of 1994, which outlawed the manufacture, sale and possession of these military-style rifles from the date of the bill’s enactment. Assault-style rifles legally owned before enactment were grandfathered.
What’s made clear in this editorial is that the editors are not arguing against gun confiscation because they think it’s wrong. They’re all in favor of it. They’re just worried that any sort of confiscation plan would scare citizens so badly that they would reject any and all gun control schemes. And they’re probably right.
Just as a side note here, I would once again point out that the government can’t really institute a “buyback” program. You can’t buy something back if you didn’t sell it in the first place. It remains a mystery why so many anti-gun rights people have such trouble with terminology.
But before we go leaping off the gun banning cliff, let’s keep in mind what the practical effects of such a ban would be. Any legally qualified buyer determined to have the most powerful weapon possible for use in a mass shooting or another crime has other options immediately available. If you ban the AR-style rifles, the shooter can simply go out and purchase something like the Remington .750 Woodmaster. It’s a semiautomatic rifle, virtually the same as the “assault rifle” but without all the scary-looking bits.
Even if all of the semiautomatic rifles disappeared overnight, there are a host of powerful semiautomatic handguns out there that can receive extended clips and, with practice, a shooter can swap out those clips very quickly. If we take the scenario one step further we can imagine that all the guns are gone. As we’ve seen in England recently, that will certainly slow people down, but they’ll still be out there trying to kill each other with knives.
In the end, as we’ve been saying here for years on end, we don’t have too many guns. We have too many criminals and crazy people. If we start by actually enforcing the laws we already have on the books and then focus on new mental health initiatives, you could almost certainly get the vast majority of the country behind you and perhaps even make some substantial progress. Crazy idea, I know. But maybe it’s just crazy enough to work.