Acosta's gotcha: "Why do people need an AR-15, anyway?"

Normally, I’d just roll my eyes at a dumb interview question like this, but as it happens, I just had the same conversation with friends earlier the same day. NRA board member Judge Philip Journey probably gets a lot more of it, and in much more hostile conditions — such as a CNN interview with Jim Acosta.


If Judge Journey already seems testy at this point, it’s because Acosta has led up to this clip with a series of gotcha questions, such as — I kid you not — “Can somebody bring an AR-15 in your courtroom, Judge?” The answer to that is that no one can bring any firearm into a courtroom, not even the flintlock muskets that people argue are the only firearms covered by the Second Amendment. They can’t even bring knives into courtrooms. Acosta either knows that and chooses to be manipulative, or is entirely ignorant of these issues altogether. Either way, he shouldn’t be on the air covering this story.

Consider that the context for the following performance art by Acosta (via Twitchy):

ACOSTA: It keeps coming back to the AR-15 and similar models. Why do people need an AR-15 anyway?

JOURNEY: You know, it’s just a semiautomatic rifle. You know, if you want to be prejudiced about the way it looks, but I was aware of what happened in the ’94 semiautomatic firearms ban and there were rifles of similar function that just didn’t look as ugly, they weren’t black guns like a Mini 14, a Ruger Mini 14, and of course the Ruger Mini 14 was appropriate and the AR-15 was not. If it had a bayonet log or (INAUDIBLE). So —


ACOSTA: I do want to ask you about the assault weapons ban that, you know, on the AR-15, how is it that an 18-year-old can buy an AR-15 style rifle and have 1600 rounds of ammo with him like we saw in Uvalde?

JOURNEY: Well, he did not have any prior convictions. He didn’t have any prior issues that would have kept him from purchasing one. It’s my understanding from the news that he purchased it through a firearms dealer, passed the background check because he didn’t have any prior convictions.

ACOSTA: Right, but should an 18-year-old have an AR-15?

JOURNEY: That’s how he bought it.

ACOSTA: Should an 18-year-old have an AR-15? What’s he going to do with it, go duck hunting?

JOURNEY: I don’t know. Should an 18-year-old have one in the army?

ACOSTA: They have military training in the army. This 18-year-old in Uvalde did not have military training. He turned 18 and he went out and bought an AR-15.

JOURNEY: And the fact is that these kinds of issues are far more complicated than whether we remove something from the public. These issues in criminal —


ACOSTA: You can’t buy a beer if you’re 18. You can’t buy a pack of cigarettes.

JOURNEY: — are more complicated than the easy answer. You want to know why politicians seem to go to gun control? Because it doesn’t cost them any money. Fixing the mental health system in this country costs money. I mean, I was around in the Senate and before I lived in Topeka when I watched them shut down the state mental hospitals and turn everyone out into the streets hoping the community based mental health would work and they wonder why they don’t show up every day to take their meds.


Why could he buy an AR-15 as an 18-year-old? Because he’s an adult, that’s why, and the Constitution gives all citizens that right. The Constitution does not grant the right to keep and bear cigarettes or booze. It’s worth noting too, as Judge Journey does here, that the perp passed the same background checks that some politicians insist on expanding to prevent such incidents.  Had law enforcement and prosecutors been more assertive with the perp in earlier incidents, his record would have prevented him from accessing any firearms, AR-15 or otherwise.

That brings me to my conversation with my friends, who are conservative but not particularly well versed in firearms. They too wondered why anyone should be allowed to own a “military assault rifle” like the AR-15. I patiently explained to them that the AR-15 is not a military rifle, and is also not a “machine gun” but a semi-automatic long-barrel firearm that isn’t different from any other semi-automatic firearms except in appearance and popularity. One trigger pull fires one bullet at a time, no more.

Furthermore, I then discussed the distribution of firearms homicides in the US as detailed in FBI data. In 2020, the the US had 17,813 homicides, the vast majority by firearms of one type or another. However, only 455 of those homicides were committed by rifles (which would include all “assault rifles” too) and another 203 by shotguns, which combine up for 658 homicides by long-barrel firearms. In the same year, 662 homicides were conducted with “personal weapons” — hands, fists, feet, and so on, and 1,739 were committed by knives or cutting instruments.


Most homicides are committed with handguns (8,029), not rifles, a phenomenon which is remarkably consistent every year. Another 5,000 cases involve firearms where the weapons are not specified, which is also pretty consistent year on year. It’s highly likely that the distribution of firearms involved mirrors the very large sample of identified firearm types in the same data. Why? Because handguns are easier to conceal, easier to handle, and easier to master.

When we finished the conversation, my friends were angry — not with me, but with the media for misleading them on what the AR-15 is and how it impacts crime in the US. This Acosta gotcha performance is exactly what they’re talking about.

Anyway, Journey’s correct about the problem in mass shootings. It’s a mental health issue and a failure to deal with malevolent actors before they commit dramatic massacres. It’s a lot easier and cheaper for politicians to fulminate about “assault weapons bans” that didn’t work in the past and won’t work now. It’s easier for hack reporters to do the same.

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