The Wrong Way To Argue About Assault Weapons

BY Herschel Smith
4 years, 4 months ago

In a well-intentioned article, Megan McArdle argues against Dianne Feinstein’s proposed new assault weapons ban this way.

There’s little evidence that the assault weapons ban achieved its ostensible purpose of making America safer; we did not see the predicted spike in crime when it expired in 2004. That’s not really surprising, because long guns aren’t used in the majority of gun crimes, and “assault weapon” is a largely cosmetic rather than functional description; the guns that were taken off the street were not noticeably more lethal than the ones that remained. It was a largely symbolic law that made proponents of gun control feel good about “doing something”.

But we should not have largely symbolic laws that require real and large regulatory interventions.  There should always  be a presumption in favor of economic liberty, as there is with other liberties; to justify curtailing them, we need a benefit more tangible than warm and fuzzy feelings in the hearts of American liberals.  But that is not the only reason that we should oppose ineffective, or marginally effective, regulations.  There’s also an important question of government and social capacity.

Every regulation you pass has a substantial non-monetary cost. Implementing it and overseeing that implementation absorbs some of the attention of legislators and agency heads, a finite resource.  It also increases the complexity of the regulatory code, and as the complexity increases, so does uncertainty.

Similarly, the Florida Assault Weapons Commission found no evidence of increased danger to the people of Florida from any specific kind of weapon.  But while the sentiment of McArdle’s commentary is laudable, the theme and thrust of the argument is not.

In Virginia, crime rates have continued to drop as gun sales soar.

Gun-related violent crime in Virginia has dropped steadily over the past six years as the sale of firearms has soared to a new record, according to an analysis of state crime data with state records of gun sales.

The total number of firearms purchased in Virginia increased 73 percent from 2006 to 2011. When state population increases are factored in, gun purchases per 100,000 Virginians rose 63 percent.

But the total number of gun-related violent crimes fell 24 percent over that period, and when adjusted for population, gun-related offenses dropped more than 27 percent, from 79 crimes per 100,000 in 2006 to 57 crimes in 2011.

The numbers appear to contradict a long-running popular narrative that more guns cause more violent crime, said Virginia Commonwealth University professor Thomas R. Baker, who compared Virginia crime data for those years with gun-dealer sales estimates obtained by the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

“While there is a wealth of academic literature attempting to demonstrate the relationship between guns and crime, a very simple and intuitive demonstration of the numbers seems to point away from the premise that more guns leads to more crime, at least in Virginia,” said Baker, who specializes in research methods and criminology theory and has an interest in gun issues.

The ownership of weapons neither causes increased violence nor enables would-be offenders.  What McArdle misses here is that lethality isn’t the point.  Utility is the point.  Over the Thanksgiving Holidays I shot a 0.27 bolt action rifle with nice glass.  The design is intended for target shooting or deer hunting, but not (per se) home or personal defense.  The round is nice, and I like the lack of recoil compared to 7.62 mm or other .30 variants, but my AR’s sweet 5.56 mm round with its high capacity magazine makes it my weapon of choice for personal defense, or one of my several handguns with high capacity magazines if they are what I happen to be carrying or holding at the time.

Leaving aside Hamilton’s argument in Federalist No. 28 (which would only serve to strengthen my point), it is unwise to argue that the stipulations of the assault weapons ban are merely cosmetic or incidental.  Any weapon that has a detachable magazine that contains more than ten rounds is considered to be an assault weapon, and this includes handguns.  Now, it’s important at this point to rehearse the recent example of Stephen Bayezes of South Carolina.

A North Augusta gun store owner used a semi-automatic weapon when he opened fire on three men who broke into his business early Thursday, killing one and sending two others to the hospital with gunshot wounds, officials said.

The break-in occurred around 4 a.m. at the Guns and Ammo Gunsmith, located on Edgefield Road in North Augusta, said Aiken County Sheriff’s Office Sgt. Jason Feemster, a spokesman for the agency.

Stephen Bayazes Jr., 57, who lives in an attached apartment in the rear of the business with his wife, said he awoke to a loud bang and the silent store alarm going off.

Police said he got out of bed, grabbed his AR-15 weapon and found three men inside the store.

The men crashed a vehicle into the business and were smashing display cases and taking guns when he said he heard one of the men shout, “kill that (expletive deleted ).”

He told investigators he emptied a .223-caliber 30-round magazine and then retreated to his room to reload.

When he returned, he said he saw the vehicle pulling out from the business.

Note again.  He emptied a 30-round magazine and then had to go for another.  In Do We Have A Constitutional Right To Own An AR?, I have also noted 2-, 3-, 4- and 5-man home invasions all over the country that could have been stopped with weapons and high capacity magazines.  Unfortunately, Mr. Bayazes’ experience isn’t unique.

The utility of a light recoil weapon firing with a high capacity magazine saved his life.  It is immoral to relegate any law abiding citizen to the use of a weapon that doesn’t have the features he needs to defend himself or his family.  But for Feinstein it isn’t about self defense or morality.  Nor is it important to her that Virginia statistics don’t lend support for the notion that her proposed controls would reduce crime (Here the point isn’t about correlation and causation.  In order to demonstrate that gun control achieves its “purported” purpose, one must find evidence that it reduces crime, and it is the absence of this evidence that is remarkable).

Gun control at its root has always been about gun control.  Feinstein is a statist, and her laws and regulations will always and forever increase the power of the state.  Feinstein sees through McArdle’s argument on cosmetics, which is why her proposed ban includes semi-automatic weapons.  There isn’t anything cosmetic about the aims of the gun control advocates.

Arguing that their bans don’t adequately distinguish between weapons leads them to refine their ban.  Arguing that there is equivalent lethality between weapons denies aspects of utility and design, and only causes them to ban weapons that have specific utility for home and self defense.  And arguing that their regulations were ineffective only embarrasses them to pass even more onerous ones.

The correct way to argue against Feinstein’s proposed assault weapons ban is to argue that there is no constitutional basis for such a ban, and any new assault weapons ban would be at least as immoral and obscene as the last one was.

UPDATE: Thanks to Glenn Reynolds for the attention.

UPDATE #2: Thanks to Michael Bane for the attention.

UPDATE #3: Thanks to David Codrea for the attention.

UPDATE #4: Thanks to Mike Vanderboegh for the attention.

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Instapundit » Blog Archive » CAPTAIN’S JOURNAL: The Wrong Way To Argue About Assault Weapons….

[…] CAPTAIN’S JOURNAL: The Wrong Way To Argue About Assault Weapons. […]


An “Assault Weapon” is a select fire rifle or Personal Defense Weapon (PDW), which means that it can operate in semi-auto or full-auto mode. The M-14, M-16 and MP5 are examples of such weapons.

The manufacture of transferable “Assault Weapons” (the ones you and I can buy) has been banned since 1986, and there are very few of them in the hands of American civilians, and those few are highly valued collectors items. The rifles these ignorant persons are talking about are “Modern Sporting Rifles”. The fact that they can use normal capacity magazines in no way affects their utility at the range or the deer camp.

In the ’80s it was rare to find a modern sporting rifle on the deer lease. These days you’d be hard pressed to find anything else!

Will these morons next insist that the only weapons legal for civilians to own are flint-locks?



This post should be entitled “The wrong way to Argue About the Wrong Way to Argue About Assualt Weapons.” It’s completely incoherent, wrong on the facts, and does not offer valid critisim of McArdle’s argument.


“Assault weapon” is a legal chimera, it means whatever guns the politicians want to ban and is without specificity. In California you can find bolt-action and single-shot rifles in the list of prohibited “assault weapons”.


An AR-15 is as much an assault weapon as a rhinestone is a diamond. They may look alike, and if you don’t know you may think they’re the same. Ask Di Fi if she’d be willing to buy my rhinestones at the going price for 0/0.0/0 diamonds per carat.


Nicely framed Herschel
No one is taking my AR or its magazines.
We need to stop this legislation with nicely framed arguments like yours


Senator Feinstein is vigorously anti-black and anti-woman in her placement of statist ideology over reduced crime and self-defense that semi-automatic gun ownership is overwhelmingly, statistically shown to be responsible for. Now that useful tools have given their vote to re-elect Obama, are they to be discarded once again for the power seizures of the radical statists in the party? No amount of free healthcare, birth control pills or condoms makes up for the loss of a woman’s life when she has had her right to self-defense stolen from her and her neighborhood made unsafe by rich, fat-cat Democrats who don’t face the same fears (with their bodyguards and police presence shifted to guard their rich neighborhoods).

America’s 1% fooled the nation once more into believing they were its populist saviors, not the plantation master.


Title 10 USC Section 311. (a) The militia of the United States consists of all able-bodied males at least 17 years of age and, except as provided in section 313 of title 32, under 45 years of age who are, or who have made a declaration of intention to become, citizens of the United States and of female citizens of the United States who are members of the National Guard.

The REAL correct argument is that if the gun has a military purpose, then the second amendment protects it because every member of the militia (see above) should be familiar with it and all other citizens should then also be able to own one–whether because they already owned one from when they were militia age or because they are involved in one way or another with training. (Besides, we aren’t going to say that an 18 year-old male can own one but the 21 year-old female who wants to defend herself from same cannot–do we?)

Digital Boy

Charlie, Socrates is correct. “Assault Weapon” is a semantically charged and biased term to demonize whatever instrument the politicians want. As noted, bolt action single shot rifles are listed on the AWB in CA (Barret, Armalite and other makers of .50BMG rifles are the specific examples I’m referring to.). That term was dreamed up to generate fear and anxiety in the voting public to win support for a huge federal infringement on the 2nd amendment.

An assault rifle is clearly defined by law enforcement and military: it is a single person, shoulder fired long arm of intermediate caliber (that is, more powerful than a handgun, but not as powerful as a full power rifle) that is capable of firing in semi-automatic, burst fire and/or fully automatic modes. Such weapons have been heavily regulated since 1927, and no new ones were able to be legally registered to ordinary citizens after the passage of the FOPA in 1986.

By using the language defined by the opponent, you’re limiting your arguments to ground they control. I’d refer to any so-called “assault weapon” as a modern sporting rifle.

It’s the freedom, stupid » Cold Fury

[…] what’s important, ignore what ain’t. . It is immoral to relegate any law abiding citizen to the use of a weapon that doesn’t have the […]

It is immoral to relegate any law abiding citizen to the use of a weapon that doesn’t have the features he needs to defend himself or his family. I think you have lost me at this point. In strategic thinking, there is a concept of a last resort. So how about my personal and family defense consists of: 1. High-capacity hand guns 2. High-capacity light-recoil semi automatic rifle 3. Fail-safe mutually assured self-destruct weapon #3 will trigger if automatically if myself and family members are reasoned to be dead. It works by posting a well known and iconic graphic on the front of my house or property – if you enter and kill me or my family, it won’t matter, because the entire property will be leveled. In your reasoning, just forget the 2nd amendment, there is no moral basis to regulate my weapon. The features of being able to level my property automatically is what is necessary to protect my family. Any harmful side effects to society, to myself or my family, or any other party is secondary, and the only consideration is what I personally find necessary to act in defense of my property and family. This is… Read more »

Point well taken!

The Captain’s Journal Has A Good Post On The “Anti-Assault Weapons” Campaign | Extrano's Alley, a gun blog

[…] Thank’s to a link at Instapundit, I see the Captain’s Journal has a discussion of the proper way to argue about so-called assault weapons. […]

William O. B'Livion
Mr. Smith: She is making *exactly* the right sort of argument to someone who doesn’t care about guns and doesn’t want to know anything about guns. Look, you and I have at least some understanding of violence. We *get* that you can’t put enough police on the street to “prevent” crime. Not that you can’t *afford* the police (you cannot) but that it simply is not possible to *identify* the bad guys before they commit a crime, and even if you could you couldn’t touch them because htey’d broken no law. You and I also understand that criminals are only half of it, that the other half is that active vigilance and a balance of power between the people and the state is necessary (well, no, a “balance” of power isn’t necessary, it is necessary that we have MORE power). But there’s a significant number of people in this country, most of them Obama Voters who *do not get that*. They think that calling 911 is adequate. They think that you *cannot* and *should not* fight against the government. And you and I aren’t going to change their minds about the *principle* of gun ownership. They aren’t principle kinda folks,… Read more »

Here’s my favorite illustration that gun ownership reduces violent crime:

There is a modern democracy in which the government issues every able bodied man between the ages of 20 and 30 is issued a fully automatic 5.56 mm rifle and 100 rounds of ammunition. He keeps the weapon in his residence and carries it openly in public. When he is discharged from the militia at age 30, he may keep the weapon if he allows the government to modify it from fully automatic (machine gun) to a semiautomatic rifle. Total murder rate among the Swiss is 0.4 per 100,000.

Twenty miles north of here in Birmingham Alabama, gun murders alone are 56 per 100,000.


McArdle is a rare breed, a big-government “libertarian”, who has never been outside the NY-DC corridor for more than a vacation, and who has fully embraced the high-tax, high-regulation DC mindset, as long as that regulation can somehow claim not to be “centrally planned.” For her, “libertarian” is a certain nuance of economic policy, and has nothing to do with individual liberty or limited government.

E.g., she’s fine with setting up a “carbon market”, which is about the ugliest form of rent-seeking imaginable, with the power of big government used to ensure that only the largest businesses and wealthiest investors can survive, while innovative “up and comers” are squashed dead in their tracks. How does a “libertarian” justify this? Well, it’s not “centrally-planned.”

One would hardly expect McArdle to understand the point of either limited government, nor individual liberty that goes beyond having more choices in expensive coffee drinks.

Transterrestrial Musings - “Assault Weapons”

[…] wrong way to argue against bans against them: Gun control at its root has always been about gun control. Feinstein is […]

charles austin

True, gun control is about gun control, but more to the point, gun control is about people control.

James Harris

@ Lowell: I would add that some states (i.e., Virginia) have a lower age that encompasses the “unorganized militia.” Virginia extends the age between 16 and 55 (as I recall); and, does not discriminate by gender the way the federal statute does.

@dpmaine: U R assuming harmful secondary effects as if somebody, to “protect themselves,” will install a doomsday thermo-nuclear device that will take out the whole area based on some kind of “deadman trigger.” That kind of outta-the-blue hyperbole just reinforces the notion that we all have a duty and obligation to be victims — itself, a most egregious outcome for the larger society. The arguments for the armed citizen are only those that put us on some kind of even footing (THEY still have the element of surprise, by being the vicious aggressor) with the forces of darkness and slavery around us.


Could you please define what you mean by ‘high capacity’.

Are you actually referring to standard capacity magazines, i.e. 30 round for an AR based weapon? Are you referring to 100 round AR magazines?

Or are you using the term gun banners have chosen to label anything other than a reduced capacity 10 round magazine?


I’ll stay bitter and cling to my guns and religion, thanks!

More Anti-Gun Control Articles. | The Bartelists

[…] The Wrong Way To Argue About Assault Weapons […]


Interesting how the statists frame the argument with semantics.

Police armed with semi automatic rifles no longer have “assault rifles” – they have “patrol rifles.”

Only untrained non law enforcement types have assault rifles – and this de-humanizes them to the level of justifiable potential targets.


“untrained” – intentionally dripping with sarcasm…

Daily Reading List (11-27-12)… « Truth, Lies and In Between

[…] The Wrong Way To Argue About Assault Weapons […]

So we are supposed to take this author to task because she thinks gun control laws are dumb…for the “wrong reasons”? Really? Are we only allowed One Truth now? I get your point. Don’t disagree with them. What concerns me is taking others to task for pointing other legitimate issues with such laws. Something the author seems to understand that some in our community do not, is that not everyone thinks about gun rights the way we do. We are fairly dogmatic in our approach to the right (and proud of it): restrictions are denials and almost always unconstitutional. But DC does not work that way, and no amount of whining by us will fix it. The fact is Feinstein is selling her proposal using a set of arguments that the author takes apart. This is valuable. It pokes holes in the sales pitch being used against us. Instead you would have us argue…what, exactly? That the entire legitimacy of Congressional enactments is broken? That any laws that restrict firearms are illicit affronts to the Constitution? In a modern Congress? Not sure that would help. Outcomes matter. And as much as I agree with your point of view, the simple… Read more »

If the police need high cap mags for self defense in handguns and rifles, we need them all the more. After all WE ARE THE FIRST RESPONDERS to any crime on us, our homes, and our business. The police arrive after the crime. If the police need full auto for self defense against criminals we need full auto. We are the first responders. Ask the victims of Sandy and Katrina and thousands of individual violent crimes nationwide.


Charlie, while your sentiment is correct, your terminology is not. Your are speaking of assault rifles. “Assault weapon” is a term invented in the late 80’s, or very early 90’s by Josh Sugarmann, of the violence policy center, a virulently anti-gun/anti-freedom organization, to confuse those unfamiliar with firearms about the capability of semi-automatic rifles.

Josh Sugarmann, author of the 1988 book “Assault Weapons and Accessories in America” laid out the strategy for all to see.

“Assault weapons-just like armor-piercing bullets, machine guns, and plastic firearms-are a new topic. The weapons’ menacing looks, coupled with the public’s confusion over fully automatic machine guns versus semi-automatic assault weapons-anything that looks like a machine gun is assumed to be a machine gun-can only increase the chance of public support for restrictions on these weapons.”

Herschel, I think the issue here is a single proposal based on illogical arguments. You cannot talk to a US Senator about rails, lights, Nazis or even mention the word “tactical”. If they don’t run, they will wish they had when they had the chance. Best case is they gloss over. For the record, I have had these talks with those people. I don’t have issue with your points. My only reason for saying anything at all was the large response to this article, mostly in the negative. I think we need to accept there are lots of ways to get a point across to those who make the votes. I don’t want us to discourage people like Megan from saying unpopular things to popular people. Her voice is going to be heard by more decision makers than any of us here, if only because of venue and exposure. While you might take issue with how her argument was crafted, the simple fact is it was crafted with good intention (you did readily admit that, of course). Don’t forget that her audience is not you. At all. The audience is inside the beltway. Hate it all you want, but they… Read more »

I’ve lived in many places with varying levels of “freedom”, not all in the USA. Be careful assuming my views come from my present geography. You don’t know what I’ve witnessed or done in the name of freedom. Dismissing viewpoints based on such trivialities certainly weakens the entire discussion. That’s what the people who work in Congress do when they see outside-the-beltway types: they dismiss your views as irrelevant. Let’s not do that to each other in our community.

We’ll keep this easy. We disagree. No worries. Thank you for the chance to opine in the context of this discussion. My goal was to suggest that talking multi-man invasion forces, Nazis and tactical lights to legislative leaders might not be the best messaging to get the job done. Hopefully it helps some of us consider the strategies we use to get the things we want.

Good luck. Enjoy the weather in NC. It’s starting to get chilly up here. Wishing I were home in Florida…

Joe Wright

Herachel: A .027 is a 270, a 7.63 mm is one of 30 caliber rounds , such as 308, 30-06, or 300 Win Mag, etc. You give away your lack of knowledge of fire arms with your stiff style of writing. Also, if someone questions your artical, explain it, don’t get pissed off, you loose in the end.

The Captain's Journal » The Washington Post On Virginia Gun Statistics

[…] dear.  Someone named Peter Galuszka waxes on about the Virginia gun statistics we briefly discussed. Virginians have been buying more firearms than ever, even though crime has been steadily falling. […]

The Captain's Journal » What Was That About Not Needing A High Capacity Magazine?

[…] Prior: The Wrong Way To Argue About Assault Weapons […]

The Captain's Journal » The War To Disarm America

[…] The Wrong Way To Argue About Assault Weapons […]


You are currently reading "The Wrong Way To Argue About Assault Weapons", entry #9432 on The Captain's Journal.

This article is filed under the category(s) AR-15s,Firearms,Guns,Second Amendment and was published November 25th, 2012 by Herschel Smith.

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