Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Some Thoughts About "On Assault Rifles"

This week's Woodpile Report contains a guest post entitled "On Assault Rifles" by B. Chandler, from Australia. I recommend that you read the guest post first, but for those who don't want to, Chandler's basic thesis is that a ban on assault weapons in the United States would be accompanied by a buy-back and amnesty period (which would be extended numerous times) until the protesters are tapped out and the manufacturers and sellers have shut down; there will be the occasional arrest, but the majority of weapons remaining in circulation will be buried or hidden in closets, until "[t]he odd AR or AK will turn up in grand-dad's wardrobe after he shuffles off this mortal coil and the lawful ownership of such weapons in the USA will end not with a bang but with a whimper."

Chandler offers up his scenario from the perspective of what happened in Australia. Perhaps it would work out that way here. However, Chandler, I believe, forgets that the United States did have an "assault weapon" bill that, while not requiring confiscation, did prohibit the importation, manufacture and sale of "assault rifles." I think he also underestimates the position that firearms occupy in the national psyche.

The United States' assault rifle ban took effect in 1994. At that time, in the eyes of even most gun-owners, such rifles were truly fringe: I think it would be safe to say that even a majority of gun owners at that time would have agreed that only criminals and survivalist wanted "assault rifles." Liberals on both sides of the aisle thought that the ban would be easy to pass. However, even though very few people owned or even wanted an "assault rifle," there was a growing grass-roots opposition to gun control in any form. Enough gun-owners saw the "assault rifle" ban as a precursor to a ban on handguns that the "assault rifle" ban was only able to be passed by including a sunset provision. The belief on the political Left and from the Moderates was that the ban would be easily renewed.

It didn't work out that way. The primary result of the ban being passed was a political backlash that resulted in, among other things, Speaker of the House Tom Foley losing re-election. He was the first presiding Speaker of the House to lose reelection since 1862. The backlash was also credited with the Republicans gaining control of the House of Representatives.

Something else happened. The ban popularized modern rifles. People that previously had no interest in "assault rifles" suddenly wanted one. Demand (and prices) for pre-ban rifles went through the roof. Firearms manufacturers and importers went to ridiculous lengths to get around the ban. So-called "assault rifles" went from being fringe firearms in 1994, to the most popular models of rifles being sold during the last decade.

The 1994 ban also prohibited the manufacture and sale of magazines of more than 10 rounds. Magazine manufacturers went into overdrive to produce magazines before the 10-round limit went into effect. Because of the pre-ban surge in production, the larger-capacity magazines could still be readily found and purchased up through the expiration of the ban in 2004. The public also responded to the magazine limit, at least in the realm of handguns, by shifting from 9 mm to larger rounds such as .45 and .40 S&W under the perception that if they couldn't own a gun with a large magazine capacity, then they would own one using deadlier rounds.

The biggest consequence of the 1994 ban, though, was the increased political and social resistance from gun owners. Politicians learned that gun owners are dedicated and do not forgive or forget.

So, getting back to Chandler's scenario, what would happen if the federal government banned "assault rifles," but this time required such rifles to be turned over or destroyed. I don't believe that the reaction would be an armed civil revolt, but a repeat of what happened in 1994 writ large. There would be lawsuits: not only over the constitutionality of the ban, but whether or not the amounts being provided for the buy-back provided just compensation for a government taking. Worst case scenario for the federal government would be that the ban was upheld, but that each firearm confiscated had to be evaluated as to its worth. I could easily see the federal courts grind to a standstill attempting to deal with appeals of such decisions.

There would also be a political backlash--but stronger this second time around. It wouldn't just be Democrats losing; it would be long sitting RHINOs. The Tea Party movement is only a pale shadow of what would happen in the aftermath of a new "assault rifle" ban.

But let's say that the ban wasn't declared un-constitutional or repealed by a new host of politicians. Past experience also provides guidance here: Manufacturers would quickly develop work-arounds. Parts would still be made and sold. Businesses that appeared to work with the government would be boycotted and blackballed (remember the fall of Smith & Wesson after it voluntarily agreed to demands from the gun-control organizations). Some states and localities would prohibit their law enforcement from participating or cooperating with federal authorities to enforce the ban, with the result that it would, for all intents and purposes, not be enforced in those locales. We might even see something similar to the sale of marijuana or "sanctuary cities," where certain States or locales specifically permit "assault weapons" in defiance of federal law.

And, because of the impossibility of enforcing the whole thing, my prediction is that there would arise a growing contempt for not only such a ban, but for federal laws in general. There wouldn't be armed revolution, but there would be wide spread indifference to obeying and enforcing the ban. Just as with the 1994 ban, it would be the ban, not the ownership of such weapons, that would end with a whimper.


  1. I think your analysis of Mr. Chandler's essay on a new Federal "assault weapons" ban is probably correct. However, Chandler's essay is premised on legislation being passed requiring the surrender of "assault weapons", which was not case with the 1994 Assault Weapons Ban. The 1994 ban grandfathered existing "assault weapons" and their high capacity magazines. Further, the 1994 ban was premised on a comical list of cosmetic features and a list of specific models of firearms to be outright banned from future sale. One cannot assume that a future ban would be so ill-informed.

    I have a hard time dismissing Mr. Chandler because of the surprisingly muted response to all the completely outrageous things the Obama regime has been able "accomplish" - things any sane person would have considered impossible eight years ago. The reaction by normal people - the people most likely to own "assault weapons" - has been to buckle under and try to adapt. Sure, people are angry - seething with anger - but that anger hasn't translated into action.

    If the regime bans "assault weapons" and actually tries to confiscate them (a real possibility given the hubris of this regime), there will be massive blow-back. On the other hand, if the regime enacts a ban but tries to rely on bluff and bluster combined with a few outrageous high profile prosecutions - the Chandler scenario - people will try to stay under the radar.

  2. I had considered that the 1994 ban did not require confiscation. However, the record of similar bans in particular states has shown virtually no compliance. So there is no reason to expect compliance on a national scale. Similarly, in these states (e.g., New York and California), manufacturers did come up with work arounds. There would be an even greater incentive on a national scale.

    As for the "muted response" to Obama's actions, there are two things I would point out. First, there was a strong backlash that showed up in the Democrats first losing the House and then the Senate. The problem is that the politicians have not acted according to their constituents' wishes, which may come back to haunt them in later elections. Second, the political indifference rests with those who support gun control rather than gun owners. As I noted, gun owners are particularly motivated--they can be strong single-issue voters if necessary. Those supporting gun control, on the other hand, are mostly low-information voters that, as long as they have the basic necessities of life, will not get too worked up over the subject. Thus, where it matters--the voting booths--those supporting gun rights have the advantage of numbers.

    In short, the very factors that worked in favor of gun control in Australia work against it here in the United States.


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