Thursday, April 09, 2009

A Fair Answer to a Fair Question

Here's a comment from an anonymous commenter on my last post:
Why exactly do people need an assault weapon? It isn't for hunting. Maybe we should just all carry guns all the time. That way if there is a shooter we can easily take him out....I mean it may make the cops life more difficult, not knowing who the bad guy is in that situation or cause some friendly fire deaths but hey....we'll have our guns...I just don't get it.
I think it's a fair question and as such deserves a fair answer. Anonymous, the simple answer is that there is no real difference between types of guns. All firearms are purpose-designed machines — they are all designed to fire projectiles long distances; they are all designed to be ergonomic and easy to use; they are all designed to be accurate, easy to load and to reload. They are not particularly complicated machines, without will and capable of being used by their operators for great good or great evil.

Sometimes we sort those machines in groups, usually by their gross physical characteristics, to make it easier to talk about them...handgun...rifle...shotgun, etc. "Assault weapons" is one of those categories, and it applies to military weapons designed for war. As a civilian, we cannot legally possess assault weapons...they are automatic weapons, designed to fire a full magazine of ammunition on a single trigger pull.

There are firearms that share some of the physical characteristics of military weapons in the same way that a family sedan might share a paint job with a NASCAR stocker or that a John Elway football jersey at a discount store might resemble the team jersey that great quarterback wore when he was playing. Because one thing looks like another, it doesn't mean the replica is the real thing. Your family sedan will not win at Daytona because it has the right paint job, and you are not a Hall of Fame quarterback because you wear the jersey.

Our enemies, however, have seized upon those physical similarities to create a false class of "assault weapons" and seek to have them banned or heavily controlled. Remember, the firearms in question are not more powerful, easier to shoot, hold more bullets or are in any way different from other firearms...except in they way they look. Our enemies want to control this false class of firearms solely because they seek to control — and ultimately eliminate — all firearms in civilian hands. They have been every open in describing this's hardly a secret. Even the largest antigun groups said of the last AWB that it was not designed to have an effect on crime, but rather to get the public "acclimated" to having whole classes of firearms banned.

Simply put, an attack on one class of firearms, or one specific firearm, is an attack on firearms rights as a whole. Our enemies understand that; if we fail to understand that, we will lose.

If I may also speak to your question of "need." In a consumer society, we are not obligated to demonstrate need to own any legal product. That's why there are 60 brands of toothpaste and a whole aisle of the supermarket filled with different brands and styles of bread. And unlike toothpaste and bread, firearms are protected by the Constitution as most recently stated in the Supreme Court decision on Heller

The reason the Founders chose to list firearms rights as second only to the right of free speech is that armed citizens represent the ultimate check and balance against the excesses of government. Ultimately, we all love our country, yet fear our government, and the Founders were wise enough to include a "fail safe" in the Bill of Rights. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Alex Kozinski said it far more eloquently than I ever could: 
But the simple truth -- born of experience -- is that tyranny thrives best where government need not fear the wrath of an armed people. Our own sorry history bears this out: Disarmament was the tool of choice for subjugating both slaves and free blacks in the South. In Florida, patrols searched blacks' homes for weapons, confiscated those found and punished their owners without judicial process. See Robert J. Cottrol & Raymond T. Diamond, The Second Amendment: Toward an Afro-Americanist Reconsideration, 80 Geo. L.J. 309, 338 (1991). In the North, by contrast, blacks exercised their right to bear arms to defend against racial mob violence. Id. at 341- 42. As Chief Justice Taney well appreciated, the institution of slavery required a class of people who lacked the means to resist. See Dred Scott v. Sandford, 60 U.S. (19 How.) 393, 417 (1857) (finding black citizenship unthinkable because it would give blacks the right to "keep and carry arms wherever they went"). A revolt by Nat Turner and a few dozen other armed blacks could be put down without much difficulty; one by four million armed blacks would have meant big trouble.

All too many of the other great tragedies of history -- Stalin's atrocities, the killing fields of Cambodia, the Holocaust, to name but a few -- were perpetrated by armed troops against unarmed populations. Many could well have been avoided or mitigated, had the perpetrators known their intended victims were equipped with a rifle and twenty bullets apiece, as the Militia Act required here. See Kleinfeld Dissent at 5997-99. If a few hundred Jewish fighters in the Warsaw Ghetto could hold off the Wehrmacht for almost a month with only a handful of weapons, six million Jews armed with rifles could not so easily have been herded into cattle cars.

My excellent colleagues have forgotten these bitter lessons of history. The prospect of tyranny may not grab the headlines the way vivid stories of gun crime routinely do. But few saw the Third Reich coming until it was too late. The Second Amendment is a doomsday provision, one designed for those exceptionally rare circumstances where all other rights have failed -- where the government refuses to stand for reelection and silences those who protest; where courts have lost the courage to oppose, or can find no one to enforce their decrees*. However improbable these contingencies may seem today, facing them unprepared is a mistake a free people get to make only once.

Fortunately, the Framers were wise enough to entrench the right of the people to keep and bear arms within our constitutional structure. The purpose and importance of that right was still fresh in their minds, and they spelled it out clearly so it would not be forgotten. Despite the panel's mighty struggle to erase these words, they remain, and the people themselves can read what they say plainly enough:

A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.


Robb Allen said...

Michael, I don't really want to be a pedantic ass, but when you say
"As a civilian, we cannot legally possess assault weapons...", this is incorrect. We can own automatic weapons with proper tax stamps, background checks, a permission slip from your local sheriff, and only purchase a firearm made before 1987.

Hell, if you have enough cash, you can buy a howitzer, perfectly legal.

I know it's splitting hairs, but it's important to remind those who fear guns that yes, it is legal to have fully automatic firearms and no, there aren't hundreds of stories a day of people going berserk like Rambo because of them.

bgary said...

Well done, Michael.

BigBlk said...

Well said, sir. You should submit this for publication everywhere you can. More people need to see a message like this, especially in a day and age when our government is actively trying to work against us.

Anonymous said...

Saying that an "assault rifle" is designed to empty the magazine with one pull of the trigger is disingenuous also. It is "designed" to be fired at an enemy and is capable of being fired continuously if necessary. You sounded like a reporter for ABC using that description.

Hazcat said...


Yes, we could all 'nit pick' BUT the basic answer is spot on.

Bob G. said...

Brilliantly stated...thank you.

As to the whole "assault" rifle nomenclature, it can be deceiving.
ANY assault rifle is a SELECT FIRE weapon.
You can choose single shot, 3 rnd bursts or full auto (in military mode).
Typical civvie rifles are semi-automatic.
One pull - one shot

IF they are "modified" to fire bursts or full auto, the FEDS can arrest your ass, unless you have ALL the proper licensing to OWN and/or SELL such weapons (like Robb Allen said).

SUB-GUNS (machine pistols), on the other hand fire full-auto (as long as the trigger is held back), but can be fired in bursts (with a soft touch).
They come under the same licensing guidelines and laws.

Then are the dozens of flavors the high-powered rifles come in.
And in all actuality, they are more lethal than assault rifles. They have DISTANCE working for them, even if they're semi, lever, or bolt action. They have a very limited mag cap as well.
Use only if you want to "reach out and touch someone".

Personally, I can't think of ANY good reason to hunt deer (or any other animal) with an M-249 or a .45 Kriss.

Good post.

Anonymous said...


Extremely well-said, despite the nitpicking of some commenters. I concur with BigBlk, this should be published wherever you can. It is as concise a summary of the situation as I have read.

Anonymous said...

Michael, this should be turned into a public service announcement and played on every radio and TV in the country. Excellent work!

Middle Man said...

Hell, we don't need a lot of the things we buy as consumers. However, that whole "pursuit of happiness" clause and Bill of Rights precludes demonstration of need as relating to the what, how, and why consumers consume. The Founding Fathers also knew that individual and individual liberty mattered. They did not found a country populated by subjects, but a nation composed of individual citizens.

Chas said...

"Why exactly do people need an assault weapon?"

For effective prevention of government mass murders, such as those that took millions of lives in the 20th century. The false choice of occasional shootings vs. gun control and no shootings, omits the millions killed when gun control was in place. We have a moral obligation to resist that, and therefore have a moral obligation to own assault weapons.

Anonymous said...

The original questioner needs to understand it's not about gun control, it's about people control. the mushroom

nj_larry said...

Every so often we need to read the documents that established this nation. The Declaration of Independence is one whose words spell out in no uncertain terms how government and men have certain obligations:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security...

And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor.

God Bless America, and thank God for the Second Amendment !

Anonymous said...

"Why exactly do people need an assault weapon?"

For the same reason why someone would want a Corvette or a Ferrari. Because they can.

Anonymous said...

"Why exactly do people need an assault weapon?"

Why does anybody need a fire extinguisher- your not fire fighter.
Why does any one need a computer- your not a journalist.
And why does anybody need high speed internet- why do you fel the need to exercise your 1 st ammendement right so fast?

Anonymous said...

The notion of "need" should not be a basis for legislation. There is no need for a motorcycle that can go 150+ MPH. There is no need for a car that goes over 80 or 100 MPH. There is no need to have more than one TV in the house of more than one gallon total of alcohol. When we let politicians pander to overly vocal constituencies with legislation based on the argument of "need", we lose our rights in a piecemeal fashion.

Robb Allen said...

Just so I'm clear, I'm very, very, very much in agreement with Michael. But it isn't illegal to own an automatic firearm, that's all.

Joe Doaks said...

Whenever someone says, 'No one needs a (whatever),' I say 'Let's play a fun game - we'll go to your house and see if we can find anything you don't need.'

I congratulate you Michael on your patience and friendly honesty toward the questioner. A perfect example for gun enthusiasts eager to proselytize, me included.

Best - Joe.

RKL said...

In my opinion when you look at the 2nd amendment, it comes down to the definition of "arms". I don't claim to be an authority on this, so please be gentle if you disagree. I read the text of the Heller decision and this issue was a point that was discussed. "Arms" at the time of the writing of the Constitution were long rifles and pistols. I don't think the founders intended 16" bore cannons. My opinion is that "arms" today should be regarded as any small arms that are used by the military. That would be for example an M16, a M14, a 50 cal, and all pistols, but not a M1 Abrams tank. Now this definition is probably not perfect, but my point is, shouldn't we as gun owners, voters, citizens and free men decide what that definition is, and not the courts?


George said...

The framework for more restrictions has been laid. The foundation was set 75 years ago in the National Firearms Act of 1934. Space and time restrict me from elaborating, but we will have a very hard time contending that registering certain types of semi-automatic weapons is unconstitutional when we have stood by for 75 years and protested not a wit about the NFA.....Think about it....

RKL said...

George: I agree with you, but my point is, why don't we define it now? Why do we sit around and wait for court decisions? Why don't we educate the public better? People like you and I understand, but the general public does not. That's our fault, and we should correct it.


Anonymous said...

RKL, the Founders use of the word "Arms" was intended to allow the Citizen to purchase any weapon the Military could purchase. Until the NFA was passed companies like Bannermans in NY sold (By Mail order) every form of military equipment from hats to (literally ) howitzers.
The founding Fathers were well aware that the reason the battle of Bunker Hill was lost was because the Patriots lacked Bayonets when their ammunition ran out. They did not intend for "We the People" to lose our freedom because we lacked proper equipment.
Tom Bogan

Anonymous said...

I need the type of gun that will protect me and my family. I need the type of gun that has been proven to be effective by police and military agencies. I need the gun that can be secured from unauthorized use. I need the gun that can be discreetly concealed, so as not to incite others, if they are incitable. I need the gun that is a durable tool. I need the gun that I want to have. I am not a criminal and do not intend to commit crimes. There isn't much else to explain.
Life Member

Stephen King said... really are a professional writer!

Anonymous said...

I cannot and will not depend on the government to protect me! I live directly behind my police department and response time is still over 5 minutes! To the gentleman who questioned why we need these types of weapons, do you want to stand helpless for those 5 minutes while some deranged social drop-out attacks your loved ones? I carry a gun because a cop is too heavy stupid!

Gun Shy Tourist said...

Your article was so good that I just had to link to it:

Anonymous said...

The original comment said, "It isn't for hunting..." among the other mistakes. Heck yes they are! Darn effective varmint killer. I use mine on coyotes, several buddies use them for prairie dogs. But as we all like to say, the second ammendment aint about hunting! larry weeks

John Richardson said...

Simply excellent. I plan to send this around.

Gene said...



I had a buddy ask me why someone would need a semi-auto. I turned it around on him and asked him why he needed an automatic transmition? Him knowing my dad was killed by someone weilding a vehicle with an automatic transmition he grew awful quite awful quick.

Dan said...

Couple of points from Anon's question:

1) Yes, I do carry a firearm with me everywhere. I also wear my seat belt in my car and a helmet while riding my bicycle. I was never a boyscout, but I believe in their excellent motto: BE PREPARED.

2) The police can quickly decide who the good guy with the gun is and who the bad guy with the gun is. The bad guy is the one who points their gun at them. The good guy has his properly stowed in the holster. The bad guy is the one pointing their gun at the convenience store clerk. The good guy has his properly stowed in the holster. The bad guy is the one pointing their gun at a robbery victim. The good guy is the one who shoots back.

The Freeholder said...

Each time I read that dissent from Judge Kozinski, I am simply in awe. Not because of the brilliance of his reason, but more to the depth of which he "gets it". Here is a man who absolutely understands why an armed citizenry is necessary, and who is not afraid of that reason.

He may have been writing in dissent, but he had it right.

Oh yeah, and your answer was pretty good, too. :-)