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The thing you have to realize about “assault weapon bans” is that most of them are stupid.  I don’t mean that their end goal is stupid, I mean that they’re typically written by people who know fuck-all about guns, and fixate on cosmetic features that have literally no effect on a weapon’s lethality.

So.

Let’s talk about how to do this correctly, if you were intending to write such a ban.

The first thing is: forget cosmetics.  Forget outlawing pistol grips, foregrips, threaded barrels, flash hiders, fucking bayonet lugs and barrel shrouds.  None of those have any significant impact on the function of the weapon itself.  I’m pretty sure that nobody has died in a bayonet charge at a mass shooting, and while I actually am kinda surprised that no mass shooter that I’ve ever seen has shown up with a bayonet in position, since in theory it actually would be useful in a situation where you’re not facing armed people and the threat of a pointy object might make some would-be hero hesitate long enough for you to reload, the fact of the matter is that it doesn’t take a genius to strap a knife to his rifle, so worrying about the feature on a weapon is a waste of time.

So what do you worry about?

Rate of fire, magazine capacity, and speed of reloading.  That’s it.  Those are the three factors you need to consider, the only three factors you need to consider, and you have to keep in mind that the people who make and modify guns are going to be much better at figuring out ways around your restrictions than you are at writing them, because as we’ve already established, odds are good that you know fuck-all about guns.

I mean, the most recent proposed ban that I can think of does attempt to address those three issues.  Kinda.  After a fashion.  It at least extends the commonly acceptable definition of a semi-automatic weapon to pistols and shotguns, and differentiates between fixed and detachable magazines.

It also wastes a paragraph on defining what a barrel shroud is, and how they differ from other things designed to let you hold a gun without burning your fingers.  It fails to explain why that one is somehow worse than the apparently perfectly legal alternatives.

It has something on the order of 90 pages worth (of a 125 page bill, I might add) listed of weapons to which the ban does not apply, so clearly the framers suck ass at writing laws because they apparently can’t figure out how to write a clear definition of the three factors that matter without feeling like they need to go into detail.

Wanna have a bit of a laugh?  Here is the literal text from the bill defining an “assault weapon”:

‘‘(36) The term ‘semiautomatic assault weapon’ means any of the following, regardless of country of manufacture or caliber of ammunition accepted:
 
‘‘(A) A semiautomatic rifle that has the capacity to accept a detachable magazine and any 1 of the following:
    ‘‘(i) A pistol grip.
    ‘‘(ii) A forward grip.
    ‘‘(iii) A folding, telescoping, or detachable stock.
    ‘‘(iv) A grenade launcher or rocket launcher.
    ‘‘(v) A barrel shroud.
    ‘‘(vi) A threaded barrel.
 
‘‘(B) A semiautomatic rifle that has a fixed magazine with the capacity to accept more than 10 rounds, except for an attached tubular device designed to accept, and capable of operating only with, .22 caliber rimfire ammunition.
 
‘‘(C) Any part, combination of parts, component, device, attachment, or accessory that is designed or functions to accelerate the rate of fire of a semiautomatic rifle but not convert the semiautomatic rifle into a machinegun.
 
‘‘(D) A semiautomatic pistol that has the capacity to accept a detachable magazine and any 1 of the following:
    ‘‘(i) A threaded barrel.
    ‘‘(ii) A second pistol grip.
    ‘‘(iii) A barrel shroud.
    ‘‘(iv) The capacity to accept a detachable magazine at some location outside of the pistol grip.
    ‘‘(v) A semiautomatic version of an automatic firearm.
 
‘‘(E) A semiautomatic pistol with a fixed magazine that has the capacity to accept more than 10 rounds.
 
‘‘(F) A semiautomatic shotgun that has any 1 of the following:
    ‘‘(i) A folding, telescoping, or detachable stock.
    ‘‘(ii) A pistol grip.
    ‘‘(iii) A fixed magazine with the capacity to accept more than 5 rounds.
    ‘‘(iv) The ability to accept a detachable magazine.
    ‘‘(v) A forward grip.
    ‘‘(vi) A grenade launcher or rocket launcher.
‘‘(G) Any shotgun with a revolving cylinder.

 

SO MUCH TO UNPACK.

So let’s begin:


‘‘(A) A semiautomatic rifle that has the capacity to accept a detachable magazine and any 1 of the following:

‘‘(i) A pistol grip.  IRRELEVANT
‘‘(ii) A forward grip.  IRRELEVANT
‘‘(iii) A folding, telescoping, or detachable stock.  IRRELEVANT
‘‘(iv) A grenade launcher or rocket launcher.   ARE YOU SHITTING ME
‘‘(v) A barrel shroud.  IRRELEVANT
‘‘(vi) A threaded barrel.  IRRELEVANT

Aside from the already heavily regulated grenade launchers, none of these items have any effect on the functioning of the firearm.  NOT ONE.  For the most part they’re features that make the weapon a bit handier to use, and allow it to accept some small modifications, but you can make a fully functional semi-automatic rifle that you can use to gun down an entire school full of children without ever once crossing the line into an “assault weapon”.

Incidentally, later on in the bill they go on to include thumbhole stocks as falling within the purview of a “pistol grip”, so clearly they were paying at least some attention when H&K make the SL-8 last time around (and a few dozen other manufacturers made similar weapons), but shockingly enough, it’s still irrelevant.


‘‘(B) A semiautomatic rifle that has a fixed magazine with the capacity to accept more than 10 rounds, except for an attached tubular device designed to accept, and capable of operating only with, .22 caliber rimfire ammunition.


You see, I know what a tubular magazine is.  And if you’re laughing as hard as I am at all this, then you know what a tubular magazine is.

What part of this passage properly defines a tubular magazine?  Oh right, none of it.  It never even uses the word “magazine”.  All it defines is the shape of the “device”.  TUBULAR.

So I guess my hypothetical fixed 100 round helical magazine loaded with .22 WMR is perfectly legal, since it’s, y’know, tubular and filled with .22 caliber rimfire ammunition.  Even if said ammunition is reasonably comparable to 9x19mm Parabellum when fired from a rifle.

You have to love this one though.  If a rifle has a detachable magazine, it has to look a particular way or it’s an “assault weapon”.  If a rifle has a fixed magazine, however, suddenly all those things are irrelevant and a rifle can look like whatever it wants.


‘‘(C) Any part, combination of parts, component, device, attachment, or accessory that is designed or functions to accelerate the rate of fire of a semiautomatic rifle but not convert the semiautomatic rifle into a machinegun.


Sweet Mary Mother of God is this a vaguely worded passage.  Clearly intended to address things like bump stocks and trigger cranks, the language here is vague enough that anything you might use to emulate the effect of such an item becomes illegal.

So… like… the belt loops on your pants can be used, in theory, to help you bump fire a weapon.  So as that constitutes a “device”, your pants are now an assault weapon.

Honestly, the rest of these are just reiterations of ridiculous or irrelevant, but the one that gets me is including shotguns “with a revolving cylinder”.

Note that it doesn’t specify how many rounds you need in such a cylinder for it to be illegal.  So if someone were to produce some new variation on the old Colt 1855, which held a whopping five rounds in its chamber, and let’s say that they went one step further down the path of being ridiculous and gave it a single loading gate with a manual extractor, meaning that a lighting fast gunslinger with years of practice might be able to reload the weapon in less than an entire minute…

STILL AN ASSAULT WEAPON. Even more entertaining, while an actual Colt 1855 would be considered an antique firearm (having been manufactured before 1898), but a modern replica designed to fire modern ammunition would be an assault weapon.  Same gun.  Minimal difference in capability.

Clearly the Streetsweeper made quite an impression on some folks.  That or someone thinks that the Pancor Jackhammer was a weapon that actually saw production.

For me perhaps the funniest part of all of this is that if they really went through with the ban, and someone else was willing to put in the engineering time necessary, the only thing required to allow you to produce and sell a weapon that completely circumvented the law would be to find some way of making the weapon “semiautomatic” without actually using the recoil energy or gasses from the cartridge.

Incidentally, this is where the democratization of manufacturing comes into play, because it wouldn’t have to be some huge corporation like H&K or Colt.  Any competent engineer with the right software could design something to do the job, be it a high-speed linear actuator, or just the bastard child of a paintball gun and a proper rifle, but it can be done.  Nobody has ever bothered to do it, because aside from things like miniguns, there has never been a particularly good reason to go beyond the traditional methods.

On a related note, a minigun that fired a single round with each pull of the trigger would not be considered an assault weapon by this ban, because it is not considered a semiautomatic weapon as described.

I wonder how many such weapons you could sell before Congress got its act sufficiently together to write a new definition.  Probably quite a few.

Yes, it’s more hoops to jump through, and makes for a heavier, less wieldy weapon.  But it does serve to further illustrate the issue of ignorance as it impacts our laws.

Huh.

It just occurred to me that at long last, the Dardick tround could have its day.  I mean, it’s not a semiautomatic pistol, so having a 20 round fixed magazine like the model 2000 would be irrelevant to the law.  It’d be a bit of a pain to reload, but in a school shooting, for example, the shooter would have plenty of time between classrooms to use a few stripper clips.  And quite frankly, there’s nothing in the ban that would prevent you from making a tround-firing weapon that had a detachable magazine in the first place.

Holy crap.  The ban hasn’t even been enacted and it has already failed.

So where was I before I started the Gun Control Comedy Hour?

Right, three factors.

The bill does address, sort of, the issues of magazine capacity and speed of reloading.  And it attempts to address the notion of rate of fire, at least within the limits of its framers comprehension.  But the end result is a bill that has numerous ways to circumvent its desired goal, and some of them are just remarkably easy.

You could ban “high capacity” magazines, for example, and say that that, combined with the limitation on fixed magazine capacity, solves the issue.  Except that you can’t really ban high capacity magazines anymore.  Not if someone really wants one.  And I’m not talking about the fact that there are millions of such magazines in circulation.

No, you could round up every detachable box magazine rifle in the country, and every existing magazine for those weapons, melt them all into a giant peace sign, and so long as you allow the sale of future weapons with detachable magazines, it would be literally a matter of hours before the first high capacity magazines for such weapons were made available.

Because 3-D printers exist.

Have I mentioned that gun control really has no future?

Measures enacted now will be ineffective within a decade or two, at most.  We can build a Maginot Line of laws to protect us from the psychotic and the desperate, but technology is already headed for an end-run around those defenses, and stopping it will be functionally impossible.

3-D printers, desktop computer controlled milling machines, and increasingly user-friendly software for such devices will mean that within, say, ten years, it will be perfectly possible for anyone with sufficient interest to acquire the means to produce as many firearms as they choose (of relatively limited sophistication) using plans they downloaded from the internet and a handful of springs from the local hardware store, all for less than the cost of a single AR-15 today.  WWII saw the introduction of a bevy of fantastically cheap submachineguns, as warring powers vied to get the greatest number of bullets downrange for the cheapest cost; it will be nothing compared to what’s coming.

Really, I guess not a whole hell of a lot has changed since the first time I wrote about the futility of gun control.  I mean, 3-D printers are a lot more common now, and much more user-friendly, so the future is a little closer, but fundamentally, we’re in basically the same place, stuck in an untenable present as an unstoppable future rumbles towards us.

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