The news media just doesn’t get firearms.
I worked for a total of four newspapers over the course of my 15-year career in journalism. Two of those papers, The Lompoc Record and The Daily World (Aberdeen, Wash.) are hollow shells of what they once were. The third paper, The North County Times, no longer exists. And the last, The San Diego Union-Tribune, has shrunk in size and reverted to the industry mean when it comes to its editorial positions. Once, one of a few newspapers across the country with a relatively conservative editorial page, it is now indistinguishable from its big brother in Los Angeles, or just about any other paper in the nation.
In the wake of last week’s tragic massacre in Parkland, Fla., there were two newspaper articles on firearms—one editorial, one column—that stood out in my mind.
The first was this one from Matthew Hall, at the Union-Tribune, calling for an assault weapons ban.
Since 2016, as editorial and opinion director, I’ve written or edited numerous gun-violence editorials to suggest what should be done. After 49 people were slaughtered in an Orlando nightclub in June 2016, The San Diego Union-Tribune Editorial Board again advocated for an assault rifle ban, an improved federal background check system and a gun debate that didn’t devolve into histrionics.
Now, I’ve got no beef with improving the background check system. There’s a bill before Congress now called the Fix NICS Act that would help patch holes in the system which has repeatedly failed due to government incompetence. The Charleston church shooter, and the Sutherland Springs church shooter both should’ve been prevented from making legal firearms purchases. In both cases, government officials failed to enter disqualifying information into the NICS system.
The other problem is that the failure to purchase a gun legally wouldn’t necessarily have stopped either of those killers from their evil deed. There are always illegal ways to get guns, but we shouldn’t be making it easy for them.
Assault rifle ban
Let us set aside for a moment the misuse of the term “assault rifle.” Americans cannot legally purchase “assault rifles”—firearms with the ability to shoot either bursts of (typically) three rounds at a time, or fully automatic weapons. Typically more accurate is the manufactured-from-whole-cloth “assault weapon” term which is purely cosmetic. It captures firearms based upon how they look, not how they function.
Some of the weapons above would be considered “assault weapons.” Others would not. However, they all function exactly the same. So, you ban the scary looking ones, and men determined to do evil will just switch to the less scary but functionally identical ones. Note that none of the rifles pictured above are AR-15 or AK-47 pattern rifles.
What does that leave you with?
Ban by function, not cosmetics
Which brings us to this editorial by the San Luis Obispo Tribune.
At a minimum, that means keeping guns away from people with a history of committing acts of violence or of threatening acts of violence, and banning semiautomatic weapons once and for all. And by all means, improve mental health screening and treatment to reach ALL communities.
Here’s where the concerns about an “assault weapons” ban from Second Amendment supporters come to a head. For most gun-control advocates, I think they’re sincere that they don’t want “hunting” weapons banned, just these scary looking “assault weapons” that are favored by mass shooters. The worry from gun rights supporters is that once the opposition discovers that their “assault weapon” ban failed to include a bunch of weapons that work exactly the same, with the same potential for mass murder, they’ll take the next step.
What gun controllers really want, and The Tribune advocates above, possibly unwittingly, is a ban on all semiautomatic weapons.
That ban would include the vast majority of handguns sold today for self defense. It would include AR-15s, AK-47s and all the rifles pictured above. It would include the M1 Garand and the M1 Carbine—both World War II-era weapons. It would cover most of the firearms invented over the past 100+ years.
Estimates put more than 300 million firearms in civilian hands in America. Semiautomatic weapons easily make up at least one third of those weapons. I’ve said this before, want to start another Civil War? Try going door-to-door confiscating more than 100 million guns.
The Tribune’s Strawman
The Tribune editorial included this distortion of their opponents case.
1. Arm everyone to the teeth.
You want to be a teacher or a theater usher or a Little League coach? Then you had better pass a firearms qualification test and carry a weapon at all times, because you’re the designated “good guy with a gun.”
Word of warning: We should all be prepared for some collateral damage, because even the most well-intentioned “guys with guns” can make mistakes.
Also, if you are a “good guy with a gun,” be prepared to become collateral damage yourself when police mistake you for the actual shooter.
As I’ve made clear, along with every other person who advocates for “shall issue” concealed carry policies and, in this case, arming teachers and staff to prevent mass shootings, it is not a mandatory requirement for anyone or everyone. Forcing a handgun on someone who doesn’t want it or would never use it is stupid.
Then we get the “good guys miss” argument. I follow self-defense/firearm news pretty closely and while concealed carriers acting in self defense do miss (as do police officers, FBI agents and humans in general), if concealed carriers miss they appear less likely to injure an innocent person, probably because they may not draw or become involved if they have a good shot. That’s an option police generally don’t have. I don’t have any data on this other than the fact that I follow this news and can’t recall an instance where that was reported of a concealed carrier shooting a bystander.
The last point is always a concern. A concealed carrier acting in such a situation does take that risk upon themselves. Their best hope in that situation would be to obey police once they encounter them without hesitation, and hope the police are well-trained enough that they’re not trigger-happy.
High capacity magazine ban
The Union-Tribune editorial calls for a ban on high-capacity magazines, by which they mean standard capacity. Standard capacity for AR-15 pattern rifles is a 30 round magazine. Some handguns come standard with magazines carrying up to 15 or 17 rounds. In California, civilians are limited to 10-round magazines.
The statement from gun controllers is usually something along the lines of, “if you can’t hit them with 10 rounds, you shouldn’t be shooting.” If that’s the logic, then there is zero reason for law enforcement to have the higher capacity magazines.
But that’s not how real life works. You don’t know ahead of time how many bad guys there are, or how well they are armed. If you’re facing one bad guy, 10 rounds may be sufficient (unless he’s hopped up on PCP), if you’re facing a home invasion with four bad guys, 10 rounds may not seem sufficient.
News Media is Out of Touch on Firearms
While the Tribune and Union-Tribune editorials may represent a majority opinion in their respective communities, they do not represent the national consensus. Banning all semi-automatic firearms would require repeal of the 2nd Amendment, a proposition which would eventually require assent from 3/4 of the state legislatures.
The following states would likely vote to repeal the 2nd Amendment: Hawaii, California, Washington, Oregon, Colorado, New York, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota, Delaware, and Massachusetts. That’s 14. You need 38.
And I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. No gun control law is going to stop someone determined to do evil. If they can’t get a gun, they’ll build a bomb. If they can’t build a bomb, they’ll get in a car and run people down.