A Simple Primer on Assault Weapons Part II: Some Inconvenient Truths

The San Bernardino terrorist attacks have spawned an editorial on page one from the vaunted New York Times, its first time doing so in nearly a century. What would cause the Gray Lady to be so incensed? Surely it has something to do with the Islamic State, or maybe our vulnerability to other terrorist actions and our ability to combat it. Surely they would use such an unprecedented event for this menace that we can barely comprehend.

But no, that’s not what it used its front-page platform to discuss. Instead, it proclaimed the evil nature of so-called “assault weapons”, the end state being that if only we got rid of them, we’d solve the damn problem of ISIS attacking us on US soil.

As in my previous blog on assault weapons, I’m not going to get into a debate with respect to the second amendment or the he-said she-said gun control arguments. I’m simply going to relay some facts. Whenever something like this occurs, the first thing that erupts is emotion, which is exactly what this editorial contains. It’s long on emotion, but woefully short on facts.

The op ed’s end state is that we should eliminate weapons that “civilians can legally purchase [that are] designed to kill people with brutal speed and efficiency.” In other words, “weapons of war” which are solely designed to kill other humans should not be in the hands of civilians. Hunting rifles, in its opinion, should be the only weapons allowed. From this, I know immediately that the editorial board who wrote it has no business writing about weapons of any sort, because they apparently have absolutely no knowledge of the subject. Some facts:

1) While it’s not a particularly glowing endorsement on the human condition, every single firearm revolution in history came about specifically to kill another human. The secondary effect of such research and development was that it, as a tool, was also more efficient for hunting, target practice, and other sports. The bolt-action deer rifle the esteemed authors would presumably allow to remain in shooters’ hands was first designed and purchased by the Prussian army in the 19th century. The invention of the metal cartridge itself – or “bullet”, in Hollywood parlance – wasn’t made to put meat on the table, but to allow a soldier to reload faster without having to stand up from cover as he had to with a muzzle-loader. Rifling, which makes tac-driving long guns work their magic in NRA and Olympic competition, came about from the Civil War. John Browning designed the venerable 1911 handgun for the US Army in, of course, 1911. Today, it is one of the most widely replicated and used handgun designs on the competition circuit. The .30-06, one of the most widely used center-fire rifle cartridges for hunting of big game throughout the world, was invented by the military – to kill humans. And so it is with the venerable AR 15 platform that the article is decrying (by the way, the AR does not stand for Assault Rifle. It stands for Armalite – the first company to make the weapon). Currently, the AR 15 variant is the single most sold rifle platform in the United States. Why is that? Is it because everyone who purchases it wants to secretly slaughter humans? No. It’s because it is accurate, reliable, and easily modified for a plethora of different shooting situations and calibers. It is simply the evolution of firearms, and making a distinction, as if the AR 15 is a death-dealing weapon solely useful for killing humans, is incorrect. The very attributes the Army and Marines chose through its development directly translates to every lawful endeavor for which firearms are purchased, just as evolution in racing informs the next generation of automobiles. Anyone who’s tinkered with vehicles knows the term “street legal”. Some types of automobiles are only suited for the racetrack, but the R&D informs our everyday ride. The same is true of actual assault weapons – which are fully automatic, and already illegal to own – but the advances for legitimate civilian use can not be parsed simply because it was at one time invented for the military. To do so would reduce firearm ownership to the bow and arrow – something I’m sure the New York Times would love.

2) The article goes on to state that some calibers of ammunition should be banned as well, presumably meaning the one used in San Bernadino because the round is a death-dealing slaughter monster unfit for any lawful use. Once again, the writer shows little knowledge about ballistics. That caliber was 5.56/.223, the NATO round primarily found chambered in an AR 15 in the military  (actually the fully automatic M16/M4 variants). Guess what? In Afghanistan and elsewhere the US Military stated it was inefficient in its chosen purpose: That it was not very efficient in combat – it was not that great at killing humans – and something else was needed. Every time “assault weapons” are mentioned, there’s some talking head proclaiming how deadly the round is, failing to mention that the 5.56 round is less powerful than fully two-thirds of center-fire rifle cartridges used in hunting throughout the United States. It is not, pardon the pun, a magic bullet. I’m not sure how that little fact will play with the New York Times, but emotionally, it doesn’t really matter. All that is necessary is demonization. Facts are irrelevant.

3) The capstone paragraph, with typical NYT vagueness, states, “Certain kinds of weapons, like the slightly modified combat rifles used in California, and certain kinds of ammunition, must be outlawed for civilian ownership. It is possible to define those guns in a clear and effective way and, yes, it would require Americans who own those kinds of weapons to give them up for the good of their fellow citizens.” Apart from the scary implications, I’ve already shown in my previous blog that in fact, it is not possible to define those guns in a clear and effective way – and as a matter of fact, they are already outlawed in California. That didn’t seem to matter to the terrorists. Take a look at this in an alternate universe. Had the AR 15 platform been unavailable, what would they have used? Shotguns? The two pistols they already owned? The next hue and cry from the New York Times will be that those must be outlawed as well. What would happen then? They would have used their pipe bombs, causing potentially more death than they were allowed to inflict with the rifles. If that had happened, I’m sure the NY Times would demand that pipe bombs be outlawed. Oh, wait….

4) The relentless quest to obliterate civilian ownership of the AR platform in order to save lives is, on its face, a chimera. I’m assuming of course, since the NY Times put this on the front page – the first time they’ve done so in nearly a century – that they are actually attempting to save lives. In that endeavor, as an uninformed reader, emotionally I must assume that the evil AR platform must be one of the most used methods of humans killing other humans, since they’ve put so much emotional time and space into the editorial, but statistically it is not. In fact, it’s not even close. From 2010 to 2014, using FBI crime statistics, rifles of ALL types – lever action, bolt action, pump action, single shot and semi-auto – account for fewer homicides than hammers. Yes, you read that correctly. I’m not sure why we haven’t seen an editorial demanding the banning of blunt objects. Knives account for almost TEN TIMES as many deaths as rifles of all types. But I haven’t seen anyone demanding they be banned. I’m not making that up. It’s not an emotional appeal. It’s simply a fact. One other: Rifle deaths have been falling steadily year after year, even including the horrific mass attacks in recent years and the repeal of the so-called assault weapons ban. Yes, at the height of the vaunted ban that everyone is trying to reinstate, there were more deaths by rifles than there are after the ban’s repeal. Banning the AR platform again will not create the utopia that the New York Times hysterically proclaims. They can have their opinions, but they can’t have their own facts.

In the end, the New York Times makes much of people “deflecting attention” away from gun control by using “ridiculous” terms like terrorism, but they are only speaking from emotion. When facts are used, their statements don’t hold up. Anyone who cares to look can clearly see that their solution would do little in the way of preventing future death at the hands of Islamic Jihadists. And they know that as well, because their ultimate goal is total disarmament.

Something I’m sure ISIS would love.

By | 2015-12-06T22:12:19+00:00 December 6th, 2015|Blog|21 Comments

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21 Comments

  1. James MC December 6, 2015 at 10:33 pm - Reply

    As always, a clear and level-headed analysis of a hot-button topic based on sound facts, measured critical thinking, and zero emotion. Thank you for being a voice of reason.

  2. JK December 7, 2015 at 7:08 am - Reply

    Excellent essay!!!

  3. John Witt December 7, 2015 at 7:36 am - Reply

    Spot on Brad. Thanks for using your talents as a writer to relay the message that many of us agree with. Yes, the liberal argument is always based on emotion with out any regard to the facts. We see this in every statement they make. As you may know, there are many of us who do pay attention to facts and we are ready, willing, able, and well trained to face the evil that is in our country. Moreover, we will not be fooled by the liberal argument and will not be disarmed. We will fight back.

  4. António December 7, 2015 at 1:57 pm - Reply

    Hi.

    As a non-american citizen I probably don’t even have the right to comment on this question. But I do have some doubts.

    I generally agree with your position, and the fact that there are not that many murders committed with that kind of weapon, in comparison, for example, to crimes committed with knifes, is pretty clear.

    I do not know if it is easier to buy an assault rifle legally or through the black market. The same goes for any type of weapon, I have to assume.

    Hence it sounds very logical that if assault rifles are banned for some reason, they would still be used as weapons to commit crimes. For example, are assault rifles legal in Mexico? I don’t know, but cartels sure use them a lot from what can be seen.

    On the other hand, why do people push this question as hardly as they do? The President, the Media, etc., they do seem to support some type of ban or restriction. Why do they do it? It is just an ideological matter? Are there any support to those claims in statistics, law enforcement or academia?

    And if you do want to restrict this kind of weapon, how would you do it? Do you do more background checks? Do you ban this type of weapon altogether? What do you have to do, let’s say, if you are a normal US citizen and you want to buy this type of weapon?

    I am not sure as how do the firearms acquisition system works there. So I could in principle change my opinion on this matter (not that I am entitled to one anyway). But, prima facie, I have to agree with your point.

    • Brad Taylor December 7, 2015 at 2:28 pm - Reply

      I address some of your questions about how a ban would work in my first blog on the subject, which is to say, it didn’t work. In order to be effective, you would basically have to do what Australia did – which is confiscate every semi-auto firearm in the country, regardless of type. Thankfully, we have the Second Amendment. Basically, the AR 15 is a semi-auto rifle, period. It is chambered for a host of different calibers (I myself own – or will own – one chambered in .300 Blackout and 6.5 Creedmor), and a host of different lengths and styles. Which is to say, it’s no different and no harder to purchase than a Ruger .22 plinker – and it shouldn’t be. The black plastic doesn’t make it more deadly. As for Mexico, you bring up a good point: “Military Grade Weapons” (unclear how that’s defined) are illegal in Mexico. The media and politicians harp on it so much because of emotion and a lack of experience with firearms. Most have never fired a weapon in their life and thus have no stake in wanting to retain the right. The old saw of cars is a good example. Many,MANY more people are killed by vehicles every year, but nobody would think of a ban because everyone sees the utility. For firearms, it is only the ones who own one that see the utility, just like a vehicle. For the other side, it’s a zero sum game. Having no experience, all they see is the bad, and could care less about anyone having a firearm.

      • António December 7, 2015 at 3:29 pm - Reply

        I have read your previous post on this subject and it is informative.

        Probably they are scared of this type of firearm because they, as you have said, did not use them in their lives. I do think that the Media does not help either. Just assume that you have a picture of some guys at a private range shooting AK-47’s. People would probably think that they are terrorist just because of that particular weapon. So, besides the ignorance regarding the so called assault rifles, I think that there is an association between things that people usually find violent (war, terrorism, etc.) with those firearms. Don’t get me wrong, that association is obviously incorrect, but, seeing this from the outside, that is one of my conclusions.

        The car example is good: you have some object that has some function, but people use that object and the result is not the normal result. So, firearms (in this case, assault weapons) exist, in the civilian world, to hunt, to sports shooting competitions, home-defense, etc. Cars, on the other hand, exist for you to go from point x to point y, to rally racing, NASCAR, etc. But people use cars irresponsibly. They do cause accidents and sometimes kill other people due to negligent driving. And people use guns irresponsibly also. And some people use cars to kill. And some peoples use guns to kill. Although this is true, the example has some problems, but I think that overall it is a good example.

        You can also offer other type of arguments regarding this debate: for example, why do people are so concerned, in America, with assault rifles (I am not trying to be disrespectful to the victims and families, but there are statistically few assault rifles homicides/murders), and are not concerned to the same extent with gang violence and organized crime? As an outsider, that seems to be a way bigger problem to America than crimes committed with an legally acquired assault rifle.

        At the same time, I was thinking about restrictions regarding not the product (i.e. the so called assault rifles) but the costumer. Can you restrict who can buy this type of weapon? As I have said, I do not know that much about the US firearms acquisition system, but I do not have a clear opinion regarding this particular point, and I cannot decide who is right in this specific case of the debate.

        Finally, as you have said, this is probably an emotional/psychological problem: there are people who defend the right to bear assault rifles blindly, there are people who defend a ban blindly, etc. But from my point of view, through a superficial analysis of the crime statistics, the arguments, etc., the burden of proof is on the side of those who defend a ban.

        • Brad Taylor December 7, 2015 at 4:10 pm - Reply

          Yes, you can ban certain types of people from owning firearms – and we do. Felons, the mentally ill, those charged with domestic violence, etc, are all prevented from owning firearms. The catch is that we don’t have universal background checks required, like when an individual owner sells a weapon to someone. The bad guy must self report that they ARE a bad guy and the owner will take them at their word when they don’t (understand I’m not advocating this change because very few gun crimes involve a weapon purchased this way). As for further restrictions – not to murky up the water – but a lot of specific firearms that people equate with “assault weapons” are prevented from sale without an enormous bureaucracy that involves fingerprints and support/approval from a law enforcement authority where you live. These are NFA firearms and include short barreled rifles, suppressed weapons, and the like. What most people who have never shot a firearm don’t understand is that the weapons shown in the movies are practically nonexistent in the civilian sector already. They can be owned, but it is a huge hassle. These uninformed listen to the New York Times – think of the last Jason Bourne movie – then agree out of emotion, without knowing the facts. The NYT understands this, and uses that to ban weapons that are, on the whole, no more deadly than any other weapon with a wood stock.

          • António December 7, 2015 at 4:29 pm

            Yes, you are right. It is hard to prevent: if an individual doesn’t have a criminal record or some psychiatric record, and if his intention is to kill, he will not go to the store and say: “look dude i intend to kill, sell me an assault rifle”. It is impossible to prevent this. It is the same case with terrorist attacks in my opinion: no matter how many attacks you prevent, probably one will pass through. Unfortunately, everything in society is like that.

            You touch there on two important points: Media (journalism) and Hollywood. In a world where every subject is studied into detail by professionals, there are always people who are not specialized in a given topic saying things about it with a higher degree of certainty than they should. This is for some journalists out there (you gave some examples yourself in previous posts). And for Hollywood, it is probably one of the less realistic kind of art today. I am not an expert, but things in the movies are very different than in real life, at least from my experience. And the Jason Bourne syndrome is spot on! People think that you can go Rambo on everything! And that it is easy to manage a firearm. I am not an expert on firearms, but from where I stand, it is a problem that people think that everyone with a firearm is a potential Rambo.

            Good conversation, very informative as always Brad. Saw your interview in Malzberg’s show, and cannot wait to get to your last book. The rogue operator plot seems very interesting!

            Keep it up!

  5. frank adkins December 7, 2015 at 2:34 pm - Reply

    Hey Brad….there’s plenty we can do including expanding background checks, better screening of mentally ill wanting to purchase, etc., etc…..I’m positive you’ve researched it all. But have you considered that we as humankind have much bigger problems to solve?

  6. Roger December 18, 2015 at 4:57 pm - Reply

    I enjoyed your article. I know you are not commenting on the 2nd Amendment, but please allow me do so. As far as I am concerned the purpose of the 2nd Amendment is to allow American citizens the means to fight against a tyrannical, out-of-control federal government – similar to the one we have now. In order to fight tyranny and tyrannical rulers, it is necessary to have weapons that kill people. Obama and his kind will get my weapons only when they are pried from my cold, dead fingers. As a former Infantry soldier and a proud member of the NRA, I will fight (perhaps literally) against any attempts to erode my constitutional rights.

  7. Osama Magdi Elmageid December 21, 2015 at 12:40 am - Reply

    The only real defense against armed criminals is armed citizens. No matter how many mass shootings happen, one thing remains: Those that got killed were not armed nearly as well as the terrorists as was the case in San Bernardino. Besides, owning a firearm is a constitutional right. Of course, with such rights comes responsibilities.

  8. Eric Sowers December 25, 2015 at 3:36 pm - Reply

    It’s instructive to look at Great Britain and Australia, as both are the examples of successfully removing death-dealing tools from the irresponsible and criminally inclined. England has a fraction of our gun homicides per 100,000 population, but England’s classification process is not the same as ours. Here, when the police record a gunshot death, it instantly goes into the FBI data base. There, a death is not classified as a homicide until there is a homicide conviction, which can take years and, if the jury acquits, doesn’t appear as a statistic. If adjusted for this discrepancy, and suicides are removed, the numbers between countries becomes very close.
    England, the most surveilled nation in the Western World, with as many cameras as prople, has predictably ratcheted down from banning all firearms AND AMMUNITION, to banning public carry of a pocket knife with a blade exceeding 3″ if the blade locks. Yes, that includes Leatherman-type multi-tools. Five year felony. Or the sale of any edged metal to a person under 18, except a shaving cartridge. Five year felony.
    Even with all this control, read a current London newspaper and you will see cries for “doing something to stop all the senseless knife violence!” You may also see a report of a shooting with an illegal gun, because they are still floating around in Merry Olde England.
    Australia enacted a buyback program that netted approximately 25% of the firearms in private hands. Australia still has shootings. A cursory review of nations with the highest gun homicide rates in the world reveals the highest rates are nations – yes, as Mexico – that prohibit private gun ownership. Very simply, such legislation avails nothing. Furthermore, the thousands of gun control laws we already have here aren’t enforced. I’m certainly open to the logic of expanding laws that we aren’t enforcing as it is.
    I suspect this all has to do with the fact we call ourselves citizens, while Brits are subjects.

  9. I1 January 6, 2016 at 6:32 am - Reply

    When you’re attacked, there are only 2 options :

    1 Defend yourself and neutralize the attacker.

    2 Be the victim.

    When attacked by criminals wielding any sort of weapon with malicious intent, It’s always better to be prepared and safe than sorry.

  10. Willam Bud Croom Jr. March 12, 2016 at 11:39 am - Reply

    Very well done analysis of the AR15 platform and gun control mania in general. I’ve never had to fire a gun in combat, or in self defense. However if I did, having any gun that I was well trained with and understood completely would (unbelievably to many) cause less loss of life and more law abidance. I’ve always stood for a background check. However I live close to Fort Hood. In both those shootings, the shooter was a law abiding holder. So the only gun control that works is gun education as early as possible.

  11. William Bud Croom Jr. March 12, 2016 at 3:27 pm - Reply

    Great piece on AR15 and firearms in general. More informationlike this is defeinitely needed.

    Thanks, Bud Croom
    Salado, Texas

  12. Matthew Knight June 17, 2016 at 3:49 am - Reply
  13. Jonathan Sayles July 31, 2016 at 10:09 pm - Reply

    Read your (as always) deep / analytical piece. And yes guns in America is a solid 10 on a scale of 10 – of complex problems – possibly impractical to solve. This morning on CBS (of all channels) an hour and a half was devoted to guns in America – with many segments showing scary looking men (and even scarier looking women) packing, target shooting, practicing scenarios, etc. Made me wonder what risks I’d be taking if someone cut me off and I honked my horn.

    But there is thread about “good guys with guns” – which I’m certain is just an absolute B.S. argument, floated by the gun manufacturers, and echoed by their prostitutes the NRA & elected Congressmen/Senators who put money/profits ahead of human lives…. but I digress.

    On the show this A.M. there was a segment about an ex-Special Ops guy who killed a home invader – and who is now being carried on the shoulders of all the above as the poster-child for “good guys with guns”. But conveniently left out of all the adulation and marketing spin is the fact this guy is ex-Special Ops. And is incredibly well-trained, and also an American patriot who understands the taking of life – and all of its implications. But it’s the Special Ops training that’s the point, isn’t it?

    What % of good guys with guns are trained at the level of Special Ops? How about at 50% of Special Ops skills? 10% ? Maybe 1% (maybe). That’s the problem with the argument. You know how much time you have to spend shooting/and especially being shot at – to be even the least bit effective with a gun.

    So let’s please bring this argument a bit more front & center before coming down in a binary way about “good guys with guns” being a positive.

    • Brad Taylor August 1, 2016 at 9:19 am - Reply

      Thank you for the comment, but I actually think you are making it binary by positing that there are only two choices: Trained Special Operations = win/everyone else = lose. There are actually hundreds of stories of people defending themselves with firearms that have no military training at all, forget Special Forces. I will agree that firearms training in and of itself is imperative if one chooses to own a firearm – at the least to reduce the number of accidental deaths – but disagree that one needs to have been in combat before being able to use a firearm in self defense. https://www.usconcealedcarry.com/real-stories-of-self-defense-using-firearms/

      • Jonathan Saylees September 23, 2016 at 11:01 pm - Reply

        Well – first, thanks for answering my rant. And i understand where you’re coming from – in that there’s a continuum of training and experience between “Jus’ gimme the 38 special, and a box’a bullets” – and Special Ops. But the problem for me still is ..”When do you cross the line between firearm competence and being a danger to Rambo-self and others?”

        After Sandy Hook I clearly remember watching a show that featured a highly qualified firearms instructor who was ripping the NRA’s idiotic contention that Elementary School Teachers should all be armed and have guns in the classroom.

        His point was that- in reality, when under the extreme duress of a live gun fight – not only is weapons training necessary, but situational experience/training necessary – because of the basic human fight/flight. When guns start popping and bullets fly – to have the nerve to reach for weapon, arm it, aim it, fire it and take down a bad guy was just a laughable construct.

        So – on a scale of firing at stationary targets with a headset on – to a real life, danger-scenario what amount of training is minimally viable?

        Thanks again!

        • Brad Taylor September 23, 2016 at 11:42 pm - Reply

          Of course training is necessary, but handling a firearm isn’t black magic. It doesn’t take an enormous amount of training to learn to defend yourself. You mention special operations, but that is a universe away. When I enter a hostile crisis site, I have multiple problems facing me. I have a known threat, an unknown threat (whatever the bad guy has devised, and I have to take into account) a known hostage situation, and a huge amount of gray (is that a hostage, or someone pretending to be a hostage?) That is where the training you referred to earlier comes in. I have to make a split second decision of shoot or don’t shoot. That is not what we’re talking about. What we’re talking about is pretty simple: Someone enters an area and starts shooting. That’s a pretty clear cut line, with little discrimination, and one that could be defeated with limited training. As for arming all the teachers, I actually addressed that statement in the comments of another blog, agreeing with you. No way would I want sweet Miss Sunshine with a weapon. After I made the comments, I was asked to review the active shooter responses at my own daughter’s school, and learned that fully a third of the school were either certified as concealed carry (meaning they had to pass a background check AND a capabilities check), ex law enforcement, or ex military. Do I want every teacher armed? No way, because that would just be another government run program of certification where the lowest common denominator gets approved. But I WOULD say that if you have someone qualified at your school, they should be allowed to be armed. The difference in response is measured in minutes, and those minutes are measured in death. As for your discussion about a live gunfight, it isn’t as extreme as you say. It most certainly isn’t a “laughable construct”. As fate would have it, you sent this comment on the same day this happened:

          http://nbc4i.com/2016/09/23/woman-kills-one-suspect-after-unloading-her-gun-during-home-invasion/

          A petite asian woman took on three armed intruders busting into her home. Killed one, and caused the others to flee. Spare me the myth of “Working a firearm under duress is beyond the capabilities of the average human”. People who say that on TV are selling their training venues. “In order to be able to defend yourself, you must attend all of my classes, where I’ll teach you how to fight your way through a barricaded vehicle interdiction with simulated nuclear blasts.” Understand, I’m not saying AT ALL that training isn’t necessary, but you won’t find a “firearms expert” on TV who isn’t saying “More, more, more” because he’s trying to make a living.

  14. John Yen December 28, 2016 at 12:48 pm - Reply

    i think we need general firearm education as much or more than people who know how to use them or actually have a firearm. something like:
    real pistol, shotgun and rifle appearance and capability
    what’s legal in that jurisdiction
    if someone starts shooting, how to minimize being shot

    that’s it. there’s intentionally nothing about use, maintenance, firearm safety, or other ownership issues, and specifically nothing about stopping a shooter. just enough so maybe more people won’t have the misconceptions you addressed

    despite many non-Americans’ impression of America, or even many Americans’ impression from news and entertainment, i find a great many Americans actually know very little about firearms or current law about firearms

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