Friday, January 18, 2013

Learning from Sandy Hook

Connecticut had a so-called ban on so-called assault weapons in place in December when Adam Lanza used a legal weapon to kill 26 people in Sandy Hook Elementary School. We should learn from this.

Connecticut has an assault-weapons ban, modeled after a federal law that was enacted in 1994 before expiring a decade later. But it takes more than a dark fiberglass body and a menacing shape to fall under the ban.

The Connecticut law restricts semi-automatic rifles — those capable of firing a bullet with each pull of the trigger — only if they include a detachable magazine as well as at least two of five specific features. One of those features — a pistol grip — is ubiquitous on military-style weapons. But to be banned, an AR-15-style rifle would also need to include a folding or telescoping stock, a bayonet mount, a grenade launcher or a flash suppressor, a device typically screwed on to the end of the muzzle to limit the bright flash caused by gunpowder that ignites outside of the muzzle.

Aware of the restrictions in some states, weapons manufacturers have modified some models to stay within the laws. Bushmaster, for example, offers a "state-compliant" model with a telescoping stock that simply has been pinned in the fully open position, making it legal for sale.
The federal assault weapon ban that we had in place from 1994 to 2004 was useless as anything more than a  statement of social norm. If President Obama is going to the mat for something, it shouldn't be this.

Obama should pursue policies whose results rely on more than luck in reducing mass killings and other gun deaths. Since the federal ban expired, mass killings have gone up, but that looks like a coincidence to me.

It's the power and rapid fire of these rifles that matter, not whether they can fix a bayonet or have a flash suppressor. While addressing muzzle velocity and firing speed is much harder, it would be useful, not mere political window dressing.

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