Assault Weapons Bans: Are You Ready?

Depending on your age, you may or may not have been affected by the 1994 Assault Weapons Ban, the one that was allowed to expire in 2004. During the ban, sales of certain types of semi-automatic AR-15s and other scary-looking guns were limited to military and LE personnel. Even more restrictive, magazines were limited to a maximum of 10 rounds for just about any kind of weapon, pistol, rifle, whatever. Versions of this ban still exist in some states – notably California and Massachusetts – which still strictly regulate certain types of weapons and magazine sizes.

When the ’94 ban went into effect, everything that had been manufactured to that point was grandfathered in. So if you already owned a firearm covered by the ban or a large capacity magazine, you could keep it, sell it or whatever, but you couln’t purchase any newly manufactured magazines or guns that were covered by the law.

Manufacturers were required to mark newly made weapons and mags as “For LE/Military use only” or words to that effect. As you can imagine, this drove up the prices of pre-ban weapons and magazines. Fortunately, things never got quite as ridiculous as they have with machine guns since the 1985 ban on full-auto went into effect. And once the ban expired in 2004, prices returned to more reasonable levels.

I was in the SIG Academy pro shop (I spend a lot of time and money there) the other day and one of the regulars there opined that if President Obama were to get re-elected, the assault weapons ban would likely be back.  Notwithstanding Obama’s recent reluctance to take on firearms in light of the fact that this is an election year, his feelings on the matter are pretty well known. As recently as 2009, he talked about bringing the ban back and shortly after his election the last time, he made a lot of promises to the anti-2A crowd (including Ms. Sarah Brady herself) to do things “under the radar”.

Once re-elected to a final term, you have to figure the pressure to avoid antagonizing the gun rights crowd will be gone and it’s very likely that he will feel to advance the Obama Agenda 2.0. We will likely see the same sort of damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead approach for his new agenda items (including gun control) that he used for healthcare, particularly if the Democrats retain control of the Senate and/or regain control of the House. Of particular concern is the comment he made to the the Soviet Russian President back in March that once re-elected he would have more “flexibility”.

All of which got me thinking…before we shoot a new AWB down as unworkable, let’s remember that seven states already have some version of an AWB on the books. It could also be argued that nothing in those bans technically runs afoul of the Second Amendment as all the amendment states is that the right to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed. It’s left to case law and legislation to define the specifics.

While many of us would be quick to argue that the right to keep and bear arms means that we have the right to keep and bear whatever the hell we want to keep and bear, whether we like it or not, a line of sorts has long ago been drawn. Currently, there are various classes of weapons that non-LE/Military folks simply are not allowed access to.

I can’t, for example, buy a stinger missile nor can I own a late model machine gun. (In my case, this is probably a wise decision. I hate traffic and it seems that whoever is in front of me on any given day drives like an idiot. Imagine me with a brace of stingers strapped to my hood and you can see that keeping those away from me is probably a good call.)  Unfortunately, there are very clear legal precedents that deny citizens access to certain types of weapons so to presume that we have a snowball’s chance in hell of winning a legal challenge to an Assault Weapons Ban, if passed, is optimistic at best.

Add to this is the simple truth that the number of people who might really be opposed to such a ban is smaller than you might think. Let’s apply a reasonableness test for the moment. Can anyone think of a really good reason to have a magazine that holds more than 10 rounds? Now, don’t get me wrong here – most of my guns have magazines larger than 10 rounds and I’m glad for it as it makes the number of reloads during range time a lot lower. Aside from this though, is there any real practical need?

One of the most popular pistols of all time, the 1911 is limited to a normal capacity of 7-8 rounds unless you buy a super-extended mag that still only holds 10 rounds. The popular compact and sub-compact pistol category is full of weapons that hold fewer than 10 rounds. And the revolver, a primary or backup weapon for many people, has always held fewer than 10 rounds.

The fact is a lot of people who carry concealed would not be impacted all that much by a magazine restriction. This means that there would likely be less pushback on a magazine capacity limitation from the majority of voters than one might think. If you want to carry more than 10 rounds, just bring an extra mag or two. One of the key selling points of the automatic pistol is to allow you to replenish your bullet supply quickly and easily.

You can argue that, in a gunfight, the more bullets you have before you have to reload, the better your chances of survival. This is one of those things that in theory seems to make sense, but I’m not sure if it does in reality. I’d like to see a legitimate study of defensive gun uses in which it can be shown that having a large capacity magazine made a difference.

Hollywood aside, my guess is that most DGUs are short affairs with a few shots fired by each party. In a DGU, I’d expect shootouts to be relatively short given the proximity between the parties – either you get the bad guy or he gets you with relatively few shots fired.

We also have to be somewhat realistic about the danger of high capacity weapons. Sick people who are bent on mass murder using guns will find their task a lot easier with a high cap magazine than if they are limited to 10 rounds before having to reload.  Unless you are really, really well trained, it will take you a lot longer to unload 120 rounds out of twelve 10-round mags than it would to empty four 30-rounders.

The argument that you ban guns and only the criminals will have them isn’t really applicable in this case. I’m not stupid enough to suggest that an AWB will keep high capacity magazines or assault weapons out of the hands of the bad guys. They will always have access to some really nice hardware. Instead, I’m focusing on the disturbed individuals who one day decide that the best way to right the wrongs that society has inflicted upon them is to go to their local restaurant/K-Mart/school/whatever and take out as many people as they can.

The sad truth is that while the vast majority of gun owners are careful, law abiding citizens, there will always be the odd nutball who simply snaps one day without warning and opens fire. While limiting types of weapons and magazine capacities may not have much effect on the career criminal, it could help limit the damage caused by the disturbed individual.

Now let’s consider the gun owners themselves. Let’s say that I already have more than one AR and enough high cap magazines to keep me fat and happy for a good long while. Assuming that a new AWB goes into effect with the same parameters as the last one, I’d be able to keep the guns I have and probably see a nice appreciation on my investment.

Perhaps I really can’t see wanting to acquire any more ARs. I might even be tempted to sell one or more of my ARs and make a tidy profit. Sure, the guy buying my guns might not be thrilled with the ban, but I’d be doing okay. In a similar vein, I would guess a lot of Class III guys would be pretty peeved if one day that ban were overturned and their $20,000 M-16s lost half their value overnight.

Let’s be clear – I’m not making these points in support for an Assault Weapons Ban. I reject any laws that seek to further restrict what I’m legally allowed to do as a firearms owner. That said, I am very concerned that the firearms community is not going to be able to muster the support necessary to stop a new AWB should our current (or some future) President decide that it would be a good idea to implement one.

Instead, I’m a realist (or as my wife calls me, a pessimist). I think that with an anti-gun Democrat in the White House aided and abetted by a bunch of anti-2A Congresscritters, some sort of AWB is not a question of if, but when.

My suggestion is that if you think you might want to own one or more modern sporting rifles military style rifles, now would be an excellent time to build up your collection as you have no idea how much longer you will be able to get the firearms that you want.