Photo credit: John McStravick (CC-By-2.0)

Anti-gun advocates ranging from Beto O’Rourke to The Des Moines Register have supported “assault weapons” confiscation and bans on the sale of their ammunition.  “An assault weapon” is merely a  semiautomatic gun that bears a cosmetic resemblance to military guns, but which is not capable of full-automatic fire.  There is no such thing as ammunition exclusively used by “assault weapons”.  Assault weapons are available in a wide variety of calibers, using ammunition ranging from .22 rimfire to 12 gauge shotgun.  Both policies punish law-abiding gun owners, such as Pastor David George, who used his handgun to kill a Walmart active shooter, and AR-15 shooter Stephen Willeford, who stopped the Texas church shooter.    

These are not “weapons of war” in the modern world.  No wars have been fought with purely semiautomatic AR-15s or AK-47s.  Our military has not had a purely semiautomatic battle rifle since it substituted the M-1 Garand with the selective fire M-14 in 1957.  

Anti-gun advocates often attack the AR-15, claiming it is designed to kill people. The AR-15 rifle, however, is rarely used for murder and commonly used for target shooting, home defense, and hunting.  

As of 2016, all rifles accounted for only 2.5% of homicides.  If each rifle homicide was committed with a separate AR-15, those 374 rifles would constitute less than .005% of America’s 8 million AR-15s.  Even at this inflated rate, it would take over 200 years for one percent of AR-15s to be used for murder.

Studies by the FBI and others show that there are less than five public mass shootings annually.  These are shootings in a public place with four or more fatalities, not committed in the course of another crime or military conflict.  Crime Prevention Research Center research shows that 32% of public mass shootings involve rifles.    Examination of several sources reveals a total of 13 public mass shootings since 1984 where a total of 25 AR-15 rifles were used.  Given that there are at least 8 million AR-15s in private possession, an estimate which is too low since it has been around since 2013,  the number of AR-15s used in public mass shootings is approximately 3 millionths of the total number of AR-15 rifles or .000031% (thirtyone hundred thousandths of one percent).

The “assault weapons” confiscation proposal would violate not only the Second Amendment, but also the Fifth Amendment prohibition on seizing property without compensation.   

In the Heller case, the Supreme Court held that the Second Amendment “guarantee[s] the individual right to possess and carry weapons in case of confrontation,” i.e. for self-defense.  

The right applies to handguns and other arms in common use, such as the AR15 and other semi-automatic rifles.  This would not encompass “M–16 rifles and the like,” i.e. military weapons capable of full-automatic fire.

Applying the Supreme Court’s analysis, a federal district court invalidated California’s ban on possession of high capacity (over 10 round) gun magazines.  It recognized that such magazines, and the guns that use them, were useful for self-defense.  

The Justice Department concluded that the effect on gun violence of a sales ban on assault weapons would be “too small for reliable measurement.” The Rand Corporation “found no qualifying studies showing that [such bans] decreased [mass shootings].” In a survey of 15000 police officers, 70% concluded that an assault weapons sales ban would have no effect on violent crime while 20.5% said it would have a negative effect. Only 0.9% believed more restrictions on assault weapons would help most in preventing mass public shootings.  A statistician at Five Thirty Eight concluded that banning assault weapons possession was a policy “whose only selling point is that gun owners hate [it]”.  

What would reduce mass shootings?  A survey of economists and criminologists studying gun violence revealed they recommended eliminating gun-free zones while the survey showed that police favor easing concealed-carry policies in order to achieve that goal.

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