The AR-15: Would a ban stem the bloodshed?
“Who is crazier?” asked Andrés Oppenheimer in the Miami Herald: Nikolas Cruz, 19, the troubled former student who shot 17 people dead last week at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School? Or the society that “let him buy an AR-15 rifle?” A civilian version of the M-16 developed for use in Vietnam, the semiautomatic AR-15 fires high-speed, low-caliber rounds that cause maximal damage within a human body, and it fires them very quickly, with little recoil to the shooter. Hence the horrifying death tolls of recent shootings in Las Vegas; Sutherland Springs, Texas; Orlando; San Bernardino, Calif.; and Newtown, Conn. Take it from a gun enthusiast, said George Skelton in the Los Angeles Times. The short-barreled AR-15 is “not a good hunting weapon.” For self-defense, a shotgun or a handgun is much more practical. The only real tactical reason to own an AR-15 with a 50-round magazine is “to kill lots of people in a few minutes.” That’s why the AR and its variants have become the “weapon of choice for mass killers” and why fully 68 percent of Americans, including 48 percent of gun owners, want them banned. It’s simple: If we want to curtail mass shootings in America, the first step is to “ban mass-shooting weapons.”
Actually, it’s not so simple, said Jacob Sullum in Reason.com. “Americans own something like 15 million AR-15–style rifles.” That makes any confiscation program a nonstarter; it also tells us that these guns are “almost never used to commit violent crimes.” The fact is that rifles account for only about 2 percent of gun homicides each year, compared with 65 percent for handguns. Handguns were also used in 66 percent of mass shootings between 1982 and 2012, compared with only 14 percent for rifles. It may be true that so-called assault weapons have been used in the recent mass shootings with the highest death tolls, but if they’re banned, killers could easily turn to semiautomatic handguns or other rifles.
Taking away Americans’ gun rights might save some lives, said John Davidson in TheFederalist.com, but there are things “more important than safety.” When the Founders enshrined gun rights in the Second Amendment, they envisioned an armed population as a bulwark against military invasion from outside, and military-backed tyranny from within. Civilian access to military-grade weapons preserves the right of rebellion and “undergirds our entire political system.” Liberals who demonize guns are fond of reminding us that when the Constitution was drafted, the deadliest weapon was the single-shot musket, said Daniel John Sobieski in AmericanThinker.com. But that’s exactly the point. If the Founders intended a rough parity between civilian and military hardware, then today “an AR-15 is what the Second Amendment is all about.”
Even the late Justice Antonin Scalia would disagree, said Alan Steinberg in the Newark, N.J., Star-Ledger. In the 2008 U.S. Supreme Court ruling D.C. v. Heller, which affirmed the right of individuals to own guns, Scalia wrote that the Second Amendment does not confer “a right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever.” The government, he said, could properly ban “dangerous and unusual weapons.” It’s for this reason that the sale of fully automatic weapons, sawed-off shotguns, and bazookas is banned. Assault rifles are every bit as dangerous and should be added to the list. Let’s remember that “the first civil right of Americans is the right to be free of domestic violence.” As long as the nation remains awash in weapons of war, that most basic “right is imperiled.”