Semiautomatic debate: Ban will make us less safe
By John R. Lott Jr.
The Philadelphia Inquirer
Are we really going to respond to the threat of Islamic terrorism by disarming Americans? In the wake of the attack in Orlando, Fla., Hillary Clinton announced that “weapons of war have no place on our streets,” and she specifically focused on the AR-15.
While the Orlando killer used a Sig Sauer MCX carbine, since the shooting, it has been another roughly similar rifle, the AR-15, that has been the focus of so much anger. Possibly this is because it is the most popular rifle in America. Possibly it is because the media jumped to the conclusion that this was the weapon used before they had confirmation.
The AR-15 looks like the M-16, which has been in use by the U.S. military since the Vietnam War. While the M-16 is a machine gun, the AR-15 is semiautomatic, meaning that it fires only one bullet at a time. Yet the AR-15 was covered by the 1994 federal assault-weapons ban (which expired in 2004).
But people continue to ask: Why do people need a semiautomatic AR-15 to go out and kill deer? The answer is simple: Because it is a hunting rifle. It has just been made to look like a military weapon.
The AR-15 uses essentially the same bullets as small-game hunting rifles, fires at the same rapidity and does the same damage.
The .223-inch rounds used by the AR-15 are actually small compared with what is usually used to hunt deer. Indeed, many states prohibit using bullets of that size for deer hunting. The concern is that the animal will suffer from its wounds rather than experiencing a quick death.
But hunting isn’t the issue here. Semiautomatic weapons also protect people and save lives. Single-shot rifles that require manual reloading after every round may not do people a lot of good when their first shot misses or when they are faced by multiple attackers.
During her talk, Clinton gave the false impression that the “assault weapons” used in Orlando and San Bernardino, Calif., are commonly used in mass public shootings. But such weapons were used exclusively in only 12 percent of the mass public shootings from President Barack Obama’s 2009 inauguration through the end of 2015. In another 12 percent of shootings, a rifle was used in conjunction with a handgun or a shotgun.
Since the federal ban expired in September 2004, murder and overall violent-crime rates have actually fallen. In 2003, the last full year before the law expired, the U.S. murder rate was 5.7 per 100,000 people. By 2014, the murder rate had fallen to 4.5 per 100,000 people.
If we finally want to deal seriously with multiple-victim public shootings, it is about time that we acknowledge a common feature of these attacks. Since at least as far back as 1950, all but three U.S. mass public shootings (with more than three fatalities) have occurred in places where citizens are not allowed to carry their own firearms.
Let licensed citizens carry guns in the sorts of places that keep getting attacked. They will sometimes be able to stop these killings before police can get to the scene.
The AR-15 is a dangerous weapon, but it is not a weapon of war. It doesn’t make sense to ban certain semiautomatic guns just because of how they look. And no, banning all semiautomatic guns is not the answer either. Despite the immediate emotional appeal of doing so, it will actually make Americans less safe.
John R. Lott Jr. is president of the Crime Prevention Research Center and the author of “The War on Guns.” He wrote this for The Philadelphia Inquirer.