Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Deconstructing the Assault Weapons Ban...

Given how one of the candidates currently running for office has voiced his support for making the Assault Weapons Ban of 1994 permanent (oh, and his running mate helped write said ban...), there's a 50:50 chance that we could be staring down the barrel (ha! a gun pun!) of a new and/or "improved" assault weapons ban.

That said, I'd like to take a look at the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994, in particular Title XI (a.k.a. Assault Weapons Ban of 1994, abbreviated forthwith as AWB) with an eye towards pointing out the blatant absurdity inherent in the original ban. I'll admit to my own prejudice here, right up front: I think the AWB was a poorly-constructed, ill-written pile of bovine excrement whose supporters have to lie, cheat, and otherwise stretch the truth to heretofore unseen proportions to even vaguely begin to justify this travesty.

I'd like to focus on the criteria used to ban said "assault weapons". Ignoring the idiocy of banning weapons by name (which, of course, was circumvented in seconds by re-naming the weapons), here's what made a semi-automatic rifle an "assault weapon":

`(B) a semiautomatic rifle that has an ability to accept a detachable magazine and has at least 2 of--
`(i) a folding or telescoping stock;
`(ii) a pistol grip that protrudes conspicuously beneath the action of the weapon;
`(iii) a bayonet mount;
`(iv) a flash suppressor or threaded barrel designed to accommodate a flash suppressor; and
`(v) a grenade launcher;

Got that? It had to have the detachable magazine, and at least 2 of 5 features to be considered an assault weapon. Why two features and not one or three? Who knows? Perhaps the good folks at Monty Python were involved...

Of the five features, two are patently ridiculous from the get-go: Bayonet mount (please, can anyone point out an instance of a bayonet assault occuring sometime, oh, since the start of the Industrial Age?) and Grenade Launcher - considering that "destructive devices" (a.k.a. grenades) are already heavily regulated by the BATFE, what is the rationale behind prohibiting a grenade launcher? The pistol grip is nearly as ludicrous - all it does is provide a different grip angle than a straight stock. That's it. There's no magic inherent in the so-called pistol grip that confers extra ballistics or super-lethality to the rounds fired; although the proponents of the ban were often spouting nonsense such as "spray-firing from the hip" (one can only assume they stumbled across footage of someone bump-firing a semi-auto AK clone or they saw too many Liberian Freedom Fighters in action...)

The last two features are the flash suppressor and the folding or telescoping stock. These have at least some tenuous connection to reality - the folding/telescoping stock could conceivably make the weapon easier to conceal, and the flash suppressor could possibly reduce the visibility of the muzzle flash, making it harder to spot the rifle in use. Yes, it is a stretch - a *big* stretch. But easier than a grenade launcher...

What's mind-numbingly stupid is that none of these features make a damn bit of difference in how the gun performs. There's nothing that helps in aiming. They didn't go after a pistol-grip on the forend. They didn't preclude scope mounts or other types of improved aiming systems. They didn't even limit the calibers that the rifles could chamber - basically, the Mini-14 firing the marginal .223 Remington is considered as dangerous as an FN/FAL in .308 Winchester... In short, nothing affected by the ban changed a single thing about how the weapon operated. If the object of the Assault Weapons Ban was to make semi-automatic rifles less dangerous, epic fail.

Of course, some would argue (your humble host included), that there was never any interest in reducing the number of so-called "assault weapons" - the aim was, pure and simple, to get the American people used to the concept of further Second Amendment intrusions. Back in the 1930s the hue and cry was that the police were outgunned by the mafia because of the easy availability of machine guns; hence the 1934 Federal Firearms Act. The assasination of Robert Kennedy lead to the infamous Gun Control Act of 1968 which put significant restrictions on the importation of certain types of firearms, mail-ordering of firearms, and age limits.

In short, we were long overdue for more gun control in the eyes of those who would deny us our rights.

Onto the pistol portion:

`(C) a semiautomatic pistol that has an ability to accept a detachable magazine and has at least 2 of--
`(i) an ammunition magazine that attaches to the pistol outside of the pistol grip;
`(ii) a threaded barrel capable of accepting a barrel extender, flash suppressor, forward handgrip, or silencer;
`(iii) a shroud that is attached to, or partially or completely encircles, the barrel and that permits the shooter to hold the firearm with the nontrigger hand without being burned;
`(iv) a manufactured weight of 50 ounces or more when the pistol is unloaded; and
`(v) a semiautomatic version of an automatic firearm;
These are even more nonsensical than the rifle prohibitions.

A magazine that attaches outside the pistol grip??? Did anyone think for even a second about this one? The reason that magazines traditionally go into the pistol grip is that it's easiest to find your own hands - our bodies are designed to automatically go together. Putting the magazine outside the pistol grip makes the weapon less intuitive to use. This makes it less dangerous.

Threaded barrel? Considering that silencers are already heavily regulated and foregrips make the pistol an NFA weapon, the only things left are barrel extenders (HUH?) and our nemesis from the rifle ban, the flash suppressor. Stupid, stupid, stupid. None of these have ANY basis in reality.

A barrel shroud? Are these people on crack? There's only one pistol I can think of that utilizes a barrel shroud, the Intratec-9 (Tec-9). It's a poorly manufactured jam-o-matic that looked real cool wielded by Jack Burton, but in reality suffered from so many design flaws that it was best suited for use as a boat anchor... In fact, most of the pistol portion of the AWB sounds like it was specifically written with the Tec-9 in mind...

Manufactured weight of 50 ounces or more. Are you kidding me? If the basis for banning folding stocks on rifles was that it made the gun more portable, explain why lighter handguns are desirable??? Hell, I'd say we're lucky they didn't demand that ALL pistols be made to weigh more than 50 ounces as part of the AWB... To put things in perspective, the Smith & Wesson 500 Magnum with 4" barrel weighs 56 ounces. It's a freakin' brick (by design, of course, to soak up the massive recoil). It's not something you toss in your waistband and jog through the 'hood with.

And, lastly... A semi-automatic version of a fully automatic weapon? Considering that there aren't a whole heckuva lot of machine pistols as compared to light rifles, this one puzzles me the most. It would appear that they were trying to ban Uzis without specifically naming Uzi. Other than that, I'm out of ideas. The Glock model 18 is available as a fully automatic pistol; does this mean that all models of Glocks should have been banned?

These regulations were apparently written by someone with a poor grasp of English, let alone basic engineering or general firearms construction. It's abundantly clear that they had a very small selection of firearms in mind when this bill was drafted, and outside-the-box thinking simply was not tolerated. But then again, clear thinking often falls by the wayside in the rush to trample unpopular rights...

And, lastly, high-capacity feeding devices (magazines) :

(b) DEFINITION OF LARGE CAPACITY AMMUNITION FEEDING DEVICE- Section 921(a) of title 18, United States Code, as amended by section 110102(b), is amended by adding at the end the following new paragraph:

`(31) The term `large capacity ammunition feeding device'--
`(A) means a magazine, belt, drum, feed strip, or similar device manufactured after the date of enactment of the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994 that has a capacity of, or that can be readily restored or converted to accept, more than 10 rounds of ammunition;

More than 10 rounds. Newly manufactured 15-, 20-, 30-, etc. round magazines were prohibited under the AWB. Why? Does anyone seriously think that the 1-2 second delay in changing a magazine makes a lick of difference in a mass shooting? A madman armed with a semi-automatic weapon and three 10 round magazines is somehow less dangerous than with one 30 round magazine? Was any thought put into this whatsoever? Why 10 rounds? Why not 5? It just seems so freaking arbitrary. What makes this even more meaningless is the abundance of "pre-ban" magazines for military surplus weapons - AK-47 clones and AR-15 variants have literally millions of pre-ban magazines available.

I'll even admit one of my deep, dark secrets. I actually prefer 10 round magazines for my semi-automatic rifles. I find that, even with light-kicking rounds like .30 Carbine or .223, after about 10 rounds I'm ready to shoot something else. Hell, I simply start getting bored... Even the 15 round magazines for my P226 get onerous after a while. Not to mention that with ammo prices skyrocketing ever higher, it's cheaper on the wallet to shoot slower...

So there's my (admittedly shallow) analysis of certain portions of the Assault Weapons Ban of 1994. Since we could possibly be in the unenviable position of repeating history through our inability to learn from it, I figured a quick primer would be in order. Any politician voicing support for such an egregious violation of our protected Second Amendment rights should be opposed vigorously and thoroughly. It's clear they either do not understand our Second Amendment, do not trust us with liberty, and/or actively view us as subjects to be controlled.

I want no part of that noise. And I will work to the best of my ability to insure that anyone supporting such nonsense be defeated at the ballot box. I'd prefer "be run out of town on a rail" or "be tarred and feathered then placed in the town stocks", but we'll take crushing defeat as a close second...

That is all.


Anonymous said...

Nice analysis.

It's actually kinda fun to read the AWB text and think about who must have worked on writing it. It becomes very clear very quickly that the writers were not gun experts, and most of their "knowledge" of firearms came from Hollywood and antigun propaganda. Considering how easily these restrictions were circumvented, I wonder if any of the writers even understood the basic parts of a firearm, and how much of it can be changed without affecting the essential operating features.

Borepatch said...

Great, great post.

DJK said...


DJK said...

If you don't already...go have a look at CopInTheHood... His last three or four posts can be easily compared/contrasted to this one.

His blog is good...even though I don't agree with his stance on gun rights.


Anonymous said...


The "grenade launcher" in the rifle section refers to the NATO standard of a 22mm diameter muzzle device for rifle grenades.

Basically the standard AR-15 A2 birdcage "flash suppressor" is also the "grenade launcher"

Some VPC, Brady or congressional "researcher" read a copy of Jane's or something.

Bunnyman said...

Absolutely spot-on on all counts.

I get the impression that the rifle portion of the AWB is a list of features commonly encountered on service rifles, and the whole exercise is meant to keep military-style rifles out of the hands of mere plebs. Mind you, this is coming from the same people that point to Miller as precedent; the key argument there, of course, being that the only weapons protected by the 2nd Amendment are those in common use by the militia. Which is to say service rifles. Sigh...

Now the California flavor of AWB allows zero evil features, or one evil feature with no detachable magazine. That's a bit more cramped.

Bill Baker said...

I realize that this topic is a little old but with Obama winning I stumbled upon it. Check this out.
http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/query/z?c110:H.R.1022: This is the newer AWB that they tried passing through, and the one that they will pass under Obama.

This is the scariest line of it.

A semiautomatic rifle or shotgun originally designed for military or law enforcement use, or a firearm based on the design of such a firearm, that is not particularly suitable for sporting purposes, as determined by the Attorney General. In making the determination, there shall be a rebuttable presumption that a firearm procured for use by the United States military or any Federal law enforcement agency is not particularly suitable for sporting purposes, and a firearm shall not be determined to be particularly suitable for sporting purposes solely because the firearm is suitable for use in a sporting event.'.