Used by both millions of lawful citizens and some of America’s worst mass murderers, the AR-15 is arguably the most controversial rifle in United States history. Many Americans want to ban the AR-15 along with other assault weapons, as well as magazines that support more than ten rounds — especially in the wake of mass shootings in El Paso and Dayton. An assault weapon usually refers to a semi-automatic rifle that sports detachable magazines and additional features such as pistol grips and folding stocks. They argue that such weapons are not necessary for legitimate civilian self-defense.
“America’s gun debate suffers because of unreasonable, extreme positions taken by the NRA. But gun control advocates who push for [assault weapon bans] contribute to the problem … Assault weapon bans are bad policy and bad politics,” UCLA law professor Adam Winkler said in an op-ed for the L.A. Times.
I previously wrote for The Statesman that future gun laws should further restrict who can purchase firearms rather than what they can purchase. The process itself of vetting prospective gun owners needs urgent reform.
Self-defense is a fundamental right, and sometimes a firearm is needed to exercise it. The police are not always available, or sometimes even willing, to protect you. Engaging a criminal in combat can be tantamount to suicide. Tasers and pepper spray are not always reliable, hence police officers don’t always use them.
Some gun control supporters accept the legality of handguns, shotguns and manually loaded (such as bolt-action, lever-action or single-shot) rifles for self-defense. These weapons are not always sufficient for that purpose.
A shotgun’s recoil can compromise its user’s defenses, especially if he or she is inexperienced or unconditioned. It takes a sturdy amount of practice to use one quickly and reliably. Semi-automatic pistols are designed to fire quickly and accept high-capacity magazines because they often miss (even in the hands of police officers) or lack the firepower to instantly stop criminals (especially if they are intoxicated or profoundly disturbed).
Handguns and shotguns usually become significantly less effective at 100 yards, which is problematic for defending large properties such as farms. Violent crime rates in rural areas rose above the national and suburban averages in 2016. Rifles make up for this disadvantage and, with the right ammunition, are also effective in shorter ranges. Defensive use, however, requires the ability to fire again — quickly and accurately — if one misses. Manually-loaded firearms are impractical for that purpose, especially without significant practice.
As other weapons may not be suitable, law-abiding citizens should be allowed semi-automatic rifles to defend themselves from realistic threats.
“If I had run out of the house with a pistol and faced a bulletproof vest and kevlar and helmets, it might have been futile,” said Stephen Willeford, who put an end to the Sutherland Springs church shooting with his own AR-15.
Some gun control supporters accept this while questioning the necessity of high capacity magazines. Indeed, an AR-15 chambered to fire .223 Remington is significantly more powerful and accurate than a common 9mm handgun.
However, the gun can still miss the target, and one hit might not immediately stop a threat. Willeford fired multiple rounds and hit the perpetrator twice, causing him to drop his rifle and continue firing with a pistol before fleeing by car and committing suicide.
The aforementioned risks are further multiplied if there is more than one attacker, which is tangible in gang-ridden neighborhoods and in rural (even some suburban) areas where wild animals may threaten one’s crops, livestock, pets or family members. Feral hogs are an especially destructive agricultural menace and the AR-15 has proven an important tool for combating them.
When one is in a situation where they have to defend themselves, there could be a scarce amount of time to reload ammo. Furthermore, having extra ammunition (or “reserve capacity”) is important to deter living criminals from attacking again. While magazines sporting more than 30 rounds may indeed lack defensive necessity, their sheer number in circulation and fabricability via 3D-printing would hinder attempts to ban them.
Pistols are used to commit the majority of gun crimes in the United States. A Department of Justice Special Report found that they were used in roughly “70% to 80% of firearm homicides and 90% of nonfatal firearm victimizations … from 1993 to 2011.” Criminals favor handguns in great part for their concealability. It’s worth debating policies such as registration for them and currently unregistered long-guns that are collapsible to the lengths of short-barreled rifles.
Rampage shooters, however, rarely utilize concealability. Meanwhile, other “assault” weapon features are usually either easily modified to circumvent bans, inconsequential to firearm lethality (i.e. pistol grips), conducive to lawful purposes (i.e. foregrips, which make it easier to aim, especially for users with disabilities) or fitting all three cases.
Banning the AR-15 furthermore overlooks its legality in several countries where mass shootings are uncommon, including Switzerland, the Czech Republic, France and Sweden. New Zealand hasn’t had a mass shooting for over two decades before Christchurch. All of these countries have required licensure in order to own semi-automatic and military-style rifles, often following very strict processes and registration. Furthermore, several of them restrict their storage and ownership to sporting professionals.
Fully adopting these laws would be too restrictive; states such as Communist Czechoslovakia used them to keep political dissidents unarmed. Some licensure requirements for ownership, however, are worth debating. Gun control supporters should promote these rather than outright bans — they are less polarizing, as they do not prohibit what gun owners can currently acquire, and they may significantly improve public safety nonetheless.