A Guide to Guns

Assault rifles hang on the wall for sale at Blue Ridge Arsenal in Chantilly, Virginia, 2017. (JIM WATSON/AFP via Getty Images)

Dear readers:

I write a great deal about firearms and the gun-control debate, and I’ve found that many of the same questions come up repeatedly. To that end, I’ve decided to try to create a kind of permanent FAQ on gun policy. This is a first blast, but I expect to keep adding to it. As with any technical subject, it is easy to make mistakes here, and, if I have made any, I trust that you will inform me so that I may correct them ASAP. In the Dispatch tradition, I come to this with a conservative point of view but without, I hope, ideological blinders. 

To that end, it might be helpful to tell you exactly where I stand politically on this: I’m a constitutionalist who believes that the Bill of Rights really does mean what it says and that Americans’ civil rights include a broad and very inclusive right to keep and bear arms. I’m also a federalist who believes that there is no reason that the gun laws have to be precisely the same in every jurisdiction, and that we might within the boundaries of the Second Amendment reasonably conclude that the gun laws in rural Wyoming don’t have to be precisely the same as those in Manhattan, in much the same way that the First Amendment accommodates a variety of different regulatory approaches to things such as rally permits or marches. For example, the same line of thinking that generally leads most jurisdictions to (quite reasonably) prohibit the carrying of firearms in bars might also lead us to reasonably prohibit the carrying of firearms in nightlife districts such as Austin’s Sixth Street or the Las Vegas Strip. As with freedom of speech, time-and-place restrictions seem to me much more in accord with our constitutional rights–and I think that with firearms they are more likely to be effective than, say, trying to ban this or that scary-looking rifle. 

President Joe Biden’s mental meanderings notwithstanding, I think that attempts to ban ordinary weapons such as semiautomatic rifles and handguns are plainly unconstitutional, that they would be unlikely to do much to deter violent crime, and that they are at root intellectually dishonest: They are more genuinely a culture-war assault by progressive-leaning urbanites and suburbanites on gun owners as a demographic, one that is perceived (not entirely accurately) as being socially retrograde, white, male, rural, Southern, middle-aged—everything that communicates “Trump voter” to people living in Greenwich, Connecticut. 

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