This being the United States of America, a horrifying number of people have been killed in the past few weeks in mass shootings carried out by lunatics of varying descriptions. In response, President Joe Biden, who has never in the course of his 80 long years on this Earth suffered the invasion of his mind by an original thought, has responded the way he always responds: by calling for a certainly unconstitutional ban on so-called assault weapons. He did this after the massacre at the Walmart in Chesapeake, Virginia, in which there was no “assault weapon” involved—the killer used an ordinary 9mm handgun—but such details do not interest President Biden. All he needs is the familiar enemy, in this case U.S. firearms manufacturers and their detestable quest to make money in business. Of course, in the Colorado Springs nightclub shooting, there doesn’t seem to have been any firearms manufacturer involved, either—that killer used homemade firearms, according to press reports.
But none of that matters, because the gun-control debate is not about guns: It is simply another front in the culture war, oriented not toward the criminal misuse of guns—about which our federal, state, and municipal governments do approximately squat—but about the kind of people who tend to own guns, or at least the gun-owning villains of the progressive mind.
Let me briefly address the legal and practical questions involved in Biden’s proposed assault-weapons ban. The Bill of Rights protects the right of Americans to own those firearms that are “in common use at the time,” a right confirmed by the Supreme Court. The Colorado Springs shooter seems to have used an AR-style rifle made from mail-order parts, while the Virginia shooter used a 9mm handgun—and if there is any standard for firearms “in common use at the time,” these weapons must surely define it: They are almost certainly the most common type of rifle and most common type of handgun owned by private citizens in the United States. Trying to ban them would be plainly unconstitutional, and it would also be pointless: All long guns together—meaning AR-style rifles, non-AR rifles, shotguns, etc.—account for a vanishingly small share of all homicides, typically something around 3 or 4 percent.
There isn’t anything especially dangerous about AR-type rifles: Most of them are chambered for the modestly powered 5.56mm cartridge, which is a good deal less potent than the rounds used in the typical deer rifle, and they fire at the same rate as any other semiautomatic weapon or a revolver: one round fired for every pull of the trigger. The basic AR assembly (which is far from unique to AR-type rifles) of a semiautomatic firing mechanism paired with a detachable box magazine describes the great majority of modern rifles and practically all modern handguns. (There are a few of us old revolver enthusiasts left.) These are not special guns—they are simply guns.