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A Defense of 'Assault Weapons'

May 6, 2019 in Economics

By Matthew Larosiere

Matthew Larosiere

A familiar feud in American politics has reared its head once
more. After the massacre that struck Christchurch, New Zealand in
mid-March, the question of whether civilians should be able to own
“assault weapons” again became en vogue.

New Zealand responded to the shooting by banning an entire class
of weapons just days later, to the thunderous applause of gun
control activists and others on the mainstream political left. This
response was lauded as reasonable and decisive, with proponents
insistent that nobody needs “weapons of war.” In turn,
gun rights activists deflected per their usual means, poking holes
in gun control logic, and attacking their opponents’ vague
and uninformed definitions. But no one is explaining the reason
that people truly do need these weapons.

Generally, Americans know what people are talking about when
they hear the term “assault rifles.” But when someone
tries to write a rigid definition, things get ridiculous. Past
definitions have included things like 22-caliber “squirrel
guns,” handguns, shotguns, and so on.

A weapon’s power isn’t a
matter of magic or opinion, it’s one of science.

This naturally leads to policy failure. It’s worth noting,
for example, the Christchurch killer’s rifles didn’t
even fit the definition of the “Military Style
Semi-Automatic” rifles New Zealand banned after the fact. But
let’s accept “assault weapons” as short,
semi-automatic rifles which accept a detachable magazine, as this
is what most “assault weapon” bans are really getting
at.

The argument against these weapons relies on the belief that
they’re uniquely deadly. For example, the pro-gun control
Giffords Center refers to assault weapons as “a class of
[high-powered] semi-automatic firearm specifically designed to kill
humans quickly and efficiently.” This conception of assault
weapons is inextricably linked to the “high capacity
magazines,” usually holding 20 or more rounds, that these
weapons are designed to use. So, the idea is that a weapon holding
30 rounds must be designed to kill 30 people. Of course, reality is
significantly more nuanced.

Defining “assault” weapons like the AR-15 as
“high-powered” obscures one of their defining aspects:
their use of an intermediate ammunition cartridge. Intermediate
cartridges, as the name suggests, are more powerful than a handgun,
and less powerful than a rifle. A weapon’s power, then,
isn’t a matter of magic or opinion, it’s one of
science.

The 5.56x45mm round — the world’s most common
assault rifle cartridge — makes about 1,200 ft-lbs of energy.
Compare this to 500 and 2,600 ft-lbs for 9x19mm and 7.62x51mm
ammunition — the most common handgun and rifle cartridges,
respectively. So, the average assault rifle is about twice as
powerful per shot as a handgun, and half as powerful as a typical
rifle.

This difference in power translates …read more

Source: OP-EDS

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