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Gun Fights

4:30 PM, Jul 26, 2012 • By GEOFFREY NORMAN
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It was inevitable that after the massacre in a Colorado movie theater, the matter of gun control would come up and that the president would weigh in on the subject. And, according to this report by Michael A. Memoli in the Los Angeles Times, he has:

Acknowledging sensitivity of the issue, [the President] said he nonetheless believes that even gun owners would agree “that AK-47s belong in the hands of soldiers, not in the hands of children.” He offered no specific proposals but referred to background checks to prevent criminals and fugitives from purchasing weapons, and preventing guns from getting into the hands of the mentally unbalanced. Previous efforts to do the same have been thwarted by political opposition and the reluctance of sympathetic elected officials to take on the National Rifle Assn., among the nation’s most potent lobbying forces.

But most comment and analysis seems to indicate that not much will happen and the reason for this is, according to E.J. Dionne, “[a] profound timidity on the part of politicians in both parties.”

Dionne is a reliable indicator of elite, liberal, beltway opinion and his argument deserves consideration, not least because gun control is an issue about which a lot of people have very serious beliefs. Which explains the "timidity" of those politicians. People who are opposed to gun control vote their convictions. It is easy to blame the NRA for this, which, predictably, Dionne does. But the "gun lobby" would not exist or, certainly, would not be able to reduce so many politicians to a state of timidity if it did not represent the strongly held beliefs of millions of people, not all of whom are members of the NRA.   

It might be interesting for Dionne and others in his business to ask themselves why this is so.

It begins with fairly small distinctions and arguments and escalates to much more serious concerns. 

People for whom guns and the Second Amendment are serious matters tend to react strongly to arguments about how "AK-47s belong in the hands of soldiers, not in the hands of children." In the first place, where did "the children" come into the picture?  Who, exactly, favors arming the children? More important, though, is the implication that there are nice guns and bad guns and that the people who favor gun control only want to regulate the latter. The "assault rifles" and such. The aim should be, according to Dionne, to "ban automatic weapons."  

To which one says, "They are already illegal."

The arguments about banning only certain kinds of guns are troubling precisely because the people making them don't understand guns and don't want to. Assault rifles, automatic weapons ... it is all the same to them. Ban 'em all. To repeat a distinction that has been made many, many times, when you pull the trigger on an automatic weapon, it will continue firing until you release the trigger or you have fired the last round and the weapon is empty. It is illegal for most civilians to own such weapons. A semi-automatic weapon requires a separate trigger pull for each round fired. Civilians can own, for instance, an AK-47 that is configured for semi-automatic fire only. Millions of soldiers and terrorists around the world carry AK-47s configured for automatic fire. Either way, the AK-47 is a scary looking weapon. And that, in the minds of many who argue for gun control, is the definition of an "assault rife," an otherwise meaningless term.

But the argument for banning "assault rifles" is troubling to supporters of gun rights not just because it is uninformed. The problem, in their minds, is much graver than that. It gets to the notion of a "legitimate use" of guns. Which, those in favor of gun control generally concede, includes hunting and target shooting.  

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