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Can We Ban Assault Rifles?

The first time someone shot their way into an elementary school and mowed down a bunch of kids and adult staff was December 2012, hen a 20-year-old took an AR-15 into the Sandy Hook Elementary School and blew the place apart.

I ended up at the meeting in D.C. held a couple of months later by Obama at which time Joe Biden, then Vice President, chaired an effort to develop a new gun law, an effort which ultimately failed.

The effort failed for the same reason that the current effort to pass another law may fail, namely, because there just isn’t any kind of sustained concern about gun violence in the good ol’ U.S. of A.

Every time there’s a mass shooting, the clicks on Google for key words related to guns and gun violence jump sky high. Except the jump lasts, at most, for a couple of days and then the line goes right back down to where It always sits, which is down around the lowest rung on the graph.

Back at some point in the 1980’s, I was invited to spend a day at the Smith & Wesson factory, where a group of S&W distributors were going over a very detailed consumer survey which the company had paid a lot of money to have done. Smith & Wesson took over the handgun market from Colt after World War II, and now thirty years later, they were losing that same market to Glock.

For the first time in the company’s history which began in 1856, the gun maker was trying to figure out why some consumers liked their products and other consumers couldn’t care less.

What was the most significant finding in this survey, as far as I was concerned, was the degree to which Americans, both gun owners and non-gun owners, supported the idea of law-abiding people being able to own guns. No matter how you sliced and diced the respondent population, by age, race, gender, income, so on and so forth, a strong majority felt that legal gun ownership was a fundamental Constitutional ‘right.’

Where the two sides tend to differ today is not over the issue of personal ownership of guns, but over the degree to which that ownership should be regulated by the government, an issue which is currently being challenged, or at least appears to being challenged by Joe’s call for a new assault rifle ban.

What the gun industry has been able to do quite successfully over the last twenty years, is promote a narrative which basically rests on the idea that taking any gun out of commercial circulation will initiate a slippery-slope process that will eventually result in the disappearance of all guns.

Not only is this belief a fundamental bedrock of pro-gun thought, but It happens to be held by a lot of Americans who don’t own guns. And as long as Gun-nut Nation can continue to promote the idea that taking one gun away will ultimately result in all guns being taken away, the odds of enacting even a modest restriction on AR-15 ownership will be dim.

The real problem with promoting a gun-control strategy, however, reflects a more fundamental issue than just whether Americans can or cannot own guns. What is behind the reluctance to adopt a more comprehensive gun-control program is the basic fact that Americans aren’t particularly trusting of government and don’t necessarily buy into the idea that government should be able to organize an individual’s private life.

This fear of governmental authority is quite unlike what happens in other advanced societies and post-industrial nation-states. In most European countries, for example, every adult must possess and carry an identity card issued by the government which must be immediately produced upon request by the police. In America, a cop can ask me for a driver’s license if I’m behind the wheel of a car, but if he asks anyone else in the car for identification, he can be told to stick it you know where.

Our privacy has eroded somewhat in the wake of the War on Terror, but we still retain a much greater degree of personal privateness than what exists in any other place. And personally owning a gun or hundreds of guns has always been considered an instance of yet another protection of our private affairs.

If the point of gun control is to reduce gun violence, then my friends in Gun-control Nation better figure out a narrative to justify banning the most dangerous guns which will convince some of the most ardent, freedom-loving gun owners that certain kinds of guns represent an unquestioned risk.

Sorry, but I don’t buy the idea that locking an AR-15 in a gun safe and giving the combination to everyone in the home is a way to mitigate that risk.

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