Assault Weapons Ban: Why It Probably Won't Work and Why That's a Good Thing


I’ve never owned a semi-automatic rifle, but I have been tempted to get one before. (“Tempted” is defined as searching for one at an affordable price.) Today, with a ban on so-called “assault weapons” pending, a lot of people are getting the same idea. I don’t think that the ban is likely to pass, but it might succeed at putting more “assault weapons” in American households.

Many of the current buyers are likely collectors, who already own one or more semi-automatic rifles and, therefore, know how to navigate the bureaucracy of the gun-ownership subculture. They already have had their background checks with the FBI; they have their permits for owning one or more guns; they know which gun-dealers to trust; and, if necessary, they know how to assemble and upgrade parts for the guns that they already own. (Given that the ban might make buying a pistol grip illegal — even though this doesn’t make a weapon more lethal — buyers may start hording these while they still can.)

No politician has a realistic plan for getting the semi-automatic weapons that are already out there back. There is talk of buying them and melting them down, but it is unlikely that someone who has already spent as much as $4,000 on registering a single weapon is going to readily volunteer to hand it back at whatever price the government is willing to dish out, especially considering the prices governments tend to offer for semi-automatic weapons are low: $200 for an AR-15? If anyone is willing to sell a weapon for that price, then I’ll take two. More importantly, people who are selling their weapons back are unlikely to want to use them in a crime.

The only other way of getting the guns back would be if the government set a deadline for them to be turned in and, after that, going house to house. This is unfortunate, given that Congress could put responsible reforms in place which would go a long way toward ensuring they were kept out of irresponsible hands (such as requiring buyers to obtain endorsements from friends or family members who would assume partial liability if the buyer used the weapon to commit a crime.)

Instead, the government elects to take a moderate sojourn down the road already taken by the United Kingdom — where the Surrey Police recently arrested a former soldier for trying to turn a shotgun in to them. This is the logical end of such bans: When the government stops believing that the innocent can also be responsible citizens, it ends up presuming everyone guilty.