By now certainly everyone has heard of the shooting of eight people in Wisconsin by a hunter armed with an SKS rifle. Six of the victims are now dead, two are in critical condition.
It took the Violence Policy Center about one day to start dancing in the blood of the slain so that they could rev-up their campaign to renew and strengthen an "Assault Weapon Ban." Remember what the VPC had to say during the original fight to get a ban enacted:
Although handguns claim more than 20,000 lives a year, the issue of handgun restriction consistently remains a non-issue with the vast majority of legislators, the press, and public. The reasons for this vary: the power of the gun lobby; the tendency of both sides of the issue to resort to sloganeering and pre-packaged arguments when discussing the issue; the fact that until an individual is affected by handgun violence he or she is unlikely to work for handgun restrictions; the view that handgun violence is an "unsolvable" problem; the inability of the handgun restriction movement to organize itself into an effective electoral threat; and the fact that until someone famous is shot, or something truly horrible happens, handgun restriction is simply not viewed as a priority. Assault weapons - just like armor-piercing bullets, machine guns, and plastic firearms - are a new topic. The weapons' menacing looks, coupled with the public's confusion over fully automatic machine guns versus semi-automatic assault weapons - anything that looks like a machine gun is assumed to be a machine gun - can only increase the chance of public support for restrictions on these weapons.Yes, the VPC is truly interested in protecting the police and public. By disarming the public. The law-abiding part, anyway. "Assault weapons" first, "sniper rifles" later, handguns after that, and other weapons when they've accomplished those goals.
The new VPC piece linked above states:
So far in 2004, at least six law enforcement officers have been slain by SKSs.Obviously this trend is horrible! So they want further SKS importations stopped and they want SKS rifles - and anything else they consider to be an "assault weapon" - banned.
Well, I'm sorry for the officers, their families and loved ones, but how about a little perspective? According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics the number of officers slain in the line of duty - just like general violent crime figures - has been declining for the last decade. See these graphs:
The total number of deaths has been in continuous if not steady decline (not including the 72 officers killed in the World Trade Center attack, September 11, 2001). The supposed scourge of "assault weapons" hasn't caused a sudden upswing in the statistics, either, as the VPC inadvertently illustrated in their paper "Officer Down." This chart shows the number of officers slain with what the VPC labels "assault weapons" - including the SKS, M1 Carbine, and Mini-14 rifles which were excluded from the 1994 AWB - over the period of 1998 through 2001. Compare that to the FBI graphs.
The implication the VPC wants to make is that if those weapons had not been available, those officers would not have died.
But do you really believe that?
Had Chai Soua Vang been armed with a lever-action Marlin chambered for the .44 Magnum cartridge, would he have been any less lethal?
The VPC wants to use this crime to do what the British did in 1988 after a licensed gun owner by the name of Michael Ryan used a legally possessed semi-auto AK-47, an M1 Carbine, and a Beretta 9mm handgun to kill 17 people and wound an additional 15 in Hungerford, Berkshire, England before taking his own life. Parliament, with the outcry of the British public lubricating the wheels of legislation, shoved through the 1988 Firearms (Amendment) Act that banned all semi-automatic centerfire rifles and most semi-auto shotguns. Banned as in "turn them all in."
Bear in mind, however, this followed literally decades of ever-increasingly restrictive laws and regulations on firearm possession. Licensing and registration were already facts of life. "Proof of need" was a prerequisite for acquiring a firearm. Letters of reference and membership in a shooting club, too. According to this site:
For a number of years prior to the Hungerford massacre many police chiefs had pursued a policy of reducing the numbers of certificates to the absolute minimum. The policy was often overt, the Police Review of October 1982 published an article which described this policy:In short, after England had enacted pretty much every law the Brady Center claims is "commonsense," Michael Ryan still killed 17 people and wounded 15 more. So they banned "assault weapons." And every legally owned, legally registered one was turned in.There is an easily identifiable police attitude towards the possession of guns by members of the public. Every possible difficulty should be put in their way. No documentation can be too rigid, no security requirement too arbitrary, which prevents guns coming into the hands of criminals.
In 1996 in Dunblane, Scotland, Thomas Hamilton took five legally owned, properly registered handguns to a school and killed 16 children and their teacher, wounding eleven more. So England banned handguns, and every legally owned, legally registered one was turned in.
These "commonsense" laws did have another effect. At the time of the Hungerford massacre there were only 160,000 people in England licensed to own rifles and handguns, and 840,000 licensed to own shotguns (and there must have been significant overlap in the two populations.) This is out of a population of perhaps 45 million, or, at best, an ownership rate of less than 2.5% of the population. The latest statistics show that there are now 118,612 firearm certificates and 561,762 shotgun certificates on issue in England and Wales. That's nearly a one-third reduction in people legally licensed to possess firearms since 1988. Legal ownership has fallen to less than 1.4% of the population. Yet the rate of firearm involved crime there continues to climb.
There haven't been any more mass-murders by firearm, but that's of little comfort to the families of Charlene Ellis, 18, and Latisha Shakespeare, 17 who were gunned down by someone with a submachinegun in Birmingham in January of last year. Two other young women were wounded in that attack.
Fully automatic weapons were banned in England in 1937.
Such public enthusiasm for banning guns does not exist here. At best guess, one quarter of our population owns a firearm. It's a guess because the overwhelming majority of us do not have to register our firearms. The VPC constantly touts that the majority of Americans support an "assault weapons ban," but that the eeeevil NRA has a stranglehold on the Congress. Both are possibly true, but it's also certain that the majority of the public - even the gun-owning public - does not understand the implications of a ban, while the NRA certainly does.
For example, from today's New York Times:
"This is not a gun you go deer hunting with," said Lawrence Keane, senior vice president and general counsel of the National Shooting Sports Foundation, the gun industry trade association.Surely Mr. Keane should know that the 7.62x39 Russian cartridge the SKS fires is approximately equal in power to the venerable .30-30 Winchester - a cartridge possibly responsible for the harvesting of more deer in the United States than any other? Surely Mr. Keane should know that the pointed bullet profile of the 7.62x39 round yeilds better downrange ballistics than the flat-pointed bullets used in the .30-30? Surely Mr. Keane should know that the average SKS rifle is more than capable of holding "minute of deer" accuracy out to 100 yards or more? And surely Mr. Keane should know that the SKS rifle is inexpensive and highly reliable - both of significant interest to new hunters?
The reason the SKS is not used by hunters, Mr. Keane said, is that it is designed for combat soldiers and is therefore underpowered for killing an animal like a deer with a single shot, the goal of good hunters.
"The ethics of hunting are you don't want the animal to suffer needlessly," Mr. Keane said. Mr. Keane said he suspected that the man accused of the Wisconsin killings was not a trained hunter, since with the SKS he was carrying, he would have had to shoot a deer several times to kill it.
The SKS is a perfectly adequate (and popular) deer rifle, yet a member of a group that supposedly supports gun rights plays directly into the hands of those interested in banning firearms.
We are often our own worst enemy.
But Birchwood is not Hungerford, and the U.S. is not England.
And we will not blame the gun for the action of the shooter, no matter how much the VPC et al. would like to stampede us into doing that.
UPDATE, 11/24: As I predicted, the Brady Center ran with Lawrence Keane's quote from the New York Times in a press release yesterday:
The SKS rifle apparently used by the hunter to kill six other hunters in Wisconsin Sunday wasn't banned under the Federal assault weapons ban that expired September 13, but it should be banned for civilian use. Designed for use in war, even the gun industry admitted yesterday that it's not intended for hunting.Thank you so much, Mr. Keane for being an ignorant idiot.
It may, in fact, be the first time the official spokesman for the National Shooting Sports Foundation has admitted that any military-style semiautomatic assault rifle is inappropriate for hunting. Lawrence Keane, senior vice president of the group, went further, and even told the New York Times that the SKS isn't a humane weapon for hunting deer. "The reason the SKS is not used by hunters, Mr. Keane said, is that it is designed for combat soldiers and is therefore underpowered for killing an animal like a deer with a single shot, the goal of good hunters," The Times wrote. "'The ethics of hunting are you don't want the animal to suffer needlessly,' Mr. Keane said.
"Prior to the expiration of the assault weapons ban, the industry's spokespersons were unified in describing these types of weapons as perfectly normal for use by hunters. It was one of the industry's main arguments for letting the ban expire.
Since the ban's expiration, high-profile crimes involving assault weapons have already become more commonplace. Plano, Texas police are searching for members of a bank robbery gang that have opened fire on police with AK-47s, and that same weapon is believed to be the weapon of choice of a killer or killers who have shot eight people in West Palm Beach, Florida.
FURTHER UPDATE: The Wisconsin State Journal, in an unsigned editorial (natch) regurgitates the Brady/VPC talking points in a call to (natch) renew the AWB and make it stricter. Now there's a shocker. But get this error:
Americans already own an estimated 100 million guns of all types.Err, no. About 260 million of all types. About 100 million handguns. Sheesh. I thought newspapers had editors?