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The Professor Is Coming! The Professor Is Coming!

The Professor Is Coming! The Professor Is Coming!

For more than 240 years, the Massachusetts township of Lexington has been engaged in a debate with neighboring Concord over who can lay claim to being the true home of the “Shot Heard ’Round The World”—the opening salvo in the American Revolution fired on April 19, 1775. While shots were almost certainly fired earliest at Lexington, the resistance at Concord brought about the first British casualties and retreat. Lexington has since fought for its place in American history, even petitioning the state legislature in 1894 to proclaim April 19 “Lexington Day.” 

Lately the two towns have declared a truce (Lexington’s website references the Battle of Lexington and Concord), but Lexington residents remain fiercely proud of their place in American heritage. Now, a Harvard professor wants to change all that.

Robert Rotberg, a professor at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, is the author of Article 34, a measure that would ban semi-automatic rifles capable of accepting a magazine that holds more than 10 rounds. Note that this latest iteration of an “assault weapons” ban would not only ban the sale of these firearms, but would also force current legal owners to sell or render them inoperable, or turn them over to the police. However, Highland Park’s ban was anything but carefully crafted, having been hastily drafted after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down Chicago’s gun-ban regime in the landmark McDonald v. City of Chicago.

Rotberg is a longtime member of the Lexington Town Meeting, a group of 200 residents, most elected to three-year terms, who gather to debate amendments to the town code. In 2012, he lost a race for a seat on the Board of Selectmen to a Lexington native, mother and longtime community volunteer, Suzie Barry. Undaunted, Rotberg has found a new way to sway the Lexington way of life to his thinking, writing opaquely, “For all of the obvious reasons, and because Lexington has first mover advantage and responsibilities,” the town should ban modern semi-autos and standard-capacity magazines. 

Ignoring the fact that no one knows what that means, the 80-year-old Rotberg told NPR that he modeled his ban after the one in Highland Park, Ill., a suburb of Chicago, saying it “made perfect sense to use their very carefully crafted legislation, which not only bans assault weapons and high-capacity magazines; but it also specifies the hundred or so specific weapons that are prohibited.” 

Rotberg touches all the talking points of the anti-gun lobby (every gun-control scheme is described as “common sense”). However, Highland Park’s ban was anything but carefully crafted, having been hastily drafted after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down Chicago’s gun-ban regime in the landmark McDonald v. City of Chicago. The Illinois state Legislature was then forced to craft new protections for gun rights: To get them passed, the state agreed to allow local municipalities only 10 days in which to pass local ordinances. With the Fed’s breath hot on its neck, Chicago suburb Highland Park threw its ban together literally overnight. 

From the back of class, we raise our hand: “Professor Rotberg, if you can so clearly define what an ‘assault weapon’ is, why do you have to list a hundred or so by make and model?” 

Rotberg may be a Harvard professor, but he has been skipping history class. So, Professor, we did a Google search last night, and found that the Clinton administration forced a similar “assault weapons” ban upon the country in 1995. Like you, the Clinton administration also tried to define modern semi-automatic rifles by cosmetic features, and capitalized on the guns’ military appearance to frighten citizens into assent. Ten years later, it was allowed to sunset (a provision insisted upon by the NRA) primarily because FBI stats showed that it had zero effect on violent crime (rifles of any sort are used in less than 2 percent of crime). Stay focused, Robert; this is important. 

Since the lifting of the ban in 2004, the AR-15 has become the most popular rifle in America. Dubbed “America’s Gun,” it is used by millions of law-abiding citizens for hunting, competition and self-defense. Currently, one in five rifles sold in the U.S. is an AR-15. Yet, contrary to the explicit stated purpose of your ban, U.S. gun homicide totals have dropped every single year. Are you taking notes, Robert? Robert?Does it strike you as ironic that, on the very ground where patriotic Americans first died to protect a cache of arms from an oppressive government, you want to send the government into homes to collect arms under threat of imprisonment?

NPR reported the reaction from local gun owner Seth Riney to your proposal: “To me and others, it’s a solution looking for a problem.” Indeed, a search of city-data.com for crime in Lexington reveals a total of zero murders of any kind for the years 2001-2013. Robert, stop bothering Seth and pay attention when class is in session.

Despite all this evidence, professor Rotberg has big plans for his big ban: “Just as we fired the first shot to start the Revolution, this might be the first shot—no pun intended—to start a movement against assault weapons that would capture the state and therefore maybe explode to reach the country.” Well, Robert, that sounds very nice, but someone already thought of this, and it failed. What is your next big idea? Bring back Prohibition? 

As one Lexington resident posted in response to your proposal, does it strike you as ironic that, on the very ground where patriotic Americans first died to protect a cache of arms from an oppressive government, you want to send the government into homes to collect arms under threat of imprisonment? Robert, please come to the blackboard and show your work. 

Professor, when you ran for office in 2012, you said, “I am not grinding any axes. Some people run for public office to settle scores or because of specific issues. That is not me.” Perhaps you lost that race to the five-time chairwoman of Lexington’s Celebrations Committee because the good citizens of Lexington already knew who you were.