Screen capture, from video courtesy of Mount Vernon Community School/Jon Lareau via YouTube
When pushing a gun-control bill in a public hearing, Democratic Virginia Del. Mark Levine forgot the old saw: “Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak and to remove all doubt.”
Levine was asked by a member of the audience to please define the political term “assault weapon.” Levine’s answer (you can see the video here) is so funny it just has to go viral.
People at a public meeting can be heard laughing, not uproariously but spontaneously, as Levine claims that the biggest difference between hunting rifles and “assault weapons” is “how you hold the gun.”
Levine held up his arms up at shoulder level to mimic a hunting rifle and said “you can shoot very precisely with a gun that goes like this.” He explained that such rifles are appropriate for hunting. He then held his arms at waist level and moved them back and forth to, say, mimic Arnold Schwarzenegger in the 1985 classic action movie “Commando.” As he did this Levine explained that “mass shooters use guns that go like this … [that are] wildly inaccurate.” People broke out laughing then, as audience members clearly knew that AR-15-type firearms—which are the kinds of firearms Levine labels as “assault weapons”—are also very accurate rifles used by many hunters and by millions of Americans to protect their loved ones at home.
Levine’s legislation would ban AR-type rifles and so-called “high-capacity” magazines. He presumably has written this legislation, as he refers to it as “my legislation,” but in his meandering explanation he strangely says that a person can use several fingers to pull the trigger on an “assault weapon,” but not on a hunting rifle, and that deer know the sound of a bullet shot through a “silencer” better than humans.
What gun owners know, but Levine clearly doesn’t, is he has given America a video exposing the fact that most of the politicians writing and advocating for this kind of legislation don’t know the first thing about the firearms they want to ban; or even U.S. homicide statistics.
Levine, of course, had trouble explaining the difference between so-called “sporting arms” and what he thinks are “assault weapons” because there is no difference. American citizens have used semi-automatic rifles, shotguns and pistols since the first decade in the 20th century. A 1904 ad for a Winchester Automatic Rifle, a semiautomatic .22 rimfire rifle, for example, boasted: “Like history it repeats itself.”
Actually, according to Bruce H. Kobayashi and Joseph E. Olson, in the Stanford Law and Policy Review, “Prior to 1989, the term ‘assault weapon’ did not exist in the lexicon of firearms.” “Assault weapon” is a political term developed by anti-gun advocates to convince people that some guns are too, well scary, effective, ergonomic or something, for U.S. citizens to own. The technical term “assault rifle” includes full-auto military firearms such as the M4A1 carbine. The AR-15 is not an assault rifle—it’s not full-auto; it’s semiautomatic (when you pull the trigger it goes bang once). “AR” doesn’t stand for “assault rifle.” It stands for the first two letters of the original manufacturer’s name: ArmaLite Corporation. Assault rifles, being full-auto machine guns, are already heavily restricted.
In 1988, anti-gun activist Josh Sugarmann, who was then the communications director for the National Coalition to Ban Handguns, recommended that gun-control groups use public ignorance and fear to ban everything they can stuff into the phrase “assault weapon” when he wrote, “Assault weapons ... 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.... Efforts to restrict assault weapons are more likely to succeed than those to restrict handguns.”
The political shift to dubbing these semi-automatic rifles “assault weapons” led to the 1994 Assault Weapons Ban (a federal law that expired in 2004) and to state bans, such as those in California, Connecticut and New York.
It has been politically difficult to pass another federal ban on semi-automatic rifles that look a certain way because of public education from the NRA and because such firearm designs are rarely used in crimes—according to FBI crime statistics, murderers use rifles in less that 3% of all murders in the U.S. each year. AR-15-type rifles make up an even smaller fraction of that percentage.
Though Levine claimed in his answer that the 1994 Assault Weapons Ban did what it intended to do, the data actually shows that the number of people shot and killed with semiautomatic “assault weapons” didn’t change appreciably during the 10-year period (1994-2004) that those firearms were banned from being sold. Specifically, reports submitted by state and local law-enforcement agencies to the FBI and published annually in its “Uniform Crime Reports” indicate that firearms-related murders and the non-negligent manslaughter rate per 100,000 of the population decreased from 6.6 for 1993 to 3.6 for 2000. The rate held steady at 3.6 for 2001 and fluctuated thereafter between a high of 3.9 in 2006 and 2007 and was a low 3.2 in 2010 and 2011. No matter how someone plays with these statistics, they don’t show any correlation with the 1994-2004 ban.