The idea we still allow semi-automatic weapons to be purchased is sick,” President Joe Biden (D) said last November. “It has no socially redeeming value. Zero. None. Not a single solitary rationale for it except profit for the gun manufacturers.”
These are the sentiments of an authoritarian. The trouble for Biden’s ambitions is he is the president of the United States, which is a constitutional republic. He is not Xi Jinping, head of a communist state, or even Justin Trudeau, head of a Westminster-style parliamentary democracy in a nation with no constitutional protection for the peoples’ right to own and carry firearms.
Biden must contend with a clearly written founding document, the U.S. Constitution, and its amendments, which begin with the first 10, otherwise known as the U.S. Bill of Rights. These rights are basically a list of restrictions on government. And the second on the list has recently, in relative American history, been judged by the highest court in the land in three successive cases—Heller (2008), McDonald (2010) and Bruen (2022)—to protect the peoples’ rights to own and to carry firearms.
However, before outlining the constitutional protections that Biden’s authoritarian ambitions can’t simply disregard, it’s worth tackling his claim that semi-automatic firearms have “no socially redeeming value.”
First, this isn’t even a question a government official in a free country should be asking.
Many things we choose to purchase have little to no socially redeeming value—other than they are maybe fun to own. Does a Ferrari Roma have socially redeeming value? Does a bottle of beer? Does a 65-inch flat-screen TV? No, thank you, Mr. Biden, we don’t want government in the needs business—that’s Karl Marx’s “from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs” stuff. That view is not, and can never be, in step with actual human liberty.
The thing is though, semi-automatic firearms have a lot of socially redeeming value. This is why a majority of people who buy guns for self-defense choose semi-automatics (usually pistols) that come standard with magazines that hold 10 or more rounds. Semi-automatic firearms are ideal for personal and home defense. They cycle the next round in after the trigger is pulled. They reduce felt recoil. They are often easier for smaller, older, weaker citizens to operate. They are equalizers against bigger, stronger or armed criminals.
Though semi-automatic firearms are very popular, it is not possible, in this free nation, to give a precise estimate of how many of the 400-million-plus guns in U.S. civilian hands today are semi-automatic designs. Gun-manufacturing data tabulated by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), however, shows that about 3 million pistols were made by U.S.-based gun manufacturers for American consumers in 2019 alone. Millions more were imported.
As for the constitutional foundation for this freedom, semi-automatic designs meet every measure of constitutional protection, as explained by the U.S. Supreme Court in D.C. v. Heller (2008). This decision stipulated that the Second Amendment protects guns that are in “common use.” Clearly, semi-automatic designs are in common use by normal, law-abiding citizens.
Nor is the semi-automatic design a new or novel invention. The semi-automatic firearm is a late-19th-century invention. They were popularly sold in the 1890s. Perhaps the greatest pistol of all time, the Colt Model 1911, was invented in the first decade of the 20th century by John Browning and sold to American citizens when the U.S. Army took it as its official service pistol in 1911; in fact, the Director of Civilian Marksmanship began manufacturing M1911 pistols for members of the NRA in August of 1912.
After President Biden said, “The idea we still allow semi-automatic weapons to be purchased is sick,” his White House Press Secretary, Karine Jean-Pierre, tried to walk back Biden’s words.
When asked, “Did the president misspeak or does he, in fact, want to ban all semi-automatic guns?” Jean-Pierre said, “No, he was—he was talking about assault weapons. That’s what he was talking about on that—on that morning or that afternoon when he was asked that question.”
The thing is, Biden has said he wants to ban all of these firearms before.
At a CNN town hall in 2021, Biden said, “Whether it’s a 9 mm pistol or whether it’s a rifle—is ridiculous. I’m continuing to push to eliminate the sale of those things.”
Before he was president, when Biden was at a private fundraiser in Seattle in 2019, he asked, “Why should we allow people to have military-style weapons, including pistols with 9 mm bullets that can hold 10 or more rounds?”
The trouble for the White House Press Secretary, and all the mainstream-media outlets who try to talk away Biden’s repeated desire to ban American citizens (but not his Secret Service agents) from owning semi-automatic firearms, is Biden himself. President Biden’s gaffes are often off-teleprompter moments when he says what he really thinks.
Still, we don’t need Biden’s permission to own semi-automatic firearms. These arms have clear constitutional protections.