Freedomnomics

Article published Wednesday, January 20, 2016, at National Review.

A Semi-Automatic Handgun Ban Wouldn’t Stop Mass Shooters

By John R. Lott, Jr.

President Obama’s timing is off. Just as he tries to assure us that there’s no conspiracy to take away our guns, Democrats across the country are calling for banning most firearms.

From Georgia to California, Democratic legislators have introduced bills to ban all semi-automatic rifles or even all semi-automatics, period. In the New York Times this month, Thomas Friedman called for “bans on the manufacture and sale of all semi-automatic and other military-style guns.” The city council of Lexington, Mass., is seeking to “ban the ownership of semi-automatic or fully automatic weapons able to hold ammunition clips containing more than ten rounds.”

Well over half of the guns sold in the U.S. are semi-automatic. And, if a gun can accept a magazine, that magazine can be of pretty much any size. So the “ten round” rule is meaningless. So, with the exception of a few specialty guns, these rules would in effect ban all semi-automatic guns.

This Democrat goal is nothing new, of course — in 1998, Illinois state senator Barack Obama supported a “ban on the sale or transfer of all forms of semi-automatic weapons” — but for years, gun-control advocates wanted to ban guns based on appearances. Now, instead of arbitrarily going after guns because of how they look, Democrats are at least being logically consistent and talking about banning guns based on how they function.

The AR-15 became a popular target because it resembles the military’s M-16. But AR-15s use essentially the same bullets as do small-game hunting rifles. They even fire at the same rapidity and cause the same damage. And unlike fully automatic machine guns, which will fire bullets for as long as the trigger is pressed, semi-automatic guns fire only one bullet per trigger-pull. No self-respecting military in the world would use these semi-automatic guns.

Gun-control advocates have continually demonstrated their ignorance about how guns operate. How often do we hear them ask, “why do people need a semi-automatic Bushmaster to go out and kill deer?” But the answer is simple: A Bushmaster is a hunting rifle — it has just been made to look like a military weapon.

If, however, the Democrats plan to ban semi-automatic handguns, banning revolvers isn’t going to be far behind. Not that banning revolvers would reduce gun crime, either.

Revolvers get their name from a revolving cylinder that contains bullets in separate chambers. Gun-control advocates will eventually realize that revolvers actually fire bullets at a faster rate than do semi-automatic pistols — semi-automatics have to do a lot more work to load the next bullet in the chamber. Semi-automatics can hold more bullets and it used to be true that they could be reloaded more quickly than revolvers. But while semi-automatics are still easier to reload, technology has advanced to the point where revolvers can be reloaded just as quickly.

In contrast to semi-automatics that can hold a magazine of any size, revolvers are limited to eight to ten bullets (depending on the caliber of the bullets being used). But with training, a mass shooter can fire just as many bullets with a sufficient rapidity that their ability to commit these crimes would be unaffected by the time needed to reload.

Moreover, revolvers have a major advantage over semi-automatics: They don’t jam as frequently. The spring in a magazine can lose strength and therefore its ability to properly push bullets cleanly into the chamber. Large-capacity magazines actually make jamming much more likely, as you need a very strong spring to push the last few bullets into the chamber. Jammed guns actually saved lives in both the Aurora, Colo, movie-theater shooting and the Gabby Giffords shooting in Tucson, Ariz.

Either way, today’s ignorant politicians want to ban all semi-automatic guns. Tomorrow they will push to ban revolvers.

Will this make anyone safer or reduce gun violence? No.

While mass shooters can plan their attacks by bringing multiple guns, extra magazines, or speed loaders for revolvers, concealed-carry permit holders are unlikely to lug along any extra equipment. And the law-abiding citizen won’t be able to carry as many bullets in a legal revolver as in a potentially illegal semi-automatic.

So if the Democrats ban self-loading guns that fire a bullet each time you pull the trigger, what is the alternative? Single-shot rifles that require you to physically reload the gun after each shot? Derringer handguns that can fire one or two rounds before they have to be reloaded?

Make no mistake, there would be a real cost to these bans, particularly for the most vulnerable people who are likely to be victims of violent crime (poor blacks who live in high-crime areas) and those who are weaker physically (women and the elderly).

Single-shot guns may not do people a lot of good when they are facing multiple attackers. Or, for that matter, when their first shot misses or fails to stop an attacker. These are cruel proposals for people who want to be able to defend themselves and others. The question is: Do these Democrats care?

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