In the aftermath of the senseless and shocking the urge to do something inevitably comes. The compulsion to find some good in overwhelming evil, to somehow make the meaningless meaningful is overpowering. Then comes the senseless: the Mayor of New York City, Michael Bloomberg, who said:
I don’t understand why police officers across this country don’t stand up collectively and say we’re going to go on strike, we’re not going to protect you unless you, the public, through your legislature, do what’s required to keep us safe,’’ he told CNN’s Piers Morgan.
‘Police officers want to go home to their families. And we’re doing everything we can to make their job more difficult, but more importantly, more dangerous, by leaving guns in the hands of people who shouldn’t have them and letting people who have those guns buy things like armor piercing bullets.’
Shortly after making these improvident comments, Mayor Bloomberg began hastily walking them back. Apparently one of his less deranged aides pointed out that calling for public employees to strike is actually a violation of New York law, as well as being rather, well, stupid.
And also comes Richard A. Epstein of the Hoover Institution with a thoughtful essay, containing one comment revealing of a significant contemporary problem:
A ban on the sale and possession of assault weapons makes sense on the ground if it is true that there are few lawful uses of guns and many dangerous ones.
There is little chance for additional federal gun control legislation. The Supreme Court’s landmark Heller and McDonald decisions, as well as the severe legislative beatings of Democrats over the Clinton gun ban and in the 2000 presidential election (Al Gore loudly advocated for draconian gun control laws) have seen to that. Not only has the electorate changed to an overwhelmingly positive view of the Second Amendment, Democrats have come to understand that gun control is political suicide. Even so, Mr. Obama’s well-known gun control desires ever lurk so obviously just below the surface of his transparent pro-Second Amendment rhetoric that gun shops around the nation display his photograph as the greatest gun salesman America has ever known.
Americans know that the Second Amendment is only a single vote from extinction in the Supreme court, and that if Mr. Obama wins a second term, he and die-hard Congressional anti-gun Democrats will do everything possible to work their will. Even without tipping the Supreme Court balance, Mr. Obama could do considerable harm to a fundamental, inalienable right through executive orders, bureaucratic rule making and harassment and UN treaties.
The danger of losing any fundamental liberty is ever-present, which begs a return to the significant contemporary problem I earlier mentioned. Even people of good will–rational analysts–lack necessary knowledge of the technology of firearms and the efficacy of gun control measures. If more of the public were better informed, the likelihood of unnecessary and abusive laws in hasty response to mass murder might diminish even more.
What is known of the Aurora killer—who would want his name to be mentioned here—and precisely what happened is still incomplete, but sufficient is known to draw reasonable conclusions. The theater complex was a victim disarmament zone—also known as a gun-free zone—so the killer could be reasonably certain his victims would be unarmed, as they were. Buying a ticket, he quickly left through an exit and apparently propped it open while he armed himself and put on a tactical vest–apparently not actual body armor. He returned through the same door, loosed tear gas, and initially opened fire with a common pump-action 12 gauge shotgun, dropping the weapon when it was empty, and then began to fire with a common AR-15 type rifle, this particular rifle apparently made by Smith and Wesson. The inexpensive aftermarket 100 round drum magazine he used malfunctioned. Rather than try to clear it beyond a cursory attempt, he dropped that weapon as well and drew a .40 S&W Glock handgun—another common firearm and caliber—and emptied that firearm before leaving and being captured by police in the parking lot.
A brief examination of the legislative proposals filling the airwaves may help to better inform the public and make gun control legislation even less likely.
Ban Armor Piercing Ammunition: Many media sources are claiming the killer used armor piercing ammunition. This is almost certainly mistaken. Armor piercing ammunition is specially designed and manufactured with hardened projectiles capable of piercing actual plate armor of varying types. It has been banned for civilian use since 1986. The NRA was instrumental in drafting H.R. 3132 to include actual AP ammo instead of banning common rifle ammunition. The common .223/5.56mm cartridge of the AR-15 family of rifles will penetrate the bullet resistant vests commonly worn by police officers and others—they are designed only to defeat lower powered handgun rounds–but not body armor designed to resist intermediate power rifle cartridges. Virtually any intermediate or high-power rifle cartridge will penetrate some levels of body armor, and depending on the actual bullet, even some levels of metal plate. Actual AP ammunition is expensive and available only to the police and military. AP ammo is actually less dangerous than common rifle ammunition. Such bullets—if they miss vital structures of the body—rather than expand or fragment, tend to simply drill small caliber holes that do less damage.
Ban High Capacity Magazines: This was a major feature of the Clinton gun ban, which was in effect from 1994 to 2004. By 2004 when the law sunset, it was painfully apparent it had no effect whatever on crime and criminal misuse of firearms and after the legislative drubbing Democrats took over their support of the law, there was little support to renew it. Under the law, magazines were limited to 10 rounds, which led directly to the invention of many small, easily concealed handguns with 10 round magazines, the excellent Glock 26 being the first. The theory behind such bans seems to be that smaller magazines would limit the number of rounds a killer could fire. Unfortunately, any practical difference is negligible.
Experts can change magazines in a single second. Even average shooters can accomplish the task in six seconds or less. Revolvers, holding only six rounds on average, can be reloaded with astonishing speed. Using inexpensive polymer “speed loaders,” experts take in the neighborhood of two seconds, and average shooters with a brief familiarization can manage the six-second range.
Thirty round or larger magazines are, in many ways, to be preferred when used by criminals in handguns because they tend to hinder rather than help accuracy by unbalancing firearms, and as the Aurora killer discovered, they also tend to be far less reliable than standard capacity magazines, which doubtless prevented at least some injuries and deaths.
Also overlooked is the fact that in the hands of a single law-abiding citizen—such as a woman approached by multiple criminals–a large capacity magazine can provide a powerful deterrent and capability against multiple attackers. Those who wish such bans always overlook the fact that firearms protect the innocent far more frequently than harm them. Magazine capacity limitations only inconvenience and endanger the law-abiding while doing nothing to hinder criminals who could care less about such laws.
Ban “Assault Weapons:” “Assault weapons” do not exist. They are an invention of gun banners and may be best understood as any scary looking firearm they seek to ban at any given moment. Any military looking firearm, such as the AR-15 family (our standard military rifle) or semi-automatic versions of the Soviet AK-47 family, generally qualify.
There is a class of military weapons known as assault rifles. These weapons fire a rifle cartridge of intermediate power and are capable of fully automatic fire. In other words, if the trigger if pulled and held back, the weapon will continue to fire until the trigger is released or the magazine is emptied. While the rifles for sale to civilians outwardly resemble actual assault rifles, they are semi-automatic weapons only. They fire only a single bullet for each pull of the trigger. This technology has been in existence for more than a century. Semi-automatic rifles are capable of firing at only a slightly higher rate than lever action or pump action rifles which represent even older technology. These semi-automatic rifles have become popular because they are rugged, reliable and accurate, but other rifles are more accurate at longer ranges and fire far more powerful cartridges.
The Virginia Tech shooter killed 32 people using only two common handguns; no rifle was necessary. One handgun had a magazine capacity of 10 rounds, another had a magazine capacity of 15 rounds. As In Aurora, he operated in a victim disarmament zone. Virtually every mass murderer in recent American history operated in a victim disarmament zone.
Assault Weapons Are Useful Only For Killing People: The AR-15 family of rifles has become one of the most popular designs in history. So common are they that one can expect to see several at any shooting range at any time. They are currently used for target shooting, competitions of many kinds, home and personal defense, and hunting. The primary factor determining the usefulness of a given rifle for hunting is the cartridge it fires. The AR-15’s .223 cartridge is useful on small game, but not on animals the size of deer. The polymer stock and fore arm, rugged non-glare finish, rust resistance, ability to accept many accessories, inherent accuracy and reliability of the AR-15 family also makes them ideal rifles for the field, and they are used by many hunters.
Limit Ammunition Purchases: Who needs 1000 rounds of ammunition? As it turns out, a great many people do. A family day at the range can easily expend that amount of ammunition, as can attending a professional shooting course. Practicing for competitions requires far more ammunition. Government is already telling Americans what kinds of toilets and light bulbs they are allowed to possess, what would a government determined ammunition limit look like? Fifty rounds per month? One round? Criminals would obey such a law?
Enhance Movie Theater Security: Most Americans would agree that a trip to the theater is already more than expensive enough. Some have suggested setting up TSA-like checkpoints with metal detectors and security personnel standing ready to pat down patrons. At Aurora, simply posting gun-free zone signs was sufficient to disarm honest, law-abiding people, but even airport-like security theater would not have stopped the killer, who walked in unarmed and slipped out an exit to retrieve his weapons. Not only would such measures increase the cost of admission to the point of pricing theaters out of existence, they would succeed only in annoying the honest and do nothing to stop a determined killer.
Strengthen Mental Health Laws: This is an issue I explored after the shooting of Gabrielle Giffords in Tucson in 2010 at PJ Media. In most states, sufficient involuntary commitment laws exist, but police officers are often unfamiliar with them and reluctant to deal with them as a result, and local systems often develop informal or even formal procedures that make using such laws difficult. Ultimately, most laws are not the problem. The Aurora killer apparently showed no sign of mental illness, or at the very least, nothing that would have obviously allowed his involuntary commitment, which has been the case with virtually every mass shooter in American history. We tend to believe that anyone capable of killing others for no apparent reason must—in some way-be mentally ill. Our criminal justice system encourages the sane to suddenly profess insanity when arrested for murder, as the Aurora killer surely will.
It is surely a truism to observe that criminals are aptly named because they commit crimes. They do not play by the rules of society. They dishonor the social contract. Police officers understand that the primary reason they can function is because most people will willingly obey most laws most of the time, just as the citizens of Aurora obeyed the law depriving them of the right and ability to protect their lives and the lives of their loved ones in that theater that night. They did not expect to need their firearms. They did not expect to have to take responsibility for saving themselves and their loved ones. No one does, which is why the Second Amendment and concealed carry laws are so important. People do not carry because they know when they’ll need a gun, but because they can’t know.
It is not comforting to understand that none of the laws mentioned here, none of the thousands of gun control laws with their severe penalties, stopped the Aurora killer, or any other mass shooter. It does not sooth the soul to understand that such laws can never hinder those who do not obey any law. Imagining that one planning mass murder might be deterred by the lesser punishment meted out under a gun law is quite irrational.
It is truly horrifying to believe that the Aurora killer may have wounded and killed some 70 people simply because he wanted to do it and liked doing it. His motivation may have been no more complex than that. If so, he was not the first and will surely not be the last, and no gun law will make the slightest difference, unless, that is, it deprives the innocent of their ability to survive as it did in that theater that night.