Today the NYT published an Op-Ed by David Joy. I enjoyed reading it and share some of his observations. About 3/4 of the way through he suggests an AR-15 is somehow different from other rifles in the store, saying, “the idea of owning a rifle designed for engaging human targets out to 600 meters just never interested me.” He asks a friend why he owns an AR-15 and is unsatisfied with his friend’s response. Here is mine.
First, David’s belief that the AR-15 is somehow different from other rifles in the store, is not justified by the facts. The AR-15 is a semi-automatic .223 caliber rifle. It is less powerful than most common .30 caliber rifles, like the Savage .308 David uses to hunt deer. These more powerful semi-auto rifles are just as accurate, often have longer range and are commonly used for sport, hunting and self defense.
Second, David mis-characterizes the AR-15 when he describes it as “a rifle designed for engaging human targets out to 600 meters”. For engaging human targets out to 600 meters, look at what military snipers use. They use a rifle that is more powerful, more accurate, and has longer range than an AR-15. This rifle is the M-24, which is a .30 caliber bolt action Remington Model 700 with a 5 round capacity, the same kind of rifle your Grandpa carried through woods, still carried by thousands of hunters across the USA. Later, Army snipers switched to the M2010, which is another .30 caliber bolt action rifle with a 5 round magazine.
In short, according to the US Army, a rifle like David’s Savage .308 is more effective than an AR-15 at “engaging human targets out to 600 meters”. But that’s not a fair comparison; the Army doesn’t even use the AR-15.
People who don’t know much about guns believe, incorrectly, that the AR-15 is a military rifle. They believe this primarily for cosmetic reasons. Instead of steel and wood, it is black with lots of plastic and resembles the M-16 that US soldiers carry. Yet it is unusual to see an experienced gun owner like David make this mistake. The military M-16 is not an AR-15. The M-16 can fire in full automatic mode (a machine gun) which has been strictly regulated since 1934. The AR-15 fires one bullet each time you pull the trigger.
So when David says, “My friends see no difference between the guns I own and their ARs,” this should come as no surprise. The only material difference is magazine capacity.
To David’s final point, there are several good reasons to oppose an assault-weapons ban.
- The term “assault weapon” is pure fiction. They’re not machine guns; those have already been virtually banned since 1934. The guns named as “assault weapons” are based mainly on cosmetic features; they’re not functionally different from common sporting and hunting rifles.
- The AR-15 magazine holds 30 rounds. This is more than most other rifles in common use and makes it the only functional difference between the AR-15 and these other rifles. It is worth debating whether restricting such high capacity magazines might reduce crime or improve public safety. Yet our country has already had this debate, and more; see below.
- The Federal Govt banned “assault weapons” for 10 years, from 1994 to 2004. This included a ban on magazines in any firearm holding more than 10 rounds. Serious academics (such as the National Academy of Sciences) and the Dept. of Justice comprehensively studied the law and found it had no effect on crime, accidents, suicide or public safety.
In short, an assault weapons ban has already been tried, studied, and found to be ineffective. And the reason why is obvious: true “assault weapons” — machine guns — are already banned and have been since 1934.
Note: I don’t own an AR-15 simply because I find other guns to be more useful for sport, hunting or self defense. However, having used one, I don’t believe there is anything about it that makes it more dangerous than other rifles in common use today. I don’t see the AR-15 as a sign of a rift in gun attitudes or culture. The gun owners I know are responsible citizens, whatever kind of rifles they prefer.