Jun 14, 2021 • 49M

Ep. 9 - "Military Grade" Weapons

Are there specific firearm features that can classify a firearm as "military-grade"?

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Justin Stapley discusses timely political topics, timeless values, and the first principles of limited government and free society.
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What is a military-grade weapon? Should any of the firearms currently on the market in the United States be considered military-grade? Specifically, is the AR-15 a military-grade weapon? These questions are difficult to answer because “military-grade weapon” is another term in a long list of terms being used in the gun debate that have no specific, relevant meaning.  But, for the sake of argument, I’m going to attempt to find a working definition of “military-grade” in this episode of the Self-Evident podcast. So, here we go.  

Full-Automatic Fire

The most obvious firearm feature that we can universally consider “military-grade" is the capacity for full-auto fire or the ability to simulate or approach full-auto fire. That’s because a full-automatic weapon is what’s considered an area weapon, meaning it’s designed to saturate an area with gunfire far beyond what’s possible with manual pulls of the trigger. Area weapons fall into a broader category of weapons that are considered mass casualty devices, meaning their design fulfills a specific military need to cause mass casualties in an opposing force.  

Because the civilian application of a firearm for self-defense falls quite exclusively into situations requiring what are called point weapons, firearms designed to deliver purposeful, precise, and controlled gunfire, there is an established tradition in American law that civilians do not have a protected right by nature of the second amendment for area weapons and mass casualty devices. This allows us to classify, based on existing law, Light Machine Guns, Assault Rifles, and Submachine Guns as military-grade weapons (legally, they are classified as machine guns). This also allows us, generally, to classify a semi-automatic weapon modified in some way to simulate or approach full-auto fire as a “military-grade weapon”.  

However, if the limit of our definition of “military-grade” is only on the capability for full-auto fire, the debate would be closed. Manufacturing full-automatic weapons for general civilian use is already banned and the sale of existing full-automatic weapons is highly regulated. The highly complicated process for acquiring one of the little over 500,000 existing automatic weapons in the hands of civilians is so complicated and rigorous that their use in crime is virtually non-existent.

There have only been three reported incidents of full-automatic weapons used in crimes since 1934 and none of these incidents were mass shootings. Additionally, the Vegas Shooting remains the only occurrence of semi-automatic weapons modified to simulate or approach automatic fire by use of external devices and those devices (bump-stocks) have since been banned. So, if we are to extend our working definition of “military-grade” to include any of the firearms currently on the market for purchase by the general public, we’re going to have to discuss other firearm features. 

Since the AR-15 is the weapon most commonly accused of being military-grade, let’s see if we can find a feature that helps in creating a broader definition of “military-grade” that makes sense. In this episode, I’m going to break down the features of an AR-15 to see if any of them can be highlighted as a feature that makes a weapon “military-grade.” The features of the AR-15 style rifle that I’m going to discuss will be semi-automatic fire, ammunition capacity, ammunition caliber, weight, length, material, grip style, attachments, and butt-stock modifications. Most of these features have either former laws, current laws, or proposed laws that would affect them. 

Does Semi-Auto Fire Make a Weapon “Military-grade”?

Alright, so far, we’ve established that full-auto weapons, or machine guns, are already well regulated and that in order to have a working definition of “military-grade” that applies to firearms on the civilian market currently, we need to establish another firearm feature that can be considered “military-grade” beyond full-auto fire.  

The first AR-15 feature we’re going to discuss is the most striking feature that makes the AR-15 attractive to mass shooters: semi-automatic fire. 

Semi-automatic fire means simply one-shot for one trigger pull. It's called semi-automatic because while it’s not full-automatic, the action of the weapon still automatically loads another bullet into the chamber after the fired projectile leaves the barrel. This means the user can release the trigger and pull it again to fire another shot. But a user cannot fire successive shots by merely holding down the trigger.  

Semi-automatic fire was first developed in the late 1800s. It was a vast leap forward in firearm capability over the single-action firearm. A single-action firearm required the user to perform a manual operation to place another round in the chamber after he had fired a shot.  

While a user could fire a single-action firearm rapidly, such rapid-fire required quick and jerky motions of the action or even creative handling of the weapon, the kind of stuff we often see in westerns. 

Semi-automatic fire not only made rapid-fire a standard feature, it allowed a user to maintain rapid-fire with a firm, steady grip on the weapon impacted only by recoil.  

It is common among those who have little experience with firearms to mistake the term semi-automatic with the burst-fire capability of some modern assault rifles. Burst-fire is a modification of full-automatic fire that allows a user to fire a proscribed number of shots with each trigger pull instead of maintaining full-auto fire until the trigger is released. Burst-fire has no unique legal definition. The government considers it full-auto fire and regulates weapons capable of it as machine guns.  

It is the rapid-fire capacity of semi-automatic weapons that can make mass shootings so deadly. Most mass shooters use semi-automatic weapons, inviting a conclusion that this feature of an AR-15 is what attributes most to its lethal nature.  

However, is it reasonable to assert that semi-automatic capability makes a weapon “military-grade”? Semi-automatic weapons make up the bulk of modern weapons used by civilians for over a hundred years. In families with hunting and firearm traditions, most kids get a semi-automatic .22 as their first rifle. Mine was a Ruger 10/22 when I was twelve years old.    

Semi-automatic weapons are so common in America that even the Federal Assault Weapons Ban left large swathes of them untouched and fully legal (there were 650 firearm exemptions). This was because even those who designed the ban had to concede banning all semi-automatic firearms would ban almost every popular weapon on the market.  

Clearly, the semi-automatic feature is far too common in civilian use for us to credibly use it as the feature that defines a weapon as “military-grade.” In fact, purely semi-automatic weapons are surprisingly rare in military use. They are virtually non-existent outside of sidearms and designated marksman rifles. This fact, combined with the vast civilian use of semi-automatic weapons, makes it the most consistent feature of civilian-grade weapons.  

This means we’re going to have to continue looking at the AR-15's other features as we keep trying to define “military-grade” in a logical and usable way. 

So, let’s discuss the next AR-15 feature so often treated as “military-grade”: ammunition capacity. 

Does Ammo Capacity Make a Weapon “Military-grade”?

The noted phrase thrown around by those who back gun control when it comes to ammo capacity is "High-capacity." "High-Capacity Magazines" are a top target for gun regulation. Some states already have heavy regulations on what they define as high-capacity mags and on the weapons that can use them. 

Specific to the AR-15's ammo capacity, it has several standard magazine options which include 10, 20, and 30. Far less common, but still available, are 50-round drum-mags and 100-round dual drum-mags. 

Given the ability to quickly reload an AR-15, ammunition capacity beyond the standard magazine options has not played as significant a part in making the AR-15 more lethal in its application as some might assume. But it does play a role if the shooter knows enough about the proper operation of his weapon.   

The ability to maintain a steady barrage of fire leaves fewer gaps for a driven response against the shooter. It can also allow a much higher saturation of fire at the start of a shooting if the shooter targets tightly packed crowds or if the shooter is placed at a choke point. If a shooter overcomes the higher chance of the weapon jamming, a far clumsier reload, and the increased difficulty of storing and concealing such large magazines, the shooter achieves the potential for using what would otherwise be a point weapon as an area weapon

However, military and law enforcement rarely use mags beyond 30-round capacity, if ever. This is because most drum-mags are known to jam. Also, experience has shown that the pause in shooting forced by a reload keeps the weapon from overheating, avoiding weapon-crippling malfunction. Constant reloads also help combat the effects of tunnel vision. In fact, the M16 was first fielded in Vietnam with only 20-round magazines because the military did not yet consider the available 30-round magazines reliable enough for the field. 

Drum magazines in use by active shooters have malfunctioned and jammed. Specifically, the Aurora Colorado Shooter may have been able to kill many more than just 17, given the confined space and the locked exit, if he had not used a 100-round dual drum magazine that caused his weapon to fail repeatedly. 

Yes, most weapons in use by the military use detachable magazines with a capacity above 20, even the ones that aren't semi-auto. There are reasons for this. However, using the ammo capacity as a way to classify a weapon as military-grade runs into the same problem that trying to use the semi-auto feature does. Most semi-auto weapons use detachable mags or have internal magazines with considerable capacity. Remember that Ruger 10/22 I got when I was 12? It has virtually all the same magazine capacity options as an AR-15. Most popular, and even outdated, semi-automatic pistols have extended and drum magazines designed for them as well. 

So, once again, we're talking about the vast majority of civilian-owned firearms. All of the same problems that I discussed earlier, in regards to semi-automatic firearms, also apply to weapons that can use large magazines. To classify firearms as military-grade based on their ability to accept large magazines would be to classify most civilian-owned and used guns over the last century as military-grade. Clearly, ammo capacity doesn't make for a military-grade weapon. 

But, in this aspect at least, gun reform activists have taken a different tact and gone after the magazines themselves. They argue if they can ban magazines beyond a certain capacity, then semi-automatic weapons become far less deadly. They also assert that just as there is no civilian need for an area weapon, like I talked about earlier, there is also no civilian need for high-capacity magazines. 

They're saying that instead of classifying weapons as military-grade we can instead classify accessories, like high-capacity magazines, as military-grade. With this one, the devils in the details. 

As I mentioned before, the military and police do not use drum magazines because they are unwieldy and highly prone to causing weapon failure. They’re also difficult to carry effectively on your person. Mass shooters have only used drum magazines in a few instances. It is arguable whether they afforded any impact on the number of casualties since the perpetrators of most of the worst mass shootings used only standard-size magazines. 

Clearly, to have an impact, a ban on magazines would have to target more than the 50 and 100-round drum magazines. So, what would be a sufficient number to specify? The amount would have to be surprisingly low to have any impact.   

Do you remember what we talked about earlier with M16s in Vietnam, how soldiers only had 20-round magazines? Any surviving Viet Cong can probably attest to the M16’s effective use even with 20-round magazines.   

So, we're left with the smallest AR-15 magazine size: 10. But, if you've been paying attention to the pattern here, you'll probably see the issue. Most of the semi-automatic weapons in use by civilians, especially pistols, have a standard mag capacity larger than ten. The reality of the vast majority of civilian semi-automatic weapons is that what most gun-control activists deride as “high-capacity” is actually standard capacity. Once again, we are forced to conclude that ammunition capacity, whether of the firearm or the magazine, is not reasonable grounds to consider a weapon military-grade. 

Alright, so thus far we’ve discussed semi-automatic fire and ammo capacity. We’ve been forced to conclude that while both features make the AR-15 a capable and formidable firearm, it is not possible to use these features as the foundation for a workable definition of military-grade. The majority of civilian firearms over the last century have these features. Since such weapons are in common usage by civilians, we could not reasonably call any of them “military-grade.”  

So, next up in the features we’re going to discuss is caliber. 

Does Caliber Make a Weapon “Military-Grade”?

The caliber of the typical AR-15 is .223 or, as NATO designates it using the metric system, 5.56x45mm. While there are certain specification differences between ammunition labeled as .223 and 5.56, many popular AR-15s can shoot both. So, we’ll consider those differences as beyond the scope of this discussion. The definition of caliber is the size of the barrel through which the projectile travels. This means that an AR-15’s barrel is in the ball bark of .223 inches, or 5.56 millimeters, in diameter.     

The .223 is a bottlenecked, intermediate round. It was developed along with the first assault rifle variant of the AR-15 (later dubbed the M16). The developers had three clear goals in mind. First, to decrease weapon recoil compared to the full power cartridges used by battle rifles. Second, to increase magazine ammunition capacity and the single soldier’s combat load. And third, to provide higher velocity compared to slower moving and larger rounds.  

Intermediate cartridges are directly related to the development of the assault rifle class of firearm. The term assault rifle derives from the German World War II weapon Sturmgewehr 44 (literally Storm-gun, meaning a weapon to storm or assault an enemy position). The Sturmgewehr is considered the first assault rifle and utilized the first intermediate round, the 7.92x33mm Kurz.  

Alright, so why did assault rifles so rapidly become the standard-issue weapons of militaries across the world? Because it bridged the gaps between three different classes of firearm: carbines, submachine guns, and battle rifles. Now, a squad of soldiers could carry only one type of firearm utilizing the same ammunition, and capable of fulfilling the roles once carried out by three different weapons. An assault rifle had the length and light-weight of a carbine, the rate-of-fire of a submachine gun, and could approach the accuracy and effective distance of a battle rifle.   

So, does this allow us to use the ammunition caliber of an AR-15 as the basis for considering it military grade? Not quite. There is one small problem with this approach. An assault rifle, given its selective fire capability, meaning it has the option for automatic fire, is considered by US law a machine gun and is highly regulated (as I discussed earlier). An AR-15, to be manufactured and sold to the general public, cannot have selective fire capability. A civilian AR-15 is purely semi-automatic. Therefore, we cannot classify it as an assault rifle. In the civilian market, it is often either classified as a carbine, a modern sport rifle, or sometimes within the broader definition of varmint rifle.  

It is my opinion, and the view of many firearm experts, that absent the selective-fire function, the advantages of an intermediate round are, in many ways, canceled out. Without selective-fire, an AR-15 becomes either just another carbine (in its shortened form) or a substandard battle rifle (in its full-size form).

Higher ammunition capacity and compactness can be achieved using true carbines (many of which fire pistol rounds). And, better performance and lethality can be achieved with a true battle rifle (which uses larger full power cartridges). The AR-15 is the most popular civilian firearm because it’s affordable and highly customizable. Most true carbines and true battle rifles are two to three times the cost. That many consider the caliber to be sub-par is reflected by the prevalence of modifying AR-15s to either use pistol ammunition or full-power ammunition. This can better match a civilian AR-15 into a civilian weapon class.  

Even the military is trying to improve upon the 5.56/.223. There have been many reports over the last fifty years of the M16 failing to provide sufficient stopping power. The most famous instance was in the Battle of Mogadishu in 1993. Rangers, SEALs, and Delta Operators all reported that indigenous militia high on narcotics were able to withstand a considerable amount of direct hits before being taken out of the fight.

The US Army and the US Marines have been working to develop a round to better bridge the gap between standard intermediate rounds and traditional full power rounds for years. This includes the ongoing attempt to adopt the 6.8 Remington. Many improved intermediate rounds resulting from these efforts are in use by special operation units.  

Given that civilian AR-15s are using such rounds as 6.5 Grendel, 6.5 Creedmoor, 6.8 Remington, 7.62 NATO, and even .30-06 and .300 Win Mag, I could claim that civilian innovation has surpassed slow-moving military bureaucracy.  

We can conclude that the AR-15, absent selective-fire, falls into the broader category of carbines and battle rifles. This conclusion, and the reality that its caliber is less efficient within those categories, makes it impossible to designate the AR-15 as military-grade based on caliber.

The vast majority of carbines and virtually all battle rifles are more effective than the AR-15 in their roles. This means classifying only the AR-15 as military-grade would be to arbitrarily classify a single weapon that’s arguably less effective than other similar firearms available on the civilian market. And, if we expanded the definition to include all carbines and battle rifles, we would once again cast too broad a net. We would render most civilian weapons utilized over the last hundred years as contraband.  

We must conclude that caliber is not sufficient grounds to consider the AR-15 a military-grade weapon.  

At this point, we still only have one firearm feature that allows for a classification of “military-grade”: full-automatic fire, a feature already under intense regulations, regulations that have proven sufficient to keep such weapons from being used to perpetrate crimes.

Thus far we have discussed three features of the AR-15 rifle: semi-auto fire, ammo capacity, and caliber. In each case, I have established that each feature is common, and even sub-par, in most civilian-used firearms over the last century. We are forced to conclude that we cannot use any of these three features to classify the AR-15 as military-grade without likewise classifying most civilian-owned firearms. 

So, let’s quickly discuss the three final features of the AR-15 that we’re going to consider: light-weight construction, length, and accessories. 

Does Lightweight Construction Make a Weapon “Military-Grade”?

The typical AR-15 uses a lightweight polymer construction. In its early military application, this allowed for several things. First, it lowered the cost of weapon manufacture. Second, it freed up weight in a soldier's basic combat load for other necessities and options, including more ammunition. Third, the polymer construction was better suited for humid climates.

An interesting anecdote from the Vietnam era is the story of the M14. Their wood stocks would often crack in the early years of the Vietnam War. Despite it being arguably the best battle rifle ever made, this specific failure ended up being one of the main factors that led to their replacement by the M16. 

However, in the last fifty years, lightweight polymer construction has become a mainstay in the civilian market as well. Some of the most popular pistols on the market, including the Glock and S&W M&P, are predominantly constructed of polymer. Every type of firearm, including shotguns, hunting rifles, and even revolvers, can be purchased with a polymer frame. Females especially purchase and use polymer weapons for recreation and self-defense due to their lightweight. 

Maybe in the early days of the military’s adoption of lightweight polymer weapons, an argument could be made for it being a military-grade feature. But polymer weapons have flooded the civilian market over the last fifty years and are now a typical, if not prevalent, feature in civilian firearms.  

Does Length Make a Weapon “Military-Grade”?

So, what about length? Unbeknownst to many outside the firearms world, length is probably the most lethal feature in a civilian firearm. Statistics estimate that the United States has averaged around 33,000 firearm-related deaths over the past decade. Two-thirds of those deaths are suicides. Of the remaining deaths, firearm-related homicides, most are perpetrated with handguns. This is because the criminal element is better served by firearms they can easily conceal, both before and after the crime.   

The AR-15 is a tactical weapon. This means it can be altered significantly for different applications. While a shortened barrel and butt-stock may decrease an AR-15's effective range, it makes the weapon easier to conceal and more effective in close-quarter situations. The AR-15 can be designed or altered to be extremely short. 

The National Firearms Act of 1934 designates such a weapon as a Short-barreled Rifle or SBR. Anyone who purchases or creates a weapon fitted with a butt-stock that has a barrel shorter than 16 inches must register that weapon with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (the ATF). Possession of an SBR that an owner has failed to register is a felony. Moreover, no one can transport an SBR over state lines without filing proper documentation with the ATF. It should be noted that a felony firearm charge is serious business for a gun owner. If convicted, you could lose your right to bear arms permanently.  

These regulations have ensured that criminals have largely been unable to use SBRs in their crimes. Most SBR owners have modified their weapons aftermarket and registered them appropriately. Mass shooters have typically used their weapons as they were when they purchased or obtained them. The notable exception is the AR pistol. 

Since an SBR definition requires a butt-stock, an AR-15 with its butt-stock removed is legally considered a pistol.   

Such weapons have been used very rarely in active shootings. Nevertheless, there’s currently an open debate about whether we should close the AR pistol “loophole” in SBR laws. But this topic is beyond our present discussion. Our focus is on whether the features of the AR-15 can allow for a designation of military-grade.

The danger and lethality of easily concealed weapons factor mainly in civilian use. While the military does use the M4 Carbine with a 14.5-inch barrel, it applies it as a carbine for tactical situations and not for its ability to be concealed.   

I’ve often argued that it would make more sense to designate weapons with barrels between 12 and 16 inches as carbines. I don't think a weapon becomes truly a functional SBR until the barrel is shorter than 12-inches.

I handled M4s often in the military, and I would not confidently say that the 5.5-inch difference between an M16 and M4 makes it that much easier to conceal, even with the telescoping butt-stock.  It makes a world of difference in close quarters combat, which translates to excellent home defense usage in the civilian world. But concealability? There’s no advantage at all. 

So, given that lethality by-way-of length is a specifically civilian application, we cannot consider it a feature that allows a designation of military-grade.

Further, handguns are what law-abiding gun owners carry for self-defense and what criminals typically use to perpetrate crimes. Going singly after the AR-15 for its length options, while leaving handguns alone, would do little to deter firearm violence. And, going after handguns would once more target some of the most prevalent types of civilian-owned firearms. 

While the length of long guns is concerning for their lethality in criminal use, current laws already deal with that concern, and there are ongoing debates about updating those laws. Specific to the question of designating the AR-15 itself as military-grade, the options of varying lengths do not meet the threshold.  

Do Accessories Make a Weapon “Military-Grade”?

So, what about all the bells and whistles? There are a lot of accessories available for AR-15 style rifles. For the most part, these accessories break down into optics, grips, flashlights, and lasers.  

The AR-15 is indeed one of the most versatile weapons for attachments and upgrades. It can be outfitted with various types of attachment rails, the most common of which are Picatinny rails. 

However, Picatinny rails and similar attachment points are general innovations in firearm technology. They are far from unique to the AR-15. When it comes to civilian firearms, Picatinny rails have become a standard form of attachment point for optics and other attachment options on most civilian firearms, including pistols, shotguns, and hunting rifles. 

Since most AR-15 accessories are designed to attach to Picatinny rails or similar attachment point technology, they can be attached to any weapon likewise equipped. Once more, we're talking about trying to class an AR-15 as military-grade using a feature that more or less every firearm on the civilian market could have. 

There Is No Single Feature That Makes an AR-15 “Military-grade”

Alright, so we’ve been through just about every specific feature we can consider when it comes to the AR-15: semi-auto fire, ammo capacity, caliber, light-weight construction, length, and accessories. In each instance, we’ve had to determine that each of these features are standard across all weapon types on the civilian market. So, here’s the major conclusion we are forced to find: 

The AR-15 cannot be considered military-grade by way of any single feature. Each major feature of the AR-15 is not only present in other common civilian firearms; they are prevalent. There is no way to classify the AR-15 as military-grade based upon any one of its features without similarly designating the vast majority of civilian firearms.  

Does a Combination of Features Make a Weapon “Military-grade”?

But we’re not done yet. Let’s discuss one last recourse for attempting to define the AR-15 as military-grade. What if we try to build a definition of “military-grade” based on a combination of the AR-15's features. After all, this is exactly what the former Federal Assault Weapons ban tried to do with its legal definition of assault weapon. 

As students of recent history may recall, the Federal Assault Weapons ban enacted by President Clinton took the route of combining AR-15 features to create a legal definition for an assault weapon. Listeners should note that the term assault weapon exists in legal language only. It has never been considered an actual category of firearms among enthusiasts, developers, historians, in law enforcement, or in the military.

So, let’s take a look at how the Federal Assault Weapons Ban defined an assault weapon and see if it aids in creating a working definition of a military-grade firearm.  

The Federal Assault Weapons Ban defined a rifle as an assault weapon if it was 1) a semi-automatic rifle with 2) detachable magazines that had 3) two or more additional features from a list of five features: folding or telescoping stock, pistol grip, bayonet mount, flash hider or threaded barrel, or grenade launcher.   

If we adopt the same legal definition that the FAW used for assault weapons as what constitutes a military-grade weapon, then the AR-15 clearly falls into that category. Based on our discussion so far, I’m sure it comes as no surprise when I tell you there are problems with this definition.   

As we established earlier, the main aspects of an AR-15 that make it lethal are its semi-automatic capability and its detachable magazines. The additional features required in the definition of an assault weapon amount to little more than aesthetics specifically designed to target typical AR-15 style weapons. But any AR-15 can be modified to eliminate these additional features. Just Google “California Compliant Firearm” and you’ll find a myriad of AR-15 designs that overcome the FAW’s definition of assault weapon.  

Some of these firearms are silly, look ridiculous, and many even impact their effective use to a certain point, but most of them maintain the two effective aspects of the AR-15 we’ve discussed: semi-automatic fire and detachable magazines. These firearms frustrate the legal definitions of assault weapons due to their alterations and would escape our attempts to classify them as military-grade if we used the same definition. But, crucially, these weapons are not truly diminished in their function. They are still functioning AR-15 style weapons that ultimately have no diminished lethal capacity.  

Clearly, a definition of military-grade crafted on the assault weapon language of the FAW is essentially a hollow definition if the goal is to decrease the level of firepower available to a mass shooter. There is no escaping the facts of the AR-15’s functionality: the main features that make these weapons deadly are semi-automatic fire and detachable magazines. And, as I’ve demonstrated, there is no way to craft a definition of military-grade using those features because they are typical in civilian use over the last century.

An Insurmountable Fact  

So, here’s the insurmountable fact of this whole discussion: the AR-15 is little more and little else than the most popular semi-automatic firearm among numerous and plentiful civilian-style semi-automatic firearms. There is not a single feature of an AR-15 nor combination of features that can overcome that fact. No matter the moniker we attempt to apply, whether it’s “military-grade” as we have entertained in this episode, “assault weapon” as the FAW tried, or the other popular definitions such as “weapon of war” or “military-style”, the features of the AR-15 itself are far from unique in the civilian world.  

Abandoning All Pretenses

As a final exercise, let’s abandon all pretenses of weapon classification. After all, the AR-15 is indeed the weapon of choice for mass shooters. Let’s entertain the idea of banning the AR-15 specifically based on that fact alone. Surely, that will have some impact, right?  

Doubtful. There would still be popular and effective semi-automatic firearms on the market, like the SCAR, ACR, Steyr AUG, AK-47, FN P90, or HK MP5, only to name a few. Sure, many of these guns are far more expensive than the AR-15 and some of them are less reliable, but will something as small as a price tag dissuade a mass shooter? Not likely. 

Alright, so let’s say we expand our ban to cover all semi-automatic firearms that are AR-15 style. Now we’ve made a dent, right? 

Once again, no. There are many, many battle rifles, carbines, and demilitarized submachine guns on the civilian market, like the M1 Garand, the M1 Carbine, the M14, and civilian variants of the HK G3, FN FAL, and Thompson Submachine Gun. Once again, these weapons are often higher in price, but many of them could actually prove to be more lethal in an active shooter situation than an AR-15, a discomforting thought when mass shooters are unlikely to be dissuaded by a higher price tag.  

So, what if we at least just reintroduce the Federal Assault Weapons Ban and just beef it up by specifically banning all AR-15’s, AR-15 style weapons, and any semi-auto originally designed for use by the military? Even that still wouldn’t keep a mass shooter from getting his hands on a weapon with the same capabilities as an AR-15.  The Ruger Mini-14 Ranch Rifle was specifically designed as a varmint rifle, and while it has variants designed for military use, it has only seen limited law enforcement action. It is a weapon built from the ground up for use by civilians with a specific civilian application. It’s the big brother of the Ruger 10/22 I mentioned earlier, the one I got when I was a kid.  

Built on the same idea as that .22 rifle, it’s beefed up to the .223 round the AR-15 uses. It was designed with ranchers and farmers in mind to take out varmints and critters as small as prairie dogs and as big as coyotes without having to use the much bigger and much higher velocity rounds that most hunting rifles use. The semi-automatic capability is valuable because we’re talking about small fast-moving critters that are gonna run out of sight or jump in a hole before you can reload a single action weapon.   

Again, this Mini-14 is designed with no military or police function in mind, and yet in some ways, it’s better than the AR-15. Its design is newer, and its internal workings are far more rugged. It uses what’s called a gas-piston rod, which leads to considerably fewer malfunctions than the AR-15, which utilizes direct-gas impingement. Without getting too nitty-gritty, this means that if you fire an AR-15 one-hundred times, it will likely jam, but if you fire a Mini-14 one-hundred times, it likely won’t.  

There Is No Neat Line of Separation Between Military and Civilian Firearms

The reality of the firearms world is there’s no neat line of separation between military and civilian firearms. Throughout the history of firearms, military and civilian innovation have coordinated and fed off of each other’s developments. The idea of a weapon being specifically military-grade does not bear out with the facts. Even the restrictions on full-automatic weapons had more to do with law enforcement being outgunned by criminals in the ’20s and ’30s than it did with any specific “military-grade” weapon classification.  

The goal of gun control activists is to push back against the growing occurrence of mass shootings. Their singular focus on firearms, and specifically on the AR-15, does not serve their goal. Mass confiscation of the majority of civilian-owned guns, removing all semi-automatic weapons, would be the minimum needed confiscation to impact the options available to a mass shooter.   

Even this draconian, and likely impossible, approach would not remove the threat. The University of Texas tower shooting killed 18 and wound 31. The shooter predominantly used a bolt-action rifle. The D.C. Sniper killed 17 and wounded 10 utilizing an AR-15 variant, but not in a way that maximizes the weapons capabilities. The tactics he utilized would have led to the same results with single-action weapons, possibly with worse results utilizing a gun designed for long-range effectiveness.   

Sadly, government gun control is not the sweeping solution most activists think it would be. Many have called for at least a return of the Federal Assault Weapons Ban. But the Columbine Shooting took place when the FAW was in effect, killing 13 and wounding 24. The modern trend of mass shootings began during the FAW and picked up momentum despite its provisions.   

What we’re dealing with is a trend that parallels the dramatic increase in suicide, self-radicalization, and endemic anti-social behavior. These conditions lead to behaviors that culminate in violence and death. Removing only one of the many possible means to this inevitable end would solve very little. Crafting pseudo-definitions to justify banning or seizing firearms from law-abiding citizens is not an answer to the problem.   

This Isn’t “Gunsplaining” and It Isn’t “Preaching to the Choir”

If you’ve stayed with me up to this point, thanks for going down this rabbit hole with me. I’ve said nothing most firearm enthusiasts don’t already know and, honestly, there are going to be many who just don’t even see the point. In their view, anyone who, at this point, still wants increased gun regulations just isn’t even worth engaging with. Conversely, there’s going to be a lot of people that just roll their eyes at my “gunsplaining” and will disregard my attempts to lay out the facts. They’ll wrap up this entire discussion in a “he’s just a gun nut” bow and move along.  

But I think it’s important to keep having these kinds of discussions. First off, I refuse to give up on my fellow Americans, even if they totally disregard and disrespect my perspective. The growing instinct among many Americans to disengage with those they disagree with is a troubling trend that I refuse to take part of.

And secondly, I think it’s important to reassert the importance of highly relevant perspectives. A solid principle of the progressive viewpoint is the idea of “governing according to expert opinion.” There are few on the Left who would craft plumbing laws without consulting plumbing experts, electrical grid guidelines without consulting electricians, fiscal matters without consulting experts in economics, and on and on.

Specific to recent events, the clarion call on the Left has been “follow the science” as they’ve argued to defer to the knowledge of epidemiologists and other scientists in facing the COVID-19 pandemic. And yet, there’s a glaring disconnect in this typical approach to public policy when it comes to firearms.

Because they “just want to do something” in the face of what they feel is a runaway epidemic of gun violence, they are latching onto policy ideas that experts and enthusiasts in the firearm industry can clearly demonstrate will have no meaningful impact, and yet these experts and enthusiasts are wholly disregarded as self-interested “rednecks” who want “big guns to compensate for their insecurities.”  

Well, I hope I’ve demonstrated in this podcast that I’m more than just a gun nut clinging to my gun and spitting in the face of all reason. I’m hardly an expert in this topic, yet I’ve still presented what I feel is a very salient and persuasive argument on behalf of my perspective. I hope there a few hearts and minds out there that I’ve touched and, at the very least, some of you might be a little more educated about the reality of firearms.  

We Either Have a Right to Bear Arms or We Don’t

At the end of the day, we either have a right to bear arms or we don’t. That’s what this debate always boils down to. That’s the reason why so many proponents of the 2nd Amendment, like myself, refuse to compromise any further, because when the current proposals on the table fail, gun control advocates will only seek to go further. I know that sounds like a slippery slope fallacy, but it’s not.

A slippery slope fallacy posits a domino effect of unconnected consequences. What I’m talking about is a simple consideration of cause and effect. Gun control advocates religiously believe that violence and mass killings can be halted by tightening up the laws regulating the purchase and ownership of firearms. They will continue to advocate for increased regulations, no matter how many victories they have, until they’ve accomplished their goals. And if, as I argue, their proposed laws fail to accomplish their goals, the only inevitable conclusion will be an eventual assault on the very right to bear arms itself. 

Now, don’t get me wrong, the 2nd Amendment not only says “shall not be infringed”, it also says “well-regulated”. I have never been against reasonable laws that do not violate the fundamental right to bear arms.

The 2nd Amendment isn’t a free-for-all, as some of my more extreme libertarian friends might view it. But what we currently have is far from a free-for-all. Not only are firearms well-regulated currently, there are many instances where they are highly regulated and several instances where the right to bear arms is indeed infringed, especially in coastal states like California and New York and, tragically, in most of America’s inner-cities where the vast majority of African Americans live. 

Well, I better wrap this up now. This is obviously something I’m very passionate about and I could go on and on. As I said, hopefully, I’ve accomplished something with this deep dive. If you have any thoughts, be sure to leave a comment or reach out to me on Facebook or Twitter. Or, you can email me at JustinStapley@TheLibertyHawk.com. Oh, and be sure to give a rating of the podcast on your favorite podcast app, and please consider subscribing to the Self-Evident on Substack or Youtube. Until next time, stay free my friends.