Reply to -- The Voices of Semiautomatics

By Bruce A. Clark (Written 4/9/96)

I would have to take serious issue with this statement. I have seen no evidence to support it. Having seen certain polls by major polling organizations and the questions they ask, I must say that they inspire no confidence. Anyone can get any results they want by asking leading questions, and that is what most polls do -- construct questions to get a certain result. I have seen polls with more open, unbiased questions and know it can be done, but have seen no major, well-publicized ones on this particular subject.

One can get indications about how people feel about gun control in general by the way they vote, but it's not always clear cut, because there are other issues involved in elections. But judging from the November, 1994 election, the one which led to the recent House vote to repeal the semi-auto "ban" in Clinton's Crime Bill of 1994 (and which Clinton himself blamed on the NRA, indicating that the voters were supporting what the NRA stands for), I would have to say that the voters did not speak loudly to ban semiautomatic weapons.

The term "semi-automatic" does not say much about a gun except that each firing loads another round into the chamber, as long as there is ammunition in the magazine. There are semi-automatic hunting and target shotguns, defensive pistols, plinking pistols (not terribly accurate, but fun with tin cans and such), target pistols, sporting rifles, target rifles, military-style rifles, and so forth. Some handle low-powered ammunition, some take high-powered hunting rounds, many something in between; some consume specially-designed target ammunition, some special-purpose defensive ammunition designed not to penetrate walls if the target is missed, to protect bystanders; and numerous other classifications.

Skeet and trap shooters who can afford it pay a lot of money for finely-made, manual-loading double-barreled shotguns, but many who can't afford that use semi-automatic shotguns which are just fine for the purpose, and use them for nothing else.

Most semi-automatics are assuredly not designed with killing people in mind. Even the military-style rifles, some of which are highly accurate, are more designed to be used for target shooting. The M1 Garand of World War II vintage, the Springfield M1A, and the Colt Sporter (essentially, the AR-15, civilian version of the M-16), are used in thousands of sanctioned Highpower Tournaments each year and the National Matches at Camp Perry, Ohio. Many, many folks use these rifles for recreational target shooting and plinking. Their original design was quite accurate. The fact that the design was originally done for the military is coincidental to their most common use.

Although I'm not a hunter, I know from associating with others that many semi-automatic rifles and shotguns are suitable for hunting and were designed with that purpose solely in mind. So saying that, as a category, semiautomatics have "no real utility other than the shooting of a maximum number of people in a short time" is more than just a little inaccurate, it is simply wrong.

Could you tell the difference between one of these "strange, belligerent people" (if they, indeed, were such, and acted that way all of the time) and any other person who was not going to kill someone, but who was just having a bad day, or just had a flat tire or a fight with a spouse or lost a bunch of money in the stock market? I doubt it. Were they really insane or sociopathic? Many sociopaths reportedly seem like some of the most affable people around, to most people who know them. You are talking about store clerks. As long as they fulfill their legal responsibilities, they have done their job correctly and need feel no guilt. Should the clerk at the drivers license bureau take the initiative of denying me a drivers license because he or she thinks I might get drunk and then drive, based upon what the person sees of my personality? Should someone selling fishing poles deny me one because, judging from my personality, the person thinks I might fish out of season? These people should be doing the jobs prescribed for them and no more. It's not their responsibility to judge people. Quite so. And while your thinking is provoked, think about this:
Prepared Testimony of Dr. Suzanna Gratia Before the Virginia Senate Courts of Justice Committee January 25, 1995

On Dec. 17, 1991, in Anniston, Ala., a restaurant patron defended himself and saved the lives of nearly two dozen others held hostage by two armed would-be robbers. The reluctant hero, who was legally carrying his .45 caliber fire arm, stopped both assailants before they could complete their crime or injure any innocent customers.

On Oct. 16, 1991, in Killeen, Texas, an armed homicidal maniac methodically killed 22 people and then himself, facing no resistance from the scores of potential victims, including me.

That tragedy will be forever etched in my memory. My parents were brutally murdered, and I was helpless to protect them [even though she had a gun in her car, because it was illegal for her to bring it into the restaurant].

Making a means of defense unavailable to people, whether by category of weapon or by waiting period or by prohibition costs lives, because the outlaws do indeed have guns. The latest research (by Florida State University professor Gary Kleck, the preeminent researcher in the field, and published in the January, 1996, issue of the Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology) indicates that guns are used some 2.5 million times a year in self defense. His earlier study (in 1993) indicated that the number of defensive uses of firearms is 4 times greater than the number of criminal uses; and that in some 3/4 of the cases, the gun was never fired. In these defensive uses of guns, in only .1% of the cases is the criminal killed, and in only 1% of the cases is he or she wounded. In addition to this, the US Department of Justice sponsored a survey that showed that 40% of felons had decided not to commit at least one serious crime out of fear that the intended victim was armed, and 34% said they were shot at or otherwise scared off when the victim had a gun.

So, as tragic as the shootings you refer to are, they do not tell the whole story. Basing a political position to ban some class of firearms on them is not a good approach, for carrying it out would most likely make matters worse.

And he probably would not have killed so many people if even one person had been carrying a gun, but the laws of the State of New York prevented this. Some would say "why should people have to carry guns to protect themselves?" Well, why should a person look both ways before crossing the street? Wear seat belts? Not stand on the top rung of a ladder? Not stand under a tree during a lightning storm? Keep a fire extinguisher in the house? The answer to all of these is that there are dangers in the world that cannot effectively be legislated away, for one reason or another. Trying to do so would imprison all of us in a web of regulations and cause much more harm than they would help. With regard to crime, including nuts with guns, the police cannot be everywhere, and they have no legal responsibility to help you, individually, anyway. At some point people must take some responsibility to protect themselves from the existing dangers in the world, even while trying to do what they can to make society better.