http://www.tennessean.com/apps/pbcs.dll ... 70341/1008
Issue is really about 'assault-style weapons'
By BEN WEST JR.
Recently, I was asked, "How do we get assault weapons off the street?"
As I considered that question, I decided that I should first determine what the problem is before I began to solve it.
Are "assault weapons" causing a problem on the street? No. Most experts define an assault weapon as a weapon capable of fully automatic firing. Assault weapons are machine guns and submachine guns. That type of weapon is not what I was being asked to address.
Another use of the term "assault weapons" appeared in the 1994 Assault Weapons Ban where it was used to describe semi-automatic firearms that have mostly cosmetic features normally associated with military firearms. These semi-automatic weapons were called assault weapons because they "looked" bad, not because of what they could do. These semi-automatic firearms are really "assault-styled weapons" but they are not assault weapons. The term "assault-style weapons" is used by public officials, media and gun-control proponents to refer to firearms they consider inappropriate for civilian ownership.
Intended as a wedge issue
The characteristics of "assault-styled weapons" are largely irrelevant to a street crime problem. There is no epidemic of bayonetings or grenadings in Nashville. The pejorative term was likely created specifically to fit in the sentence, "Why would anybody need an assault weapon?" If so, it was intended as a wedge issue to push hunters away from the rest of the firearms community.
So, is the question really, "How do we get semi-automatic firearms that are cosmetically threatening off the streets?"
The first semi-automatic rifle was built in 1885. American gunsmith John Browning introduced semi-automatics to the civilian market as early 1906. The semi-automatic firearm has been in civilian hands in this country longer than the fuel-injected engine, the personal computer, the microwave oven, the credit card, the television and many other common items. Nobody complained until relatively recently.
The 1994 gun ban did not prohibit all semi-automatic firearms but just those that had a military look. But a semi-auto is a semi-auto no matter how mean or scary it may look. The technology is more than a 100 years old. If "assault-style weapons" have no place in society, then it follows that semi-automatics of any kind have no place in society. But our nation has persevered for close to 100 years with these guns in private hands, and there appears to be no sign of fundamental social breakdown as a result or 100-year crime trend because of their existence.
I am not persuaded that military-looking weapons are a problem. People misusing semi-automatic and other firearms are certainly a problem. I believe the solution is that we need to get and keep criminals off the street. Constitutionally, it is better to get the criminals off the streets than to classify a large group of responsible, law-abiding citizens as potential criminals just because of the look of the guns they may own.
"Ben West Jr., a Democrat, is state representative for Tennessee's 60th Legislative District and a Nashville businessman.