Assault Weapons: Gun Control’s New Target of Opportunity


Assault Weapons: Gun Control’s New Target of Opportunity

After their recent front-page editorial calling for gun confiscation, the NYT has now gone back to the well and taken a deep, deep drink of crazy. My initial reaction to this latest editorial, which is basically a call for a new, beefier Assault Weapons Ban, was bewilderment.

Now, before I go on, I should make clear that I have a set of assumptions that are likely not shared at all with most of our audience. Specifically, I assume that the members of the NYT editorial board are intelligent, competent public intellectuals who care deeply about America and about the issue of gun violence. Hence my initial bewilderment that they seem so willfully ignorant of basic facts about the guns that they seek to ban. They’ve been neck deep in this debate for years, so why do they not know better than some of this stuff?

After thinking about it, though, I think I have an answer, but before I get to that here’s a brief sampling of what’s wrong with this amazingly flimsy and hysterical anti-AR rant:

These are weapons designed for the rapid spray-shooting of multiple enemy soldiers in wartime, not homeland civilians living in peace.

No, no, no. This is not what the AR was designed for, not even if its full-auto incarnation, much less semi-auto. There are guns that are indeed designed for this, and they are all illegal for civilians to own. It’s not like the DoD requirements and data that went into the AR’s design haven’t been a matter of public record for years, now. The claim above is patently false, and repeating it doesn’t make it less false.

But even without going into the McNamara DoD’s requirements for a post-M14 weapon system, I typically ask a simple question of everyone who repeats this particular bit of libel: if killing as many people in as short a time possible is really what the AR was designed for, then why on earth would we arm police with it? In what conceivable circumstance do cops–even SWAT team members–need to gun down as many people in as short a time as possible?

[Concealed carry laws] are spreading powerful semiautomatic pistols with the firepower of rifles through the civilian population…

What on earth are they talking about? If they mean AR or AK pistols, nobody is carrying those concealed because they’re huge! If that’s not what they mean, then maybe they’re just making stuff up.

Congress has shamelessly become the last to admit what the public senses with each new shooting spree: The nation needs restoration of a federal assault weapons ban — this time minus the loopholes the gun industry exploited to boost sales.

No, that is objectively and provably not what the nation senses, as demonstrated by the fact that sales of the assault rifles surge after every attack. The American people have voted with their wallets in overwhelming, record numbers, and their vote is that they want more firepower, not less. And in fact, the latest NYT/CBS poll shows that for the first time ever, a majority of the American public opposes a new AWB. So with this line, the NYT editors either haven’t read their own polling data, or they’re lying and hoping nobody notices.

So given my rather charitable assumptions about what kinds of people make up the NYT editorial board and given the absurdities outlines above, I wondered to myself: does the NYT editorial board not have access to someone who can give them basic facts about firearms? How is it that they’ve been in the thick of this debate for this long and still are publishing complete and total nonsense?

It’s Politics, as Usual

After thinking about all this for a bit, it sort of clicked: so-called “assault weapons” are merely a target of opportunity in the on-going gun control wars. Prior to San Bernardino, gun control groups had been very strictly sticking with their new script, which meant a total and complete focus on “universal background checks” and no discussion at all of any other gun control efforts. It was all background checks, all the time.

But then San Bernardino happened, and the AR figured prominently in the attack. Also, at about that same time the GOP prevented the passing of a law that would prevent people on various secret government watch lists from buying guns. This confluence of events presented an opportunity that the NYT just couldn’t pass up, an opportunity to paint the GOP and the NRA as caring more about protecting gun industry profits than stopping terrorists.

So the push for an AWB 2.0 isn’t about saving lives. Even the NYT itself has at times acknowledged that it’s not a real solution to any problem that actually exists. It’s not even about doing something as a “first step,” the way the background check push was. Rather, the paper’s calls for a new AWB are strictly about scoring political points against the gun lobby. This appears to be a calculated, cynical effort to exploit tragedy in order to paint 2A supporters as soft on terrorism. Either that, or the NYT editorial board has come completely untethered from the very reality that the paper itself has previously reported on.

Of course, this latest effort is tone-deaf and doomed to failure. And it’s also painfully ironic coming from a paper whose culpability in making the trumped up case for the Iraq War is widely known. How many hundreds of billions in munitions has the American arms industry sold as a result of a war that the NYT had a direct hand in selling to the public?

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Jon Stokes is Deputy Editor at

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