I was surprised to see a full page of this past Sunday’s New York Times (Front Section at 10) devoted to the proposition that efforts to ban the civilian ownership of assault weapons have failed because gun manufacturers and gun owners can, with considerable ease, change the technical features of rapid/automatic-fire assault weapons to escape whatever technical restrictions are enacted into law. They use “modification kits” that apparently can be purchased on the open market to evade the rules that are written in terms of technical specifications.
Perhaps borne from my ignorance of such weapons, my immediate reaction to this was: if it’s that easy to evade technical specifications, stop writing laws and regulations that deal with how the gun is made and instead write the rules in terms of the outcome sought to be prevented. By perhaps too simple an analogy, we don’t try to stop speeding in automobiles by writing rules about how cars are built; we write rules about how they are driven – that is, rules that address the outcome of how they are operated. The obvious example is the “speed limit.” You may have a vehicle capable of going 110 miles per hour, but there is nowhere that you can lawfully operate such a vehicle except on a race track.
If the problem with rapid/automatic-fire assault weapons is that they can fire rapidly/automatically with one squeeze of the trigger, then ban the possession of any weapon, however constructed or described, that is capable of firing, at a rate of X. The rate of X can be calculated based on evidence of the uses to which such weapons may be legitimately put. I’m not clear what those legitimate uses are but I’m sure the NRA will suggest some. That is a debate that can be had, but once it’s done, the outcome would seem to be relatively straightforward.
I realize that some elements of the hunting community will argue that, in order to pursue their “hobby,” they must be able to fire rapidly and repeatedly at their live targets. I don’t know why that would be true. If it is necessary to use what amounts to a mobile machine gun to kill a deer, well, then either you need to practice more or, in the end, you will simply be an unsuccessful hunter. Life is full of disappointments and that one seems reasonably bearable.
Ah, but the NRA says that failure to be able to, in effect, machine gun an animal may result in wounded animals who will suffer terribly from gunshot wounds unless and until they are tracked down and finished off. I have to admit that might happen, but it’s an easy choice between (1) the suffering of the odd deer or other target of hunters who are poor shots versus (2) the regular slaughter of school children at the hands of disaffected young men (almost always) bearing rapid/automatic fire weapons and large magazines of ammunition.
As I suggested at the outset, I am no expert on the types of weapons addressed in the NYT article and here, so I’m prepared to be schooled by someone who can explain why directing gun regulations at the output rather than the input end of the weaponry in question would not effectively solve the problem of “modification kits.” Waiting.