Thursday, February 23, 2017

What is an Assault Weapon?

What is an assault weapon? Competing and sometimes mutually exclusive answers to that question seem to be driving a lot of debate and misunderstanding between gun control advocates and gun enthusiasts. Discussions about this can often end up being dismissed as a fight about what a gun looks like or how a gun labeled as an assault weapon is really just the same as other guns that share its caliber if not its design. I think that kind of thinking is missing a bigger picture.

So here is how I draw a distinction between assault weapons and sporting guns, an assault weapon is a gun designed to be a modern weapon of war or is directly derived from a modern weapon of war and therefore shares a significant number of parts with current military weapons. It isn't the magazine capacity, caliber, or shape that makes an assault weapon different from a sporting gun. It isn't judging a gun by some sort of checklist of features that if it has too many of them, it then gets an assault weapon label. The answer to me is in why it was designed, for what original purpose, and its relationship to military weapons that should matter.

A hunting or sporting rifle might have the same caliber as a current military rifle, but the hunting gun has a very different evolution of design. It cannot be remade with the replacement of a few parts into modern military assault rifle. Whereas an assault weapon like an AR15 is in almost every way, exactly the same as a front line, modern, military rifle, except that it cannot fire fully automatically without replacing a few small parts inside the action. It is the similarity of design, capability, and the sharing of parts with the military versions that makes such a gun an assault weapon.


I personally own a rifle that fires the same ammunition as the main assault rifle of the US military, 5.56mm or .223 caliber. My rifle shares nothing else in common with the Army's M4 carbine. Mine is a bolt action rifle that requires the action be manually operated between shots to eject a spent case and chamber a fresh round. It cannot fire in a fully automatic way. It cannot even fire in a semiautomatic way. I cannot possibly use it to spray 30 or more bullets in just a few seconds or hundreds of bullets in a minute or so. Because my rifle was never designed to put out that kind of firepower or to kill dozens of people in a few seconds, the M16, AR15, and M4 were and can. So, I'm not bothered by restricting their use to the military, along with many other powerful, deadly weapons of war.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Judge Gorsuch

Well, I think we've met our next Supreme Court Justice, Neil Gorsuch. From what I've read about him, he is very much like Justice Scalia who's seat he will take. So, he'll be very conservative on a wide variety of issues and the opportunity to lean the court further to the left has almost certainly been lost. I know that many will consider this unfair, given that the only reason President Trump is getting this chance to replace Scalia is because Republicans blocked President Obama's nominee for nearly a year. And, although I agree, it isn't going to matter. Democrats will not return the favor. There are a few reasons for that.

Democrats aren't going to be able to block this nomination for years waiting for another President or shift in power in the Senate. It's one thing for Republicans to hold things up while the Presidential primaries and general election played out. It is quite another matter to force a Supreme Court seat to remain vacant for at least two years and maybe four. Democrats just won't garner enough public support to maintain that kind of resistance for that long on the hope that they'll retake the Senate and the Presidency during the next four years.

Blocking Gorsuch could mean spending all of their public support and then not having enough to block whoever President Trump nominates next, someone who could be far less qualified or even far more conservative. President Obama nominated centrist in the hopes that by not insisting on a strongly liberal nominee that the Republicans would go along with things and the Court would move a little left. Instead of a centrist President Trump has nominated a Scalia clone that would keep the Court similar to the way it was before Scalia died. The Court is not going to move left under a Republican President and Senate, but at least Gorsuch isn't a swing further to the right.

Lastly, Democrats won't stubbornly block filling the Supreme Court because they are actually concerned with governing and keeping the essential functions of government in operation. Unlike some Republicans, Democrats aren't trying to create dysfunction as a justification to shrink government down to the point where it could be drown in a bathtub. By and large, Democrats believe in good governance and do not want to be accused accurately of acting in bad faith. They just aren't on the whole philosophically inclined towards long term, obstinate disruption for the sake of it. Because that sort of thing doesn't resonate well enough with their base. A base who often interprets government shutdowns and gridlock as failures not tactics.


None of this is to say I am happy about this nomination. There are a number of issues in which I disagree with Judge Gorsuch, based on his past rulings. I have no reason to expect that he will, once seated, move to the left. And so given his age, he will likely be a reliable conservative voice on the Supreme Court for decades to come. But going forward, it is the other seats on the Court that matter. Which means the 2018 and 2020 elections are very important. Democrats must gain and hold a majority in the Senate and retake the Presidency or the next Justices replaced will move the Court far to the right.