A signature issue for the Violence Policy Center gun ban extremist group has for decades been their efforts to ban so-called "assault weapons." The very term "assault weapon" may have been VPC's most famous creation, and as far back as 1988, VPC was openly advising fellow gun ban zealots (including the mass media) to exploit public ignorance about the difference between these semi-automatic firearms and fully-automatic weapons (machine guns) used by every military in the world since the very early 20th century:
The weapons' menacing looks, coupled with the public's confusion over fully automatic machine guns versus semi-automatic assault weapons--anything that looks like a machine gun is assumed to be a machine gun--can only increase the chance of public support for restrictions on these weapons.
In the past, the VPC was trying to look "reasonable" (not easy for a group that has openly lobbied for an outright ban on all private ownership of handguns), and knowing that a campaign to ban all semi-automatic firearms, many of which are popular even among people who might support some of VPC's less ambitious gun ban efforts, would be a bridge too far, set their sights lower--thus "assault weapons."
That necessitated inventing some kind of rule of thumb for distinguishing "permissible" semi-automatic firearms from those evil "assault weapons." VPC itself acknowledged the difficulty of that task:
The assault weapons threat is exacerbated by the fact that the weapons are difficult to define in legal terms. Legislators and members of the press have proposed placing increased restrictions on all semi-auto firearms, which would include some hunting rifles. Whether these proposals are merely the result of ignorance of the wide variety of firearms that are semi-automatic, or misguided efforts in the face of definitional problems, they only lend credence to the gun lobby's argument that restrictions on assault weapons are merely the first step toward banning all semi-automatic guns.
So here are the distinguishing criteria they identified (emphasis in original):
The most significant assault weapon functional design features are: (1) ability to accept a high-capacity ammunition magazine, (2) a rear pistol or thumb-hole grip, and, (3) a forward grip or barrel shroud. Taken together, these are the design features that make possible the deadly and indiscriminate "spray-firing" for which assault weapons are designed. None of them are features of true hunting or sporting guns.
Now, though, VPC is fully on board with a growing trend, noted here several times in the recent past, of not worrying about "assault features," and arguing for a ban of all semi-automatic, detachable magazine-fed firearms. So, as VPC executive director Josh Sugarmann told Salon, the problem is all such firearms, with or without "assault features":
The first thing that needs to be done is we need to recognize that the common thread that runs through mass shootings and that really shapes gun violence as we know it today is a combination of semi-auto firearms, detachable ammunition magazines, and it ranges from high-capacity pistols to semi-automatic assault rifles.
In an op-ed for the Sacramento Bee, he made an almost identical argument:
There’s a common thread that binds the massacres in Isla Vista and in Newtown, and in many other mass shootings in recent years. Killers used semi-automatic firearms with detachable ammunition magazines.
And if, somehow, Sugarmann's dream of a ban of all semi-auto, detachable magazine-fed guns ever comes true, don't expect him to stay satisfied for long with the ban being limited to detachable magazine-fed guns, as VPC has also railed against the sale of "bullet button" devices, which make changing even a fixed magazine fairly quick, and are thus unacceptable.
The campaign to outlaw all semi-automatic firearms is gaining new adherents every day. When those are banned, count on bolt-action rifles to be demonized as "sniper rifles, with no place in civilized society." They want us disarmed. Every gun in private hands is "too deadly," for us mere citizens to own, and if they have their way, the government's hired muscle, armed with just the kinds of guns we cannot be trusted with, will come to take them from us, and kill us if we resist.
Well, they can try.
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