In a commencement address to the Rutgers University graduating class of 2016, former-President Barack Obama proclaimed, “In politics and in life, ignorance is not a virtue. It’s not cool to not know what you’re talking about.”
We criticize political authorities for knowing little about the subjects to which they propose restrictions. We’ve seen it on topics such as education — like Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos — or legislators making policy on abortion — like former-Representative Todd Akin who claimed pregnancies from “legitimate rapes” aren’t physically possible for women. Like these examples, gun policy should be no different.
In similar fashion, a group of legislators with little knowledge about firearms took action to keep regulations in place last Tuesday. Judge Robert King and nine other judges on the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals voted to uphold a Maryland assault weapons ban with the justification that assault weapons are not protected under the Second Amendment. But their decision highlights a common theme among America’s policymakers: their tendency to create legislation while lacking basic knowledge in the subject area.
In the 75-page majority opinion, technical aspects of firearms were consistently described using popular misconceptions. The court decision claims barrel shrouds — a feature commonly regulated in assault weapon bans — cool the barrel and provide the shooter a “convenient grip.”’ But barrel shrouds don’t cool barrels at all. They are simply a covering over the barrel of a firearm to prevent users from suffering serious first- or second-degree burns — essentially a safety feature.
Many assault weapon bans also regulate flash suppressors, which are defined as devices intended to redirect the firearm’s flash, reducing the likelihood of blinding the user. Instead, the court decision claimed flash suppressors “help conceal a shooter’s position.”
And the court decision constantly muddled the difference between semi-automatic firearms — firearms which can only fire one round with each pull of the trigger — and fully automatic firearms — firearms which fire multiple rounds with each pull of the trigger.
The decision claimed semi-automatic rifles are capable of being “fired at rates of 300 to 500 rounds per minute” without offering any examples of this being done. Jerry Miculek, a competitive shooter with 11 world records and over 100 national and world titles, struggles to achieve 300 rounds per minute using semi-automatic firearms.
The court decision describing the AK-47 rifle as capable of firing “40 rounds per minute on semi-automatic” cast serious doubt on the previous 300 to 500 rpm claim. This is just another example of the contradictions made within the court’s decision.
The court decision also describes the AR-15 as “simply the semi-automatic version of the M16 rifle used by our military.” But despite near-identical appearances, the civilian-legal AR-15 and the fully automatic M16 used by our military are vastly different rifles. That “simple” distinction in function — semi-automatic or fully automatic fire — is all the difference in the world. Outside of function, the only differences that remain are form. Some of the most popular sporting rifles in America are functionally identical to the AR-15 but lack the cosmetic similarities to the M16, dodging the assault weapon classification.
Politics is a difficult field to get things done in. And I’m not saying I’m qualified to create legislation, either. I merely wish to point out the issue here and its common recurrence throughout American politics. A total disregard of basic knowledge on the subject in a U.S. Circuit Court’s decision is embarrassing and warrants uproar.
But the courts aren’t the only place we see this ignorance. It’s not rare for some of the most powerful gun control proponents to create and lobby for gun legislation without basic firearms knowledge.
Michael Bloomberg is a vocal supporter of sweeping gun control proposals and co-founded Everytown for Gun Safety, a gun control lobbying organization that spent over $37 million in 2014 to lobby and fund efforts to create additional gun regulations. In an ABC “Nightline” interview, Bloomberg was pressed on his ability to define assault weapons to which he responded, “Pistols are different, you have to pull the trigger each time. An assault weapon you basically hold it and it goes ‘brrrt.’”
But assault weapons are semi-automatic only. Fully automatic firearms have been banned since 1986 under the Hughes Amendment.
Former-Rep. Carolyn McCarthy attempted to reintroduce the Federal Assault Weapons Ban, which would regulate firearms with a barrel shroud. When asked three times in an MSNBC interview what a barrel shroud was, she responded, “I actually don’t know what a barrel shroud is. I believe it’s the shoulder thing that goes up.”
It is perfectly reasonable to demand that lawmakers maintain a basic level of knowledge on the policy area being regulated, whether it be health care, reproductive health or firearms. It is an even lower and more achievable standard to expect them to understand their own legislation.
Like Obama said, ignorance is never acceptable — especially for our lawmakers. Let’s hold them to higher standards and make sure gun reform is backed up with the facts.
Jeremy primarily writes on gun policy and violent crime.