AR-15, hated and loved weapon

The anti-gun lobby has made the AR-15 rifle into the new poster boy for gun control. They call it and similar rifles “assault weapons”, which is a term with no real meaning. See The Truth About Assault Weapons if you need details. (A big tip of the hat to whoever put that presentation together.) In fact, they are ordinary rifles owned by millions. The AR-15 is tremendously popular, yet is used in just a tiny fraction of all gun-related homicides.


So why are the gun-banning lobby fixated on these so-called “assault weapons”? Of course it’s useful to have a poster boy for your cause, and this one looks like a big mean army gun, so they can make people think it’s a military weapon. They even call it “military-style” when styling has no bearing on its use. It’s simply not a military weapon. The military uses automatic weapons, which the AR-15 is not.

This is the most popular rifle in America, selling millions. Are people buying military guns? Again, no. Some are influenced by its military “style” — it just looks cool, and it looks like what the good guys use in the movies. But mostly they’re buying it for many very practical reasons:

  • It’s lightweight and easy to use
  • It’s reliable, accurate, and reasonably priced
  • It’s modular, so it can be adapted to different calibers and uses
  • Because it’s so popular, parts and accessories are plentiful

One of the best and most versatile rifles of all time, it can be adapted to many roles: marksmanship, hunting, defense, ranch work, and so on. Some states permit deer hunting with it. (Other states do not, considering its .223 round underpowered for deer.) The police use it almost exclusively. One thing it is seldom used for is murder:


The AR-15 is used in only a tiny fraction of all firearm murders [1][2][3]

Those pushing for a ban on so-called “assault weapons” are either being intentionally deceptive or simply ignorant followers of those who are. awb_feinsteinThere is a coordinated strategy, going back decades, to use the idea of “assault weapons” to increase public support for further gun restrictions. [4] The campaign against these rifles, used very rarely for criminal purposes, is just another step in the campaign to remove as many firearms as possible from the hands of citizens.

As an approach to gun crime, it’s worse than pointless. As a marketing strategy it’s brilliant. It’s the thin end of a wedge whose final goal is the confiscation of all guns.


  1. Congessional Research Services
  2. FBI Uniform Crime Statistics
  3. Justin Peters,
  4. Dave Kopel, Independence Institute


Controlling bullets instead of guns

Chris Rock is a funny and smart guy. I liked his routine on five-thousand-dollar bullets. But while that’s good comedy, it’s an extraordinarily bad idea. People who own guns need regular practice because gun handling is a perishable skill. chrisrockAnd responsible gun owners really do need to know what they’re doing. At $5000 a round, a day at the range could cost millions.

Sadly, it isn’t just comedians who have this idea, but also some legislators. They want background checks to buy ammunition. They want a database of who is buying ammo. They want to drastically increase the difficulty and cost for regular, law-abiding citizens to maintain their proficiency and enjoy the shooting sports. And how will this help anything? A drive-by gang shooting takes a handful of ammunition. A day at the range with friends takes boxfuls.

redcarcrashHere’s an idea to consider. Thousands of people are killed each year by drivers without a valid license. It’s illegal for them to drive, but they’re doing it anyway. Should we force gas stations to verify your license and put your details into a database every time you fill up? It might help save many lives, but we would never do this. That’s because of the cost, inconvenience, and violation of privacy that it would mean to every law-abiding driver.

Although it might well save some lives, it doesn’t make sense to intrude on everyone’s lives with gas-station license checks, does it? Ammunition control laws make even less sense.

It’s just gun control by another name, and doesn’t make sense.




Dial 911, or get a gun?

Sometimes people tell me that I don’t need a gun. That if something bad happens, I can just call the police. But the police have no duty to protect you, and even if they want to, they often cannot.

When you call the police in an emergency, how long will it take until they arrive? Unless you live inside a police station, you would be very lucky if they arrived in less than five minutes. When staff from Sandy Hook Elementary School called police to report a shooter in the school, it took police 20 minutes to arrive. That’s for a school shooting! And following a major natural disaster, they may never respond to your call.

When you call the police, they are under no obligation to protect you. If there’s a patrol car nearby, and they aren’t busy with something of equal or higher priority, you may get a police officer in a few minutes. Or, if it’s a busy night or you’re unlucky, then they might not arrive for a very long time.

When seconds count, the police are just minutes away.

homeinvadergloveImagine the following scenario. You’re relaxing at home; the kids are asleep in the next room. Suddenly someone smashes a windowpane and starts to break into your home. What are your options? Would you like to protect yourself right now, or in half an hour? Try and reason with the home invader?

Home invasions and other attacks happen more commonly than you may think. Denying someone the right to defend themselves is criminal.


Home invasion: not far-fetched at all

I have friends who think it’s a far-fetched idea that someone could invade my home. They say I’m paranoid to worry about this, and I really don’t need to keep a gun. But they don’t roll their eyes about the fire extinguisher that I keep in the kitchen. Of course, they say, it makes sense to be prepared for a kitchen fire.

But in reality, a kitchen fire is much less likely to happen. In the US each year there are 3.7 million burglaries, according to the Department of Justice. Of these, roughly one million are “hot” burglaries, occurring when someone is at home. And in 266,560 of those cases, actual violence was done to a family member.

Let’s compare this to kitchen fires. The U.S. Fire Administration says that there were 156,500 kitchen fires in the US in 2002.

  • home invasions with violence: 266,560 per year
  • kitchen fires: 156,500

Now, your definition of home invasion may differ from mine. A “hot” burglary with violence committed against the residents of the home qualifies for me. And you could pick on some of the details like these figures are from 2002 (fires) vs. 2005 (burglary). But it’s still clear: home invasions are a real risk, and addressing that risk is not paranoid.

More statistical games

I’ve said it once before but it bears repeating now. (Apologies to the White Stripes)

They say the USA (3.2 per 1000) has too high a rate of gun-related homicides. That because of this I should fear for my life in Los Angeles. I guess I’d better pack up and move to Sierra Leone (2.3) or the Congo (1.6). Maybe someplace ultra-safe like Uganda (0.9), Serbia (0.5), or Turkmenistan (0.1 per 1000). Wait a minute… There seems to be something wrong with these statistics. Maybe they’re measuring the wrong thing…

Gun homicide per capita: what’s that?

So they have a wonderfully low gun death rate in Japan? Duh, they have no guns. Hey, here’s another way to save lives: which country has the lowest rate of highway deaths per year? The Marshall Islands!  (Duh, they have no cars.) Gun homicide is a bogus statistic: it varies according to the number of guns, among other factors. Which is useless in evaluating whether guns cause death.

Homicides per gun: a new benchmark?

Gun-related deaths per capita is just a red herring. A sales tool. (Yes, it does bear repeating.) Well, two can play at that game, son! Here’s a new statistic we can refer to: homicides per GUN, not per capita. If guns cause killing — or are strongly linked to killing — then this number should be fairly constant from one country to the next. But it is not.

If “guns kill people”, then the amount of homicide per gun should be consistent: twice as many guns means twice as many deaths. Yet the number varies drastically from one country to another. We are #20 worldwide for lowest homicides per gun, two places ahead of Australia. The only countries with fewer deaths per gun than the US are Austria, Norway, Luxembourg, United Arab Emirates, Germany, Iceland, Serbia, Sweden, Bahrain, Qatar, Greece, Yemen, Canada, Cyprus, France, Kuwait, Finland, Switzerland, and New Zealand.) For comparison, here are the rates for selected countries:

  • Austria: #1 (The fewest homicides per gun of any country.)
  • United States: #20
  • England and Wales: #49
  • Japan: #74
  • Nepal: #109

And here’s where we stand among the OECD countries:


Is homicides per gun a strange statistic to cite? No more strange than gun homicides per capita. (Hint: the important number is simply homicides per capita.)

There are a lot of strange statistics going around at the moment. Please feel free to use  homicides per gun in reply.


Primary data source: UNODC. Homicides per gun is derived from same.


Is owning a gun a civil right?

I have heard some people suggest that being armed is not a civil right. That our Constitution does not give ordinary citizens the right to have weapons.

Actually, it is a right whose protection from government interference is a civil liberty. To me this makes it a civil right, although civil rights usually refers to the equality of liberty for all citizens.


Merriam-Webster defines civil liberty as:

Freedom from arbitrary governmental interference (as with the right of free speech) specifically by denial of governmental power and in the United States especially as guaranteed by the Bill of Rights —usually used in plural [1]

So a civil liberty is freedom from governmental interference with a right. As in “the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed”.

Where does this right come from?

When people say the Constitution doesn’t grant people the right to be armed, that is correct in a sense: it just forbids the government from infringing that right. Which means it was an existing right before the Constitution was written. Throughout recorded history, if not longer, the right to own and carry a weapon has been a key aspect of being a free person.

In ancient Greece, owning weapons was a primary distinction of citizenship [2] — slaves could be issued weapons to fight in armies, but they could not own them.



Roman citizens also had the right to own weapons, unlike slaves. Gladiators, like Greek slave-soldiers, did not own their weapons. (Slaves with weapons led to revolts such as the one led by Spartacus in 73 bce.) When a gladiator was granted his freedom, the very symbol of this act was the presentation of a replica weapon, the rudis. [3][4]

Developments in Britain from around the 11th century onward, and spanning the transition from sword to firearm, culminated in the English Bill of Rights (1689). This document codified for the first time the right of individual subjects to be armed for their own defense.[5] [6]

So by the late 1700s, there was already a long-standing right for free men to bear arms. And when a group of British subjects declared themselves instead to be American citizens, this is one of the rights they chose to enumerate and preserve.

More recently the US Supreme Court has affirmed that the Constitution does in fact preserve an individual right to be armed. And that this right is not limited to muskets, nor extended to nuclear weapons, but refers to weapons currently typical for a milita (e.g. pistols and rifles). [7]

The bottom line

Guns have been with us for over 500 years; the right of free men to possess and use weapons since long before that. The civil liberties provided by our Constitution include the protection of that right.

I call that a civil right.


  1. Merriam-Webster online
  2. Metropolitan Museum of Art
  4. Harper’s Dictionary of Classical Antiquities (At Tufts University)
  5. (ABA award winning blog)
  6. Yale Law School

  7. (this time on McDonald and on Heller)


Keep it locked, keep it handy

In the film Couples Retreat, there’s a scene where Vince Vaughn gets out of bed to check about a prowler. His gun is locked up next to his bed, yet he gets it into his hand in a few seconds. He’s using a pistol safe similar to this one:


GunVault pistol safe

Several companies make these; some read your fingerprint, others let you type a combination of keys. But what they have in common is that they do two things:

  • They keep your weapon away from children, guests, and casual burglars
  • The let you access your weapon quickly

If you keep a weapon for home defense, then these are critical requirements. You can get similar protection for long guns too; here’s a nifty homebrew solution for a pump shotgun:


RFID shotgun lock

See the YouTube video for that one to learn more about it. And you don’t have to homebrew one; products like the ShotLock or Mossberg Loc-Box work too. (Though I don’t like the ones that use a key.)

But please, don’t leave your guns free for kids, guests, or burglars to just pick up. And if anyone in your home is depressed or disturbed, take extra precautions.

Why am I armed?

Okay, the Bill of Rights protects our right to be armed. So what? Why would anybody want to have a gun?

For me, the main reason is to protect my home and family. Do I want to shoot anyone? Absolutely not! Please Lord may I never need to do that. But I realized that I had a responsibility to be prepared. In the unlikely event that I need to defend myself, my wife, and my children, then I damn well want the capability to do so.

We life in earthquake country. We keep a stock of water, food, flashlights, first aid equipment, and so on. While I was setting this up, it occurred to me that disaster preparedness must include defensive preparations. If “the big one” strikes, then roads, power, and public services will be out of commission for a while, and with them the normal civil order. Defense needed to be part of my backup plan, in case things get difficult.

But I’ve also realized that it doesn’t take a public catastrophe to pose a threat to my loved ones. Even on the most normal of days, someone could break into my home with foul intent. That’s not scaremongering: that’s reality.

You might think that a home invasion is an extremely unlikely event, so arming yourself to defend against it is simple paranoia. But nobody believes it’s paranoid to keep a fire extinguisher in the kitchen, when kitchen fires are actually far less frequent than home invasions. In fact, home invasions with actual violence done are much more common than kitchen fires:

  • Home invasions with violence to resident: 266,560/year (2010, US DOJ)
  • Kitchen fires:  156,500/year (2004, FEMA)

And it’s not just a statistic, these things are real. Back when my mother was a youthful 60-ish, a masked stranger suddenly appeared in her stairway and began dragging her into the basement. Amazingly, she managed to squirm free screaming and he fled—but it might have ended differently; she was lucky. Last year an elderly man a few streets over from us was beaten to death by a mentally ill man whom he challenged in his garage. I do not plan to be next.

Of course you don’t need to be armed if you don’t want to. But this is why I am.

If you, like me, decide to assume this as your responsibility then I suggest you take it seriously. Don’t leave a gun where kids can get it; obey the law; get some training and stay in practice. And when you lock your guns up, make sure you can still get to them quick. (See today’s other post for some ideas about that.)

Be prepared.


“We must do anything that might help”

It’s pretty clear to me that gun control has little or no effect on violent crime. (See my Visualizing the statistics page if you haven’t already.)

But people are beating the drum for gun control. If something even has a chance of working, we have to do it, they say. Even if it infringes people’s constitutional rights. Even if it costs money.

“We have to do something, even if it might save just one life.”

Even if it’s unlikely to help at all. What happened in Britain when they banned handguns? Armed robbery went up. What changed when the previous assault weapons ban ended, and people started buying AR-15s like crazy? Nothing: the rates of homicide and violent crime weren’t affected.

OK, if we’re going to try ANYTHING that might help, I have a modest proposal here. It infringes people’s rights. It costs money. And it has a chance of reducing violent crime. It goes like this:

  1. Identify the urban neighborhoods with the most violent crime
  2. Set up police checkpoints throughout the neighborhood
  3. Allow no one to enter or exit a building, or to pass from street to street, without a thorough search of their person.

It might work! In fact, it is more likely to work than a gun ban. But we wouldn’t do this, because of the following reasons (which also correspond to the steps above):

  1. Picking on certain neighborhoods is profiling, and violates the 14th Amendment
  2. All those extra police cost way too much
  3. Searching everybody without cause violates the Fourth Amendment

Of course I’m not seriously proposing this; in fact it’s outrageous. (Unless you want to live in a police state.) And why bother, when it’s much easier just to ban some sort of ill-defined “assault weapons”? But that comes close to banning most legally owned guns, which is outrageous too.

On magazine capacity

Along with the proposed ban on so-called “assault weapons”, there is legislation in progress to limit magazine sizes. Does this make sense? First, let’s define just what a magazine (sometimes incorrectly called a “clip”) actually is.


Pistol magazine

A magazine in a firearm is where the ammunition is held ready to load and fire. Most pistols and so-called “assault weapons” use a removable magazine that holds a number of cartridges — typically between 5 and 20, sometimes up to 30 or more for rifles. When all the cartridges have been fired and the magazine is empty, it can be removed from the gun and replaced with a full one. With practice, changing the magazine takes only a couple of seconds.

Why would we limit magazine sizes? Suppose a deranged gunman is shooting unarmed folks around him. Using 30-round magazines, he would have to switch magazines after every 30th shot. Using 10-round magazines, he would have to do this after every 10th shot. I suppose there’s a bit more opportunity for the unarmed bystander to tackle and subdue the shooter, but that would take incredible guts, skill, and luck. Would you run at the shooter in those few seconds? With one killer against a flock of innocents, magazine size is not much of a factor.

But why not limit them anyway, just in case it helps? Surely nobody needs more than 10 rounds for self defense! Well, don’t be so sure. Suppose — God forbid — two big guys with knives and a nasty dog work your door open and charge on in. Your kids are in the next room and here come the bad guys: how many shots will be enough? It’s right now you want extra capacity, rather than coming up empty. In this scenario, magazine size is quite important.

Far-fetched, you say? Because home invasions are really rare? In fact, home invasions are far more common than kitchen fires. I also have a smoke alarm and fire extinguisher in the kitchen, and I don’t call that paranoid either. (Sources: US Dept of Justice, US Fire Administration.)

It’s about having a reserve in case the worst happens. For multiple armed assailants. Ask any cop if they’d like to have a 10-round limit. It’s like having a parachute that’s “probably good enough”. No sir. If you ever need it, it had better be plenty.

It’s the thin end of the wedge, some say. They’ll reduce it to 10 rounds, then less, then less, until it reaches zero. Paranoia, right? I might have been more inclined to agree until New York recently changed their magazine size limit from ten rounds to seven. Seven rounds? Nobody makes a seven-round magazine. Ah, but the state says if you have a ten-round magazine that’s OK, it’s just illegal to load the last three rounds. (I’ll sure mention that to those gang bangers over there.)

The bottom line is that magazine capacity doesn’t make much difference in a mass slaughter of unarmed innocents. But when defending against armed and determined criminals, it can mean everything. The gun-control folks will take away anything that we let them take.


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