Police Show Legitimacy of Semi-Automatics

by Diane Nicholl & Dave Kopel

June 18, 1998. More by Kopel on self-loading firearms.

Are semi-automatic firearms evil devices created solely for murdering a lot of innocent people at once? The Denver Police Department doesn't think so; the Department, like many others in the United States, has begun equipping its officers with AR-15 semiautomatic rifles. The police emphasize that the rifles are accurate, and that officers are taught to use the rifles to end a dangerous situation with just a single shot.

But if you believe President Clinton and the rest of the anti-gun movement, the Denver Police Department and their colleagues around the nation have gone nuts. Several few weeks ago, President Clinton made his bureaucrats ban the import of 58 types of semi-automatic rifles because "You do not need an Uzi to go deer hunting and you do not need an AK-47 to go skeet shooting."

But Clinton's comment made no sense. He might as well have banned swimsuits by claiming "Nobody needs swimsuits to go mountain climbing." Of course you can't hunt deer with an Uzi; Uzis are pistols, and therefore can't be used for deer hunting, since they're too low-powered. The AK-47 is a Communist machine gun, and (despite what the President thinks) can hardly be found in the United States, outside of firearms museums. If the President ever went skeet shooting, he would discover that the sport requires a shotgun; you can't hunt skeet with a rifle of any type, including an AK-47.

The guns that Clinton banned are semi-automatic rifles which fire no faster than common hunting rifles, but which are made by foreign manufacturers, and which are cosmetically different from American-made guns. Supposedly, the guns are banned because they're not suited for "sporting purposes," and the Gun Control Act of 1968 allows the federal government to prohibit the import of "non-sporting weapons." But sports had nothing to do with it; White House plans to ban as many guns as possible have been publicly stated. The gun-banner-in-Chief knows as much about the shooting sports as he does about medieval Arabic poetry.

In the same vein of ignorance as President Clinton, Dr. Jerome Kassirer (Editor In Chief of the New England Journal of Medicine) recently demanded a ban of all semi-automatic firearms. He asserts that the guns "are worse than useless" and that "They are of no value for hunting, and their use for target practice seems dispensable."

In fact, many semi-automatic rifles (such as the Marlin Camp Carbine, or the Valmet Hunter) are designed specifically for hunting, and almost all semi-automatic rifles (except for a few very heavy models) are used for hunting.

What about firearms ownership for the protection of innocent lives? That's why the Denver Police Department is acquiring AR-15s, not for hunting.

Dr. Kassirer wants to "eliminate semi-automatic firearms from private homes" because "They are certainly not needed for protection against crime." But Dr. Kassirer doesn't show anything about semiautomatics that makes them bad for home protection. To the contrary, semiautomatic pistols such as the Colt.45 (which Kassirer would ban) are often preferred for home defense, because they are reliable, and easy to learn to use.

Dr. Kassirer,  however, doesn't think firearms can be used for defense: "It is also time to lay to rest the myth that keeping firearms in the home protects people against personal injury."  What Dr. Kassirer considers a "myth" is the work of Dr. Gary Kleck, an award-winning criminologist and author of Point Blank: Guns and Violence in America and Targeting Guns: Firearms and Their Control. Kleck's in-depth polling found that guns are used by Americans protection against crime more than two million times a year-usually without a shot being fired.

But Kleck's research is confirmed by twelve other studies, including a recent one by the federal government's National Institute of Justice. One of most eminent criminologists in the United States, Dr. Marvin E. Wolfgang evaluated Kleck's research: "I hate guns - ugly, nasty, instruments designed to kill people." Can it be true that about two million instances occur each year in which a gun was used as a defensive measure against crime?  It is hard to believe.  Yet, it is hard to challenge the data collected."  He concluded, "I do not like their conclusions that having a gun can be useful, but I cannot fault their methodology."

In any case, even if Kleck's figures were too high, the estimate preferred by Kleck's critics still show that there are at least 60,000 annual defensive firearms uses-hardly an insignificant amount of crime prevented and lives saved.

The Denver Police Department and the scholars agree: firearms, including semi-automatic firearms, play an important role in the protection of innocent life.

Diane Nicholl and Dave Kopel wrote this article for the Independence Institute, a free-market think tank in Golden, Colorado. http://i2i.org. Kopel's most recent book is "No More Wacos: What's Wrong with Federal Law Enforcement and How to Fix It" (Prometheus Books).

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