On September 25, the House of Representatives Judiciary Committee, chaired by Rep. Jerrold Nadler of New York, held a hearing on semi-automatic rifles such as the AR-15, which Democrats call “assault weapons,” “weapons of war,” and “weapons of mass destruction,” and on what they call “large” or “high-capacity” ammunition magazines, meaning those that hold 11 or more rounds, regardless of the firearms for which the magazines are designed.
Some of what transpired was a regurgitation of civilian disarmament activist groups’ sound bites and talking points, heard since the debate began in January 1989. A few new revelations took place as well. Here are some highlights.
1. Democrats Don’t Want To Reduce Crime
If Democrats wanted to reduce crime—particularly mass shootings—the hearing would have covered mental illness, psychotropic drugs, children without fathers in their homes, and the list goes on. Instead, the hearing was about guns and magazines. And since the Senate and President Donald Trump are unlikely to go along with any ban passed by the House, the purposes of the hearing were obviously to rally Democrat voters and to make skeptical Republicans look cold and heartless.
2. Only Republicans Discussed Guns And Magazines for Defensive Purposes
One of the Republican witnesses, former Tulsa police office Dianna Muller, explained why pistol versions of AR-15s are, for some people, easier to fire accurately than traditional handguns. Rep. Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.) recited a number of instances in which individuals around the country have defended themselves with AR-15s. Rep. Tom McClintock (R-Calif.) offered several other plausible scenarios in which an AR-15 could easily be the best firearm for defensive purposes.
Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) reminded those present that the Second Amendment says “the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.” That should have been sufficient to bring the hearing to a close. The government is prohibited from banning arms without which the people would not be able to defend themselves against the threat contemplated in the amendment: tyranny.
But the hearing continued. So, the point was repeated by Rep. Gregory Steube (R-Fla.), who added that the amendment “says arms, plural. Not certain types of arms.” He continued, “the Second Amendment has absolutely nothing to do with hunting. . . . It has everything to do with your constitutional right to defend yourself, your family, and others.”
3. Democrats Want To Ban All Semi-Automatic Rifles
Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.) asked the witnesses, “Do you think that hunting rifles ought to be banned if they are semi-automatic?” Despite being asked several times, Dayton, Ohio’s, Democrat Mayor Nan Whaley refused to answer.
4. Actually, Democrats Want To Ban All Center-Fire Rifles
Rep. Eric Swalwell, Mayor Whaley, and two other Democrat witnesses, Charlottesville, Virginia, police chief RaShall Brackney, and David Chipman, a former Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives agent who works for an anti-gun activist group co-led by Democrat Mark Kelly, who is challenging Arizona U.S. Sen. Martha McSally in 2020, spoke against “high-velocity” rifles. Of course, all center-fire rifles fire a bullet at a higher velocity than handguns, and many fire a bullet faster than an AR-15.
5. Democrats Also Want To Ban Firearms That Use Detachable Magazines
Thirty years ago Democrats said that semi-automatic rifles should be banned if they have two or more external attachments such as (like all pistols) a “pistol grip” and an adjustable-length stock. Fifteen years ago they said, instead, that the rifles should be banned if they have even one attachment. Now, they say the rifles should be banned because they can use detachable ammunition magazines.
A Democrat witness, Kristin Rand, of the Violence Policy Center, the group that in 1988 proposed to anti-gun activists that they temporarily give up on banning handguns and start trying to ban semi-automatic rifles, said that the “most deadly feature” of an “assault weapon” is its “ability to take a detachable ammunition magazine.”
Of course, a ban on firearms that use detachable magazines would be a de facto ban on semi-automatic handguns, owned by tens of millions of Americans and protected by the Supreme Court’s decisions in District of Columbia v. Heller (2008) and McDonald v. Chicago (2010), as well as lots of rifles and some shotguns that the anti-gunners do not yet call “assault weapons.”
Chipman, too, complained that AR-15s “can accept detachable magazines.” He wildly exaggerated, “There is virtually no limit to the possible size of a magazine,” when the more honest and informative thing to have said is that there is virtually no limit to the variety of firearms that can use a detachable magazine, and that a firearm that can use any detachable magazine, however small, can use one of any size, however large.
6. Actually, Democrats Want To Ban All Guns Except Muskets
Mayor Whaley, who refused to answer Rep. Sensenbrenner’s question about banning hunting rifles, said “Police should not have to confront a weapon that can kill 9 people in 32 seconds. No one should.” Since any firearm that uses fixed metallic cartridges (invented in the mid-19th century)—even a single-shot rifle or shotgun—can be fired 9 times in 32 seconds, even with manual reloading after every shot, Whaley meant that she supports banning all firearms invented in the last 160 or so years.
7. Actually, Democrats Want To Ban All Guns
To Rep. Sensenbrenner’s question about “hunting rifles,” Chief Brackney answered, “I believe that any weapon that can be used to hunt individuals should be banned.” In other words, all firearms. Under questioning by Rep. Gregory Steube (R-Fla.), she repeated the statement over and over again. She also made a convoluted statement that indicated a belief that only a police officer should be able to fire a gun under any circumstances.
After telling Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.) that she supports his legislation to ban “assault weapons,” Brackney added, “What we also want to consider is these ‘open carry’ states. It’s much easier to identify a person who has an illegal weapon, if they’re not allowed to have one to start (sic). I wouldn’t have to make the distinction of whether it’s a good person with a gun or a bad person with a gun.” In other words, if only the police had guns.
8. As An Option, Anti-Gunners Want To Expand The National Firearms Act
The National Firearms Act (1934) ought to no longer require registration and a $200 tax on short-barreled rifles, sound suppressors, and select-fire rifles such as the M16. Instead, Chipman, the former BATFE agent and current anti-gun activist, repeatedly advocated that along with banning new “assault weapons,” those already owned should be subject to the NFA’s registration and tax requirement. “We absolutely have to address the most lethal weapons that are already in civilians’ hands, and I believe the National Firearms Act is the best way to approach that,” he said.
That wasn’t good enough for Rep. Swalwell, who said he preferred forcing existing owners of “assault weapons” to store them at ranges, where they could be used but not taken home, or confiscation of the guns, such as took place in Australia.
Rand, of the Violence Policy Center, said, assuming that “assault weapons” will be banned from manufacture, but not confiscated, “we must find a way to grapple with the grandfathered weapons.”
9. Anti-Gunners Are Basically Liars
Rand blamed the popularity of rifles like the AR-15 on firearms manufacturers (translation: corporations). The group has used that argument for a long time, to appeal to radical left, anti-capitalist Democrats. Rand’s lie is that she said the manufacturers have been marketing rifles designed for defensive purposes because hunting has become less popular in the last 20-30 years.
There are several reasons she is wrong. First, the largest firearm manufacturers in the United States that now manufacture AR-15s—Remington, Ruger, Smith and Wesson, and Mossberg—began doing so only after the rifles’ popularity was so well-established that it made financial sense for them to get on the bandwagon.
Second, bearing in mind that AR-15s are generally designed for defensive purposes, such rifles became more popular when having any firearms for defensive purposes became more popular, a trend that coincided with the adoption of Right-to-Carry (a concealed handgun) laws in 32 states between 1987 and the present (on top of the 10 states that had such laws previously).
Third, many Americans buy AR-15s because they can now receive expert training in defensive firearm use from military personnel who, after serving in Afghanistan and Iraq, have returned to civilian life as defensive firearm instructors. And last, but not least, whenever Democrats start talking about banning rifles and magazines, Americans head out to buy whatever the Democrats don’t want them to have.
Rand also claimed that in 1984, the perpetrator of a particular shooting in California “wielded an Uzi Carbine and killed 21 and wounded 19.” The truth? The perpetrator did most of his shooting with a shotgun and handgun.
Brackney referred to H.R. 8, an “universal” background checks bill introduced by Rep. Mike Thompson (D-Calif.) as a “bipartisan bill,” which is a stretch, since 227 of the bill’s 232 co-sponsors are Democrats.
Chipman offered the peculiar opinion that the majority of AR-15s sold in the United States are imported. That would be news to Bravo Company, Daniel Defense, Knight Armament, Midwest Industries, Remington, Ruger, Smith & Wesson, Mossberg, and other American AR-15 manufacturers too numerous to mention.
10. Republicans Destroyed Democrats’ Rhetoric About ‘Weapons Of War’
Like other Democrats at the hearing, Rep. David Cicilline (R-R.I.), sponsor of legislation to ban “assault weapons,” referred to the firearms as “weapons of war designed to kill as many people as possible in as short a time as possible.”
Rep. Doug Collins (R-Ga.) made the point that most firearms are “weapons of war.” He didn’t go into detail, but he could have mentioned the bolt-action rifles that were designed for military purposes and that are now owned by millions of Americans, such as the Mauser 1898, the Lee-Enfield, the Springfield M1903, and the Moisin-Nagant. He could have mentioned the made-for-the-military pistols, such as the M1911 .45 cal., the Browning High-Power, the Luger, the P38, the Beretta M9, the incredibly popular Glock, and SIG 320 pistols, also owned by millions of Americans.
It might have caused the Democrats’ brains to blow a fuse, but Collins could have also pointed out that in some instances, our armed forces have adopted firearms that were first in wide use by civilians—including the Winchester Model 70 and Remington Model 700 rifles, the Remington 870 and 11-87 and Mossberg 500 shotguns, and noted above, the Army’s new SIG 320 pistol, which it calls the M17. And to really blow the Democrats’ minds, Collins could have pointed out that Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s legislation to ban “weapons of war” expressly exempts the M1 semi-automatic carbine and M1 semi-automatic rifle, which Gen. George S. Patton called “the greatest battle implement ever devised.”
Collins could have also made the point that according to the Supreme Court’s decision in U.S. v. Miller (1939), citing the Tennessee Supreme Court’s decision in Aymette v. State (1840), weapons of war, designed to kill evil-doers as quickly as possible, are precisely the type of arms the Second Amendment most protects the right to keep and bear. But that will probably have to wait until a hearing is held after Republicans take back the House.
Mark Overstreet is a firearm instructor and author in central Texas. He retired in 2016 as the senior research coordinator of the National Rifle Association’s Institute for Legislative Action, after 25 years with the organization. He is also retired from the Army Reserve, after 23 years including duty as a combat cameraman in Iraq. His views do not necessarily reflect those of the NRA or the Department of Defense. He can be reached at [email protected]
Photo U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Jerry Harlan