Letters: Automatic Errors

Automatic Errors

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This responds to the guest editorial by Winston Spencer, "Semi-Automatic Equals Automatic" [Alibi v27 i11]. For one who claims to be knowledgeable, his column is filled with factual errors. … And, just for the record, I am neither an NRA member nor do I own a firearm. What I do have is respect for truth and the rule of law.

"Fully automatic ‘machine guns’ have been outlawed for civilians since Al Capone."

False. There are something like 750,000 machines guns in civilian circulation in the United States. To get one you must pass a background check and pay a $200 tax, and you are mostly limited to weapons manufactured before May 1986.

"Except for one small internal part, [the AR-15] is an exact replica of the US Army’s M-16, now called the M-4."

The "one small internal part" is, in fact, the key mechanism that makes an M-16 capable of automatic fire. Furthermore, the M-16 is not "called" the M-4; the M-4 is an entirely different weapon, still capable of automatic fire but, unlike the M-16 or its "big brother," the M4A1, only capable for automatic fire for short bursts, rather than continuous.

"The bullet’s less-than-quarter-inch size causes it to tumble…"

Actually, it’s not tumbling; the high bullet velocity yields hydrostatic shock in the target, causing more damage than the primary wound. It’s still being debated whether the hydrostatic shock is more damaging than the larger primary wound caused by a larger caliber weapon.

"Rapid fire, military-grade weapons on the streets of America…"

The AR-15 is not military grade because it is not capable of automatic fire. If the army or marines puts out a request for proposal (RFP) for assault rifles and a vendor offers AR-15s, the bid would be rejected out of hand as being unresponsive. Automatic fire is a requirement for such "military-grade" weapons. This also applies to foreign governments. Soldiers with AK-47s have the versions capable of automatic fire, not the civilian versions that look similar but do not have that capability.

"President Bush signed a bill in 2005 granting the firearm industry protection from malfunctioning guns…"

False. Read the bill. It did not grant them protection from gun malfunction. If your gun blows up in your hand, you have a case. What the bill granted was protection from lawsuits if the gun worked exactly as designed but was used for a bad purpose, a legal theory being advanced by many gun control advocates hoping to persuade "progressive" judges. It would be much like suing a knife manufacturer if the knife was used to slash someone’s throat, or a baseball bat manufacturer if the bat was used to beat someone to death. The legal theory being argued to allow suits against gun manufacturers was what would have been the unique thing.

"… if you self-report treatment for a mental condition."

The law is that if you are
adjudicated to have a dangerous medical condition, that is supposed to be reported for background checks. (The law is there, it needs better compliance.) What becomes problematic is when there has been no hearing, no opportunity for the target to defend himself or herself, and their right can be infringed on the basis of nothing more than suspicion or accusation. Would you abrogate other rights—e.g., the right to vote—on such a flimsy basis? Or when people ask why those on the terrorism watch list can buy guns, it’s for the same reason we don’t simply jail them—we don’t abrogate rights in this country without an actual trial. The alternative is simply lynch mob justice: punishment without due process. Should we really go there?

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