Thursday, December 3, 2009

Fiddy Cal

The gun control movement has a problem in the US. The overwhelming majority of Americans believe in the right of the people to own guns, and don't support the gun bans that big players like the Brady Campaign, Violence Policy Center, and Mayors Against Illegal Guns want.

Or rather, the overwhelming majority of Americans believe in the right to own guns, but... They have some reservations. Maybe they're uncomfortable with concealed carry. Maybe they're mostly cool with concealed carry, but not in some places. Maybe they only believe in private ownership of sporting guns, but not guns for self defense. Gun controllers exploit all these reservations, but the one that bears them the most fruit is the widespread perception that normal guns are fine, but there are some guns out there that're much more dangerous and need to be controlled.

Feeding that perception has gotten the anti-gunners one major victory, the National Firearms Act of 1934, which (among other things) placed heavy restrictions on machine guns. They've maintained the overblown fear of full-auto for three quarters of a century now, even adding more restrictions in the 1980s, but they have a different problem: now that they've succeeded in banishing machine guns, all other firearms are more or less the same.

For all the electronic warfare we've seen between the Browningites and the Gastonians, guns today are essentially unchanged from guns a hundred years ago. Improvements in materials sciences have made some of them marginally lighter and more carryable, marginally more durable, and marginally more accurate and easier to accessorize. And the small refinements can make contemporary guns more desireable to the modern gun owner. But in very real terms, the guns of today are no more deadly than the guns of 1934*. This means the gun banners have had to essentially manufacture a perception of deadliness out of whole cloth. The greatest success they've had was the "assault weapons" ban, a huge topic unto itself, but since the AWB has gone out with a whimper, they're reduced to manufacturing fear in some ways that stretch the imagination very, very thin.

One of the more common is their attacks on "50 caliber rifles", by which they mean rifles chambered in the very powerful .50BMG cartridge. These rifles are extremely powerful, but they're also impractical criminal weapons for a variety of reasons, which we frequently prove by pointing out that, in real life, they simply aren't used in crime.

In an attempt to refute this point, the Violence Policy Center circulates their exhaustively researched list of crimes committed with .50BMG rifles. It gets the desired emotional reaction out of many people: your eyes start to glaze with the volume of incidents, and you think "damn; bad people use these guns".

But look at the situation rationally:

A well-funded anti gun group has worked to find for every available reference to .50BMG rifles used in crime. As a result of this research, it's found a grand total of 34 connections to any crime whatsoever. Almost all are simple illegal posession by a felon or drug addict, with no actual violent crime taking place. At least one "crime" is a failure to comply with state "safe storage" laws, which the Supreme Court has suggested are unconstitutional. Several incidents are cases in which a person commmitted a violent crime, and a subsequent search of his home turned up a .50BMG rifle, indicating that when he went out to harm people, he deliberately chose to leave the .50 at home.

There are four actual violent uses of .50BMG rifles cited. In only two of them were the guns actually fired. There's no indication that anybody was killed in either shooting.

And this is for a cartridge that's been manufactured since 1921.

If you truly believe that restrictions on guns can reduce the 13,000 homicides with firearms that happen each year in this country, going after a cartridge responsible for a third of a crime per year and a grand total of zero criminal homicides is a pretty odd policy.

It's factually incorrect to say that no .50BMG rifle has ever been used in a crime, but saying that they "aren't used in crime" is just as valid as saying that jews don't murder Christian babies. Yeah, it's probably happened once or twice, but you're responding to wildly hyperbolic accusations. In that context, the difference between "never" and "at a microscopically low rate" is academic.

[* - The main exception that springs to mind is modern hollow-point ammunition, which dramatically improves the effectiveness of small caliber handguns. In practical terms, though, this only brings them closer to the power level of larger caliber handguns, which have also been around forever. "Handguns" aren't made deadlier with hollowpoints.]


  1. Great post!

    Hey, any reason why you chose 1934?

    Overall most gun technology was pretty firm by 1900. By 1938 just about all major components and technologies used in modern guns had been resolved...anything further is more-or-less just mixing and matching various features. At this time we had striker-fired pistols, and Double-action hammered pistols...but not Double-action striker-fired pistols, but it's only logical that somebody would solve that little problem (not sure who that was...maybe H&K with the VP70?)

    Oh also fun little note, when John Browning invented the M2 Heavy Machine Gun, all he really did was Scale up his M1919 Light Machine Gun to a bigger size, and scaled up the .30-06 Springfield Cartridge (7.62x63mm scaled up to 12.7x99mm)

    Same cartridge...just bigger.

  2. Thanks.

    Chose 1934 referring to the NFA, not to firearms technology: at that point, they were telling us the tewwifying guns that needed regulation were machine guns and short-barreled long arms. Since they _got_ those regulations, and firearms technology hasn't fundamentally changed since then, today's scare tactics fall flat to anybody with any understanding of the issue's history.

    One of the great things about shooting is that you can indulge a love of _old_ technology without resorting to _obsolete_ technology. I mean, I'm buying a Ruger LCP because its lower weight and slightly smaller size make it much easier to carry than my FN 1910*. But apart from weight, old guns are usually every bit as competent as century-old ones. Unless cutting ounces is a deciding factor for you, a 1911 is substantially equivalent to a .45 USP, and a Hi-Power does almost exactly the same thing a Glock does.

    The differences in action and trigger type are a big deal to gunnies who care about refining guns to suit their preferences, but on a public policy level, they're less than trivial.

    [* - Actually a Browning 1955, but it's exactly the same as the 99-year-old FN version; it just has English rollmarks and a plastic trigger.]

  3. Yep, I hear you.

    Actually if you want to go the route of the NFA if anything technology has rendered that shit obsolete.

    I mean in 1937 you could cut down a 1903 Springfield into a 12" OAL pistol for some sort of high-powered hide-out gun.

    Tho with modern powders and metals, the S&W .460 Magnum revolver will do the EXACT same thing as that cut-down 1903 but better in a smaller package.

    One is an NFA crime, one isn't. The law is bullshit.

  4. I've tried to explain the SBR/SBS rules to a few non-gunnies, and they get to gape-mouthed shock pretty quickly. The whole concept was unworkably vague at the time, and it's only gotten worse as technology's moved on.

    Reassemble your modular single-shot Thompson/Center Contender pistol into a rifle barrel-first and you're fine, but attach the stock before swapping the barrel and you've committed a felony? Ooo-kay...

    Mostly it's not _that_ huge a problem for gun owners. But when the thing serves essentially no purpose, it's hard to imagine it meets _any_ kind of reasonable Constitutional scrutiny...

  5. YUP.

    They didn't really get a restriction on Short Barreled Long Arms, common misunderstanding.

    It's perfectly legal to build Long barrel pistols. There is no maximum pistol barrel length, only a minimum long gun length, so if you start with a pistol frame...Speaking as the man who has a 18.5" heavily braked .458 Lott PISTOL and a PLR-16 that's a long barreled 5.56mm that takes AR/M magazines, and a lott (pun intended) of related things. Last 2 words of my primary business name are "and T/Cs".

    The only thing the NFA really precludes having in "the length dimension" is a conversion of something initially produced as a rifle or shotgun into something under minimum length, starting from the other direction, with a pistol, is perfectly legal.

    Get into AOWs and things get just as confused and stupid.

    Then you have the .50 caliber maximum, except it doesn't apply to shotguns, BP guns, or any cartridge that has been determined by the BATFE Tech Branch as "primarily for sporting purposes" such as the various Safari carts in the .50-.750 range such as the famed .700NE. you don't need to fill out any NFA related paperwork to buy a .700NE, not that many people could afford one, and then afford to shoot one much anyway.

    Most of the NFA laws other than no new FAs for civilians and the ban on firearms mufflers without special permission are primarily imaginary and semi-imaginary in actual real workd practice.