Paul Helmke, president of the anti-gun Brady Campaign, is trying to revive the "assault weapon" meme*. Not that I blame him; if my organization hadn't had a win in sixteen years, I'd probably grasp for whatever worked last, too. The problem with the "assault weapon" meme, though, is that it can't work the same way again. The ban was passed in 1994 largely because the Bradies managed to use implication, innuendo, and outright lies to convince the public that the AR-15s, AK-47s, and Uzis they were targeting were fully-automatic military machine guns, when in fact they're ordinary semiautomatic civilian firearms. Today, AR-15s are so overwhelmingly popular that most Americans outside the super-liberal enclaves own one or know somebody who does. Between that and the internet, the Bradies can no longer conceal the pedestrian nature of these guns.
That means the only way forward is a new strategy: trying to convince people that pedestrian guns are so ultra-deadly that we need to add more restrictions to the mountain of US gun laws:
No, the NRA bosses are all tied up in knots because [hardcore Illinois gun-ban advocate and President Obama's choice for ATF director Andrew] Traver didn’t make it clear enough to the TV audience that a fully automatic weapon (like the one the reporter apparently blasted) can get a few rounds out more quickly than a semi-automatic and is not as readily available to the general public (although they would like it to be).
Yes, amazing, but true. The NRA bosses, who use the cover of law-abiding hunters and gun owners, now seek Traver’s scalp over a difference that has little distinction.
Semi-automatics are only a little less deadly than fully automatics.
It's rare that I can say this, so kindly imagine a blaze of trumpets here:
I agree with Paul Helmke.
Fully-automatic firearms are only trivially more effective at their job than semiautomatics, if at all, because full-auto fire is very difficult to aim, and for the most part just makes you miss faster. And if you're concerned about stray fire, remember that a dirt-common pump action hunting shotgun can blast out .32 caliber projectiles much faster than any Skorpion that ever haunted Diane Feinstein's nightmares. As full-auto enthusiasts like to say, they're machines for turning money into noise. The primary applications of full-auto firearms are military suppressive fire (which isn't intended to hit a target), and making your light AR-style carbine do a passable shotgun impression at very short ranges. For all practical purposes, a select-fire military AR and a semiauto civilian AR are the same weapon.
Of course, this isn't an argument for stricter gun control. If Americans aren't prepared to ban all the ordinary civilian semiautomatic rifles we've been using for a century (and believe me, we're not), then this line of reasoning in fact demonstrates the absurdity of the 1934 National Firearms Act's extremely strict machine-gun control. If the difference is so slight, it most certainly doesn't call for federal intervention that restricts expression of a Constitutionally protected human right.
I don't actually advocate for overturning the NFA in real life. Whatever the reality of the situation, machine guns are very, very dramatic and scare the crap out of the mainstream. Large numbers of smart, generally gun-friendly people find that machine guns fail their sniff tests. It doesn't matter how right we are; we're just not going to overcome this perception right now, and ignoring that reality can only give the anti-gun crowd the traction they've been desperate for. And frankly, that's not the end of the world. The machine gun restrictions are stupid, but by the nature of their uselessness they leave us all the alternatives we need to fulfill the ends of the Second Amendment. But man, if we ever get around to fighting that battle, it can't possibly hurt to have the president of the Brady Campaign on record saying that machine guns are basically the same as "normal" guns.
[* - Or, more likely, he thinks it's a good way to fill some blogspace and appeal to the dudes who decide where Joyce Foundation grants go. Being president of the Brady Campaign is probably the easiest gig in Washington, so even though it's obviously doomed, who can blame him for trying to stretch it out as long as possible?]