Assault Rifle: What’s In a Name?

December 23rd, 2012

“Assault Rifle” or “Modern Sporting Rifle” … It doesn’t really matter.

I’ve seen social network postings and blogs, authored by both the well-intentioned and by wingnuts, attempting to discredit the media and the current public sentiment by saying, in effect “It’s not an assault rifle because it can’t be used as a fully automatic rifle.”.  (Meaning many rounds fired as long as the trigger is kept in the firing position — as opposed to semi-automatic, where only a single round is fired for each trigger pull, but the action of the weapon discards the spent casing and chambers the next round.)

But basing an argument for or against increased controls (or a complete ban) on assault rifle on such a parsing of the definition is a fool’s errand.

“Modern Sporting Rifle” is a term invented by the gun industry because continued use of the term “Assault Rifle” (and its association with “AR”) was becoming bad for business.  (This quote from the National Shooting Sports Foundation web site:  “Unfortunately, some anti-gun organizations have worked hard to mislead the public by calling the civilian versions of service rifles, “assault weapons.” This anti-gun strategy is a clever ploy, much in the same way that prohibitionists labeled alcoholic beverages, “demon rum.” True “assault weapons” are in fact light machine guns capable of fully automatic fire.”)  So we have the invented definition “Modern Sporting Rifles”.  Thank goodness for the NSSF to keep us all straight on this.

(Use of the term “sporting” introduces other connotations.  To some, sporting involves patronage of, shall we say, venues of ill repute.  To others, the sporting life includes horse racing and fox hunting.)

However, “Assault Rifle” can (or has) become a definition in law.  If statute, code, or regulation defines a weapon with certain characteristics as an “Assault Rifle”, then it is.  If you are suspected of violating the law, that’s what you are going to be charged with.  (I find it a bit odd that some of the postings I’ve read have been by federal, state, or local law enforcement officers.  Theses LEOs should be the first to understand that no matter how your hobby defines a weapon, it is what the law of a specific jurisdiction says it is.)

(For you policy wonks out there — watch for delaying tactics by the gun industry over just this definition, should bills start popping up in Congress and the various state legislatures.)

But in the end, quibbling over the definition just doesn’t matter.

How an Assault Rifle is defined.  (From USA Today)

How an Assault Rifle is defined. (From USA Today)

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That’s it, NRA? Armed guards in every school?

December 21st, 2012

After a week…That’s the best you could come up with?

And, meanwhile, the NRA is satisfied to blame everyone else?

Wayne LaPierre was scarey to watch on TV when he came up with his solution.  Put armed guards in each of the 98,817 public elementary and secondary schools in this country.

So lets walk the dog on this one.

Pay a salary of between $30K and $40K a year.  Training and uniform.  Benefits.  If roughly 1/3 of the schools already have police or resource officers, that’s going to cost between $3 billion and $4.5 billion (that’s “illion” with a “B”) if we staff at 1.2 officers/guards per school.  And that isn’t counting admin costs, etc.

And do you want just a single officer at a school?  A single officer presents two interesting scenarios for the shooter:  (1) The officer becomes the first target or (2) when the shooter knows exactly where the officer is, the shooter knows exactly where he/she isn’t.

A countering argument is that the guard/officer is optional for the school.  Great!  So if there is any deterrent value in the guard/officer, the shooter is deflected to the school that doesn’t have a guard/officer.  Is the NRA actually proposing to increase the risk to some schools?  Remember the NRA comments that “Gun Free” zones are actually a magnet to criminals?  That’s exactly the situation with voluntary school armed guard participation.  That’s a hugely cynical way of trying to get support for their “program”…Threatening to increases the risk to innocent school children in order to gain support for the NRA’s political agenda.

Finally (back to the cost) — who will pay the billions of dollars every year?  The NRA is offering a little planning support, but remained remarkably silent on the money issue.  To me, the answer is obvious.  Owners of Modern Sporting Rifles (assault rifles) and high capacity pistols are afraid that these weapons will be taken away from them.  Fine.  I’m sure that owners of those guns will graciously pay those billions through taxes on ammunition, pay a user fee to keep and bear those weapons, and pay an increased transfer fee for some types of weapons — perhaps several hundred dollars per transaction.  After all, it is for the safety of the children.

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Arming the Teachers?

December 19th, 2012

Arming the Teachers?  Has anyone who is proposing this actually tried to operationalize the concept…What we sometimes call “Walking the Dog”?

Let me take a first “shot” at it, although I’m sure I’ll miss some of the details.  One thing to bear in mind:  The school must be as safe after arming the teachers as it was before arming the teachers.  We can’t introduce additional, steady-state risk into the schools to protect against low likelihood events.

1.  Let’s start with the fun stuff:  The weapon. A good handgun suitable for a range of users might cost around $600 to $650 in quantity.  In this situation, I’d recommend the SIG P239 in 9mm — either the decocking double action/single action or the DAK.  The P239’s magazine holds 8 rounds and is single-stack, which makes the pistol a bit narrower and suitable for a wider range of hands.  Who pays?  We can hardly expect the teacher or the school district to pick up the cost of the pistol, so: Initial funding:  Shooting Community.

2.  Regardless of how good the weapons are, they will still need regular checks and maintenance.  That means a certified armorer.  This could be a contract to a commercial vendor or a reimbursement to a local law enforcement agency.  Recurring funding:  Shooting Community.

3.  With the armorer comes an armory.  It needs to be in a secure location and have an alarm system.  That could be on school property, or space could be “rented” from a local law enforcement agency.  Initial funding:  Shooting Community.  Recurring funding:  Shooting Community.

4.  We’ll need gun safes at the school and in the teachers’ homes.  At the school, to be effective, a gun safe would need to be installed in every classroom, activity area, and administration area.  Because this is a school, these would need to be very solid and tamperproof, and connected to an alarm system.  A biometric lock is preferred, and since different teachers would be using the gun safe at different times, the biometric data will need to be centralized.  At home, biometrics would not be needed, but the installation would need to be approved by the school district, since they are responsible for the program.  Initial funding:  Shooting Community.  Recurring funding:  Shooting Community.

5.  Training is very important.  A responsible armed citizen must understand how the firearm works, how to perform cleaning and other light maintenance, be an accurate shooter, understand use-of-force law and policy, and demonstrate judgmental shooting competence.

Initially this will require several days of classroom, non-shooting, instruction by certified instructors. After the classroom, our teachers need to spend time on the range for normal target shooting, and also shooting in stress situations that simulate what might happen at a school or during school activities.  One-on-one training may only require a single instructor, but two or more students will require one or more instructors and a range safety officer.  Finally, a practical exam for judgmental shooting — this is last because if the teacher can’t pass the other activities, they won’t be in the judgmental situation anyway.

An annual recertification will be required for the classroom and judgmental portions, and either quarterly or semi-annual range re-qualification.  This means classroom space (granted — this might not be a problem when dealing with schools), range time (which isn’t free), and a determination whether or not the teachers are “on the clock” — similar to in-service training.  Volunteer instructors might be “free” but you still need a professional to certify them.  Initial funding:  Shooting Community.  Recurring funding:  Shooting Community.

6.  Protocols.  Usually overlooked, these are the rules of engagement for the armed teachers.  Protocols set the priorities for action, the specific actions to be taken in different situations and at different threat levels, location-specific actions, responsibilities, etc.  These must be compliant with state and local laws, be acceptable to the school’s risk manager, and be practical to execute.  This kind of planning isn’t cheap.  Initial funding:  Shooting Community.  Recurring funding:  Shooting Community.

Funding:  This is an expensive program — both initially and in the out years.  I did not assign the cost to the “Shooting Community” lightly.  While the direct beneficiaries of this program are somewhat difficult to nail down, the leading secondary beneficiary is the Shooting Community.  These are the people crying the loudest for armed teachers, and these are the ones who feel that they are at greatest risk should “they” decide to “take” “our” guns.  But if gun ownership is such a precious right, then gun owners will gladly put up the cash.  (Cash, by the way, is far less than the price they expect our men and women in uniform to pay to protect our freedoms.)

How to collect the funds? The problem is that most communities or school districts don’t have the resources or funding streams to bankroll either the initial or recurring costs.  So a state or federal funding mechanism will need to be established.  Once the funding managers are established grant programs could deal with individual school district requests.  However, a federal surcharge or tax system would be the most fair, to prevent people crossing borders to purchase taxable items.  Consider:

  • A surcharge on all ATF weapons transfers — something in the range of $75 to $200 dollars per transaction.
  • A tax on all ammunition, bullets (or shot), cases, primers, powder, and bullet molds.
  • Federal registration and a fee on all magazines capable of holding 10 rounds or more — that’s all high-capacity magazines, not just new ones.  (Laser-etched bar-code and human readable serial numbers at the owner’s expense.  ATF records of transfers, loss, or theft.  Transfer fees.)

I’ve painted a pretty expensive picture.  But which of the topics above would you cut and still consider the school safer?  But either the problem is serious, and worthy of the funding, or risk doesn’t justify the cost of competent armed teacher programs.

Other issues I haven’t discussed:

  • Transportation of the weapons between home and school.  (CCW?)
  • Armed teachers during off campus events (field trips, sports, etc.)
  • Gun clearing stations.  (A potential safety issue — but how do you keep kids from messing with them?)

Oh…And a few closing questions…Perhaps the most important ones.  Is this what teachers want to do?  Is this what we want our teachers to do?  Is this what being a teacher is all about?  Why should teachers be the last line of defense from extreme societal failure?

The author is a retired military officer, a gun owner, and (surprised?) an NRA member.

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