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What Would Happen If America Banned AR-15s?

The left is not serious about banning guns, but they are persistent about winning elections using guns as a campaign issue. This is why we must oppose them even when the emotional "do something!" reflex is strongest.

Let me be clear. This is a thought experiment, so don’t email me or tweet @ me saying how it could never happen, “Molon Labe,” cold dead hands, muh 2A, blah, blah. Read the headline, which features the word “if” because I really want to go there. Let’s really assume that the government of the United States banned AR-15s.

Let’s start, like the economists do, with assumptions.

  1. The ban is national, not just single states, although single states can be used as predictors.
  2. The ban passed muster with the federal courts, including SCOTUS. (Again, don’t @ me, this is a mind experiment, so swallow the blue pill and shut up.)
  3. The ban includes provisions for robust registration, “buy back,” and, failing that, forced confiscation (with compensation, if you survive the event).
  4. Federal, state, and local law enforcement are charged with the “doing” of the law. Uncle Sugar in Washington, through the BATF, provides a “bounty” to each jurisdiction to cover the costs of collection and compensation. In other words, don’t worry about the money, because our tax dollars will be spent buying back the guns.
  5. We will not address the economic impact on gun manufacturers in this experiment. I presume that since not all rifles will be banned, they will simply convert to legal designs, like they did with the last ban during the Clinton administration.
  6. We won’t make any assumptions about murder rates or state gun carry laws.

*** SPOILER ALERT ***

Before I get to the details, let me spoil the ending for you. Those of you who think this experiment is going to end in some glorious, Star Trek future can stop reading now if you like. The result of this will be mass civil disobedience on a scale not seen since Prohibition. People just won’t comply.

The Data

If you’re still with me, let’s unpack that conclusion.

There are, according to estimates, about 15 million “military style” weapons in U.S. citizen hands. What does “military style” mean? Nobody really knows, but it’s like Justice Potter Stewart’s definition of pornography: “I know it when I see it.” Fair enough. (The NSSF helpfully dispels all the idiocy we see in the media by reporters who don’t bother to read or research the topic, preferring to call everything an “assault rifle.” Here’s the definition of a “modern sporting rifle.”)

Of those 15 million, one in about 34,168 results in a murder, with negligible suicides (handguns being the preferred method of suicide). To compare, let’s look at the really scary category of actual military weapons: machine guns. Machine guns are regulated by the U.S. government and are extremely limited in ownership, because they require registration and supervision under the BATF. Even so, there are 638,000 of them in civilian hands, including the slack-jaw-inducing GE M134 minigun.

Since records have been kept, there have been a total of two homicides using regulated machine guns, plus one suicide. That’s a rate of 0.00031%. The rate of homicides committed with semi-automatic AR-style rifles is 0.00293%, or 0.137 per 100,000 population. This is 44 times less than the total homicide rate, and 33 times less than the total homicide rate by all firearms.

In other words, it strains the data to say that there’s a huge problem with “assault rifles” being used to murder Americans. It’s simply the moral panic that mass shootings are horrible and attract massive press, so we must “do something about it.”

The Ban

In our thought experiment, the government does something by banning a certain class of weapons they deem “assault weapons.” (Here’s an example of the language in this bill, because it’s an actual bill in Congress.) To this, add a gun “buy-back” provision that authorizes the BATF to pay federal, state and local authorities to come and get your guns.

Based on previous efforts to do this, like I wrote above, it will fail miserably. If people are given a choice between keeping their guns and turning them in, only a few will actually, voluntarily sell them to the government. Here’s some examples.

Australia famously bought back all their guns, except they didn’t. By 2016, Australian authorities estimated there were 260,000 illegal guns held by citizens. This is a full decade after their strict gun control laws were enacted. In a nation of 25 million people, one percent of the population still owned at least one firearm, illegally, down from about 3 percent before the ban. So in 10 years, two out of three “illegal” guns were rounded up, mostly from people who were already criminals in other ways.

That’s not all: Australians now own more guns than before the 1996 law: three million in total. Most of these guns are probably revolvers or single-shot per barrel shotguns (which are legal for civilians to own), though at least 10,000 semi-automatic handguns (illegal) are still owned. In fact, by 2016, the Australian government gave up trying to round up these guns and declared amnesty.

The number of illegal guns in Australia is still disputed. Some peg it as high as five million, due to a very robust “grey market.”

In New Zealand, a snap decision to ban and buy back certain guns has failed miserably due to non-compliance. Out of 1.5 million guns, they’ve collected 700.

Here in the U.S., such efforts have produced similar dismal results. In Connecticut, a gun registration law was met with smug gaffaws and rolled eyes. There’s likely over ten million “large capacity magazines” in Connecticut, and maybe five percent have been registered. It’s a joke.

“Historically speaking, 90-percent or more of those required to comply with gun registration laws in the U.S. refuse to do so, and there is no reason to suspect that this registration attempt in Connecticut is any different,” Owens continued in comments about the radical new registration scheme. “I’ve seen estimates of 1,000,000 firearm magazines that should have been registered under the law, but the state reports registering only 40,000 … just 4 percent.”

New York’s SAFE Act has resulted in “massive noncompliance.” Any rifle, pistol or shotgun with a detachable magazine (that’s pretty much all of them with magazines, right?) and one of a raft of “military features” (meaningless) are banned for sale and must be registered with the state police.

Out of an estimated one million guns in New York that qualify for the SAFE Act, 44,000 have been registered. That’s four percent.

“It’s not that they aren’t aware of the law,” said [attorney and policy analyst Paloma] Capanna. “The lack of registration is a massive act of civil disobedience by gun owners statewide.”

And that’s New York, the bastion of liberal values and full term abortions. Imagine what would happen in Texas, or Georgia.

If the U.S. had an “assault weapons” (meaningless) ban and buyback, it would result in about 95 percent of Americans ignoring the law. Of that 95 percent, a few individuals would merit a visit from the SWAT team, and every few months, we’d be treated to another Ruby Ridge or Waco spectacle. People would die.

Beyond the spectacle of mini-armies of paramilitary police taking down otherwise law-abiding citizens for possessing the wrong kind of grip on their sporting rifles, there would be a very large, pernicious Pandora’s box opened.

Enabling Racists

The real tragedy would be not in the fact that Americans care to exercise our rights as gun owners and that some would be needlessly killed in their defense of those rights. It’s that actual racists in power in certain communities would be able to disarm those who aren’t in power.

To make my point here, we have to exit the thought experiment for a moment and return to reality.

In order to enforce a law that the left really doesn’t want passed, the people of the United States would need to entrust the task of disarming the people of the United States to law enforcement officers, who are, in fact, people just like everyone else.

Most LEOs are law-abiding, reasonable, insanely patient, self-controlled individuals who keep their personal thoughts and biases to themselves, and outside their professional duties. But not all, and not all the time. Looking at the number of incidents revolving around black people in certain neighborhoods dominated by a certain, uhm, reluctance to talk to the police, it’s easy to jump to conclusions. Most of the time, the conclusions are not justified.

Sometimes, the stirring of pots, along with the right amount of tinder and social heat results in riots, as we’ve seen in Los Angeles, Ferguson, and Baltimore. We’ve nearly seen them in Dallas. Does the political left really believe that the same police they’ve accused for decades of being hopelessly racist, can be completely unbiased and above-board in enforcing what will likely be the most contentious, and potentially violent societal transformation since Reconstruction?

No. They don’t believe it, because they’re not insane (at least most of them).

Further, not every place, and every police organization, is truly unbiased. There are places in America where the police would gladly, happily, gleefully accept the responsibility to disarm certain Americans. They would march into certain neighborhoods, armed to the teeth, ready to execute anyone who stood in the way of their cleansing their jurisdiction of people they consider armed thugs.

If those people were really thugs, this fearsome display would be welcome by law-abiding citizens. But to some of these departments, “armed thugs” means black people, or Latinos, or others whom they’d rather simply use a hobnailed boot to the face, or an armored vehicle to suppress.

And since those doing the suppressing would be law enforcement, and their job would be to take illegal guns away from anyone possessing them, there would be plenty of pretext, articulable reasonable suspicion, and probable cause to use whatever force is necessary to come and take the guns.

When law enforcement is going to raid your local gun club, the left would cheer and bring popcorn. But when the Feds are going in to Chicago, I don’t think they’d be so quick to celebrate. And believe me, that’s exactly what would happen, because cities are the most dangerous places, and if we actually enforced existing firearms laws we’d not need any ban.

They’re Not Serious, But They Are Persistent

This is why we know the left is not serious about such bans. Bills like Dianne Feinstein’s “assault weapon” ban are meaningless attempts at virtue signaling, and raw meat to raise funds from donors who haven’t thought through the consequences.

The thought experiment yields obvious results: massive civil disobedience, macabre spectacles of excessive police force, and reinforcing racist views of police in places that can’t afford the price for “social justice.”

But the American political left doesn’t want to really ban these guns, they just want to punish people who buy them, companies that make them, and politicians who support the Constitutional right to own them. This is why we’re seeing Walmart (where I’d never, ever, buy pistol ammunition) quitting selling certain ammunition and guns. It’s why Dick’s Sporting Goods stopped selling guns. It’s why the next wave will be pressuring banks to stop servicing merchant credit card accounts for gun sellers.

They want to make it harder for everyone involved, so that Democrats can be voted into office, promising a gun ban, and once elected, failing to deliver on anything but more punishment.

They know that like Prohibition, being violent (drunk or not) is illegal. Driving drunk is illegal. And killing someone is illegal. Banning alcohol didn’t make those other things more illegal. All it did was make alcohol illegal, and therefore make millions of law-abiding social drinkers criminals.

A gun ban based on the look of features of a weapon doesn’t make the weapon any less lethal. A single shot pistol or rifle can kill. Killing is still a crime. If the mass lethality of a weapon had a direct or causal correlation to the number of people killed–in total–then we’d be seeing many thousands dying at the hands of machine-gun killers.

Even in the 1920’s, the machine gun killers didn’t murder thousands. And it wasn’t the machine guns that killed–it was the bank robbers, mobsters, and illegal hooch business driving the crime. It’s no different today. Banning guns is stupid, and it won’t work.

The left is not serious about banning guns, but they are persistent about winning elections using guns as a campaign issue. This is why we must oppose them even when the emotional “do something!” reflex is strongest.

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