by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
In response to the news that there had been two mass shootings in the state of California in the space of only 48 hours, President Joe Biden did Tuesday morning what he often does when faced with a complex societal problem: He talked confidently about something else. In a hastily released statement on the topic, Biden urged “both chambers of Congress to act quickly” and send an “Assault Weapons Ban to my desk.” Tragedy, meet non sequitur.
The notion that the ambitions of nihilist mass murderers are likely to be meaningfully constrained by arbitrary limitations on the way that certain legally available firearms look is fanciful and unsubstantiated at the best of times. Here, though, the claim does not even intersect with the incidents on which Biden has predicated his call. California already has all of the gun-control laws that the Democrats wish to add federally — including a strict ban on so-called “assault weapons” — and those laws made no difference whatsoever. And how could they have, given that in neither case did the gunman use one of the commonly owned rifles that Biden’s coveted “assault weapons” bans typically target; instead, they used a couple of standard semi-automatic handguns.
Because the term “assault weapon” doesn’t mean anything useful — and because those who decide what counts as an “assault weapon” care more about aesthetics than functionality — one of those standard semi-automatic handguns happened to be banned under California law simply because it resembled a weapon that also comes in automatic form. But it wasn’t an automatic weapon — and, indeed, it had no features that made it more or less lethal than any other semi-automatic handgun that remains legally available in the state. If President Biden’s definition of “assault weapon” now includes 85 percent of all handguns manufactured in the United States, he ought to say so explicitly.