“The idea we still allow semi-automatic weapons to be purchased is sick,” Joe Biden argued on Thanksgiving. “It has no socially redeeming value. Zero. None. Not a single solitary rationale for it except profit for the gun manufacturers.”
Need it really be pointed out that it is perfectly within our rights to purchase products devoid of all socially redemptive value? Certainly, it is not the state’s business to determine what we “need.” That said, semi-automatic weapons happen to have an obvious redeeming value and there is a strong rationale for owning them. Semi-auto weapons are easy to use, and their effectiveness and reliability bolster the ability of people to protect themselves, their families, their property, and their community from criminality and, should it descend into tyranny, the government. Gun bans are autocratic and unconstitutional, and, thankfully, also largely unfeasible.
It is difficult to pinpoint what percentage of the 400-plus million firearms in civilian hands today are semi-automatic. These weapons, which fire one cartridge with a single trigger squeeze while preparing the gun for the next shot, constitute a substantial percentage of new gun sales over the past few decades. Banning them would prevent homeowners and those who concealed-carry — not only some of the most law-abiding people in the country, but a growing contingent —without the weapon of choice. The actions of a small number of irrational criminal psychopaths should not corrode the rights of those citizens. Not to mention, corroding our rights would do nothing to stop the irrational criminal psychopaths.
Indeed, semi-autos meet every criterion of legality laid out in D.C. v. Heller, the decision that finally codified the clear historical and legal intention of the Second Amendment. Not only are semi-automatic weapons “in common use” by “law-abiding citizens,” they are not “unusual.” The first semi-automatic pistols hit the civilian marketplace in the 1890s.
Now, there is always the not-so-small chance that Biden has confused the real-world mechanical designation of “semi-automatic” with the political concoction of “assault weapons.” I’m skeptical. Anyone who’s involved in the gun debate knows that “semi-automatic” guns, often purposely conflated with the more dangerous “automatic” weapons, are the target of restrictionists. A few years back during that shameful post-Parkland CNN gun “town hall,” the crowd loudly cheered at the suggestion of banning all “semi-automatic” rifles. And, earlier this year, the president suggested that ordinary citizens should be banned from owning popular “high-caliber” 9mm handguns. “So the idea of these high-caliber weapons is of — there’s simply no rational basis for it in terms of thinking about self-protection, hunting,” Biden said of the type of gun used by the Secret Service to protect him.
It is, as it always has been in the gun debate, incrementalism. From “no one wants to take your guns” to “we only want to take some of them” and so on. Of course, even if the president really intended to talk about a semi-automatic rifle ban, his goals would still be unconstitutional. Again, the gun meets every standard set by Heller for legality. And if the Senate somehow musters the 60 votes to push through the ban on certain semi-automatic guns recently passed by the House, states should challenge the federal government, and, if need be, ignore it.
Biden, who often imparts dreadful, sometimes illegal, advice on gun ownership, also has a long history of saying completely inane, insane, and historically illiterate things about firearms —whether cringingly noting that deer don’t wear “Kevlar” or claiming cannons were banned during the Revolutionary era as a way to argue that the Second Amendment “like all other rights, is not absolute.”
On the latter, Biden often (fittingly) cites one of the most egregious violations of the First Amendment, Schenck v. United States, which allowed the Woodrow Wilson administration to throw socialists into prison for speech crimes, to make his point. And perhaps that speaks to the crucial distinction at the heart of so many of our debates. Biden, and thus the contemporary left, seems to be under the impression that it’s the state that “allows” us to buy semi-automatic firearms or “allows” us to say certain things. But we don’t need their permission.