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The Jan 9, 2019 proposed law (https://www.feinstein.senate.gov/public/_cache/files/a/4/a46156b5-9337-4193-95db-d381bc3c6fe3/E12DA96F0D3C33D8F714C5E186B1CD38.awb.pdf) is signed by many Democratic presidential nominees and appears to work differently from previous bans/proposals by naming certain weapons outright.

As the law doesn't state how it came to be, I'm trying to understand it one example at a time.

Of particular interest to this question is the proposal to ban the Ruger Mini-14 Tactical variant but exempt the Ruger Mini-14.

To me, these look to be very similar rifles. The tactical has a shorter barrel length but otherwise only a single variant includes a drastically different stock (pistol grip). Otherwise, actions are the same, magazine options, round caliber, etc. are identical.

What argument is being put forward or line of reasoning that has led one version of the Mini-14 to be banned (tactical) while the other is exempted?

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    The Downvote arrow states: This question shows no research, is not clear, or not useful. If you feel strongly about that downvote button, please drop a comment so that I might better clarify this question. I believe it to be properly researched, clear, concise, and the utility of understanding how a proposed law came to a conclusion is, at least for me, useful. – WheresTheMiddleAgain Aug 5 '19 at 22:22
  • The basic premise of this question boils down to "what was the political reasoning that lead to the generation of the definition of assault weapons used in the Federal Assault Weapons Ban, independent of functional differences?" – Drunk Cynic Aug 6 '19 at 3:02
  • @DrunkCynic One could read it that way. I was hoping that the line of reasoning wouldn't be politically motivated but grounded in some logic but, if that turns out to be wrong... – WheresTheMiddleAgain Aug 6 '19 at 15:42
  • The trouble is that no US firearms legislation and jurisprudence makes sense. In theory the 2nd Amendment makes all "arms" a constitutional right. But in Miller the SCOTUS said that only military weapons are protected because "militia", so in Heller they had to discover a new right to self defence and find it protected handguns while "dangerous" weapons could still be banned. So what is a "dangerous" weapon? – Paul Johnson Aug 13 '19 at 12:57
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To me, these look to be very similar rifles. The tactical has a shorter barrel length but otherwise only a single variant includes a drastically different stock (pistol grip). Otherwise, actions are the same, magazine options, round caliber, etc. are identical.

This is correct.

What argument is being put forward or line of reasoning that has led one version of the Mini-14 to be banned (tactical) while the other is exempted?

The argument is that weapons with certain features such as pistol grips are "assault weapons" and "assault weapons" are uniquely dangerous guns that should be subject to additional restrictions on ownership and purchase.

If this seems like a silly hair splitting over differences that are largely cosmetic, it's because that's exactly what it is.

So the natural question to ask is: Why is this "assault weapon" idea central to what so many people are arguing? The answer is, because that's what the 1994 Assault Weapons Ban (which expired in 2004) was about. Because that was actually passed before by Congress (barely), it's presumably somewhat possible to pass legislation using that sort of approach again. They did it that way in 1994 because it is easy for people to agree that "assault weapons" should be banned or regulated exactly because the criteria for an "assault weapon" are arbitrary and cosmetic, so it's easier to pass that kind of legislation than it would be to do something more substantial.

Or, to put it other words, an "assault weapons" ban makes absolutely no sense when viewed as a policy abstractly, because a gun with a Picatinny rail on it is going to kill you just as dead as a gun without one. But, the "assault weapons" ban introduces a legal category of guns that are enshrined in law as too dangerous to allow people to purchase. Because "assault weapons" doesn't really mean anything other than what legislators say it means, a long-term strategy for passing more restrictive gun control is to start with a definition of "assault weapons" that is mostly cosmetic and then gradually expand that definition over time to include non-cosmetic things.

  • @WheresTheMiddleAgain The argument was: "'assault weapons" are uniquely dangerous guns that should be subject to additional restrictions on ownership and purchase." It really is that simple and arbitrary. – Joe Aug 6 '19 at 17:47
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    So, the argument is: An assault weapon is a unique variant of a weapon that is made extra lethal, to the point of needing extra regulation/banning, due to the variant's inclusion of a pistol grip, etc.? I guess this just confuses me - if I'm on the receiving end of either of these models, I don't think I'd much care if the shooter was using a pistol grip or not and I think I'd be just as dead/injured. – WheresTheMiddleAgain Aug 6 '19 at 18:00
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    It should be pointed out that some of these "cosmetic" factors were not actually put on for cosmetic purposes. Some of the banned features were legitimate safety features for that gun and disabling to make the gun legal under the assault rifle ban actually made the gun more dangerous, not less. Both sides of the aisle had complaints that the 94 law was not effective because of the flaws of some of the factors in making a determination. – hszmv Aug 6 '19 at 18:00
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    @hszmv can you point me to a specific example to do more research? – WheresTheMiddleAgain Aug 6 '19 at 18:01
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    @TemporalWolf Oh. Now I see what you mean. I've edited the question accordingly to make it clear that it's not actually the Tactical variant specifically that is banned. – Joe Aug 6 '19 at 18:35
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As the law doesn't state how it came to be, I'm trying to understand it one example at a time.

I would suggest that a useful place to begin would be with STATEMENTS ON INTRODUCED BILLS AND JOINT RESOLUTIONS; Congressional Record Vol. 165, No. 4 which contains the statements of the bill's sponsor when the bill was introduced.

It's not a particularly long statement, especially when compared to the text of the bill itself, but in the interest of extracting the shortest answer to the questions posed:

It prohibits semi-automatic rifles, handguns, and shotguns that can accept a detachable magazine and have one military characteristic.

Presumably, of the two examples, one passes the 'one military characteristic' test, while the other does not.

As to the further question of "okay but why 'one military characteristic', and why those particular characteristics?", we can consider the very next sentence of the statement:

This is the standard employed in my home state of California--and it works.

This would imply that the standard is a utilitarian rubric, chosen due to its evidential effectiveness, rather than something derived from first principles.

  • I'm noticing a pattern in my question and need to update it. Why was 'one military characteristic' chosen? Of those defined as 'military,' why not something like the the ammo, which has defined military specs (9mm NATO/5.56 NATO/etc.)? What I'm driving it is that what was chosen seems arbitrary. I assumed that it wasn't and am asking about that train of logic/reasoning. – WheresTheMiddleAgain Aug 6 '19 at 17:11
  • @WheresTheMiddleAgain: This answer is exactly right. One is a tactical rifle while the other is not. The spec sheet simply makes the assumption that you know the difference between a tactical rifle and a hunting rifle. – Denis de Bernardy Aug 6 '19 at 17:15
  • @DenisdeBernardy that link reads like marketing BS trying to sell me something. A little too pie-in-the-sky sounding. Additionally, in looking at the stocks that that company sells, they all look similar to the law's exempted version, not the banned version. So, a Mini-14 Tactical is banned but a Regular Mini-14 with this company's Tactical stock would be allowed? That doesn't help me clarify the argument being used to ban tactical weapons; it muddies the waters more. – WheresTheMiddleAgain Aug 6 '19 at 18:05
  • @WheresTheMiddleAgain: If you bothered to google tactical rifle vs hunting rifle instead of arguing, you'd find out that I merely picked the seemingly most explanatory link within the first page of many results. And if I may suggest, you're giving the impression of seeming less interested in getting an answer than in getting an answer that suits your predefined viewpoint. – Denis de Bernardy Aug 6 '19 at 18:21
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    @WheresTheMiddleAgain: You're not wrong in principle insofar as I'm concerned -- they're both equally lethal and ought to not get sold IMO. It's just that your question is incomplete (you should edit in what you just wrote). And after you do, people will realize that your question has very little to do with politics, and a lot to do with gun design. That said, the difference between the two appears to be sturdiness. As in, it seems that you can fire a bunch of rounds under duress with the tactical version, whereas you'll need to clean the hunting version fairly quickly in comparison. – Denis de Bernardy Aug 6 '19 at 18:41
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Because it doesn't include any of the hallmarks of an "assault weapon" according to the bill: exempted are only some 14s (emphasis mine): "‘‘Ruger Mini-14 (w/o folding or telescoping stock or pistol grip)" (pg 26 line 21)

Generally this follows the previous assault weapons ban, the notable exception being that previously you had to have multiple parts to constitute an assault weapon (a pistol grip and a folding stock, for example) whereas this new bill says even one is sufficient.

The bill does include nearly 110 pages of specific models restricted/exempted, although casually scanning it the vast majority fit the rules of the tests described. I didn't see any exceptions via specific models, just a calling out of what existing firearms would and would not qualify.

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    Right, but what argument or reasoning was used to define an assault weapon as one that has a pistol grip and/or folding stock? – WheresTheMiddleAgain Aug 5 '19 at 23:29
  • The intent was to ban military-esque firearms while allowing sporting/hunting weapons. I don't know that I've ever seen a definitive listing of the reasoning, but at least some of the parts are pretty clear: bayonet lugs and grenade launchers have, as far as I am aware, not been used in crimes, but they are military features. Pistol grips make weapons easier to shoot. Folding stocks make them more concealable. – TemporalWolf Aug 6 '19 at 18:53
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I've resisted answering this question as the premise is faulty. There is no evidence that the "assault weapons" ban has any rational basis. But I happened to read an article that gives a particularly good illustration of the point. Here are two firearm images. The subject of one was banned from 1994 to 2004. One was not.

AR-15 variant AR-15 variant

Can you tell which is which? There are two differences between these firearms.

  1. The banned one has a flash suppressor. A flash suppressor causes the gun to produce less light and smoke.
  2. The banned one also has a bayonet lug. This allows one to fix a bayonet to the rifle. A bayonet may block firing (albeit not in this case) and always makes the rifle more unwieldy by moving the center of mass further out. As such, a bayonet would typically make the weapon less dangerous in a mass shooting situation, as it makes the weapon heavier and harder to aim. It would only be more dangerous if the shooter managed to run out of bullets.

Both use the same ammunition and have the same firing characteristics. In case the link dies, here's the answer:

The top one was banned.

Other items involved include the pistol grip. A pistol grip makes it easier for a shooter to hold the weapon while standing even as it makes it harder to aim. The problem is that the pistol grip (which still appears in the unbanned weapon) is one of the parts that actually can be made by a 3D printer. So any criminal shooter can obtain one relatively easily before a planned crime. But someone who keeps a weapon for self defense, would have to break the law continually in order to be prepared for an incident that may never occur.

The real point of these restrictions is not that they keep "dangerous" weapons away from criminals. The weapons that comply with these restrictions are just as dangerous. What they really do is harass gun owners who like to have weapons that look like military weapons. Since this is a minority of all gun owners, these restrictions are reasonably popular when described partisanly. But these are especially profitable weapons for firearm manufacturers precisely because they are a niche market.

Many owners of an AR-15 also own other weapons. These are the kind of firearms that are collected. And collectors will pay extra for something as useless as a bayonet lug.

You might ask why I characterize a bayonet lug as useless when military weapons have them. Military weapons operate in an entirely different situation. An army soldier may be packing not just a rifle and a knife (bayonet), but an entire set of gear:

  • Shelter (tent, sleeping bag).
  • Food.
  • Water.
  • Gas mask.
  • Etc.

A mass shooter doesn't need to carry any of that. If he (mass shooters are overwhelmingly male) wanted that stuff, he'd store it in his car or leave it at home. For the military person, sticking a bayonet onto the end of a rifle makes a crude spear without having to actually carry a spear. But the mass shooter doesn't have to do that. He can just carry an actual spear if he wants. Because he isn't lugging a full pack around with him and can afford to carry a spear.

Of course, your typical mass shooter doesn't do that. Instead, he carries extra ammunition, which he mostly doesn't use. So he never gets into the situation where a spear would be useful, whether single purpose or a rifle-mounted bayonet.

  • Interesting, but seems to be answering a different question than the one asked. – Roger Aug 13 '19 at 14:11

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