Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Heck Pulls Back on Guns

Yesterday morning, we saw fireworks. Rep. Joe Heck went on KDWN's "Alan Stock Show" and agreed with Stock calling Gabby Gifforda a "prop" as both were decrying President Obama's push for gun violence prevention.

 Room filling up for @RepJoeHeck #NV03 town hall #nvpolitics ... on Twitpic

 @RepJoeHeck answering ?'s @ #NV03 #Henderson #Vegas tow... on Twitpic

At last night's town hall in Old Henderson, on the other hand, he was singing a very different tune. Last night, he actually started answering questions his constitutents have had on gun safety. And not only that, but he also suddenly found some common ground with President Obama on this matter.

However, there was a catch. While Heck was willing to extend an olive branch on universal background checks and curbing illegal gun trafficking, he was not willing to do the same on the Assault Weapons Ban and ban on high-capacity magazines.

  on Twitpic

Even though last week's KLAS/SUSA poll showed 57% of Nevadans support a ban on military grade assault weapons (and only 33% opposed), Heck didn't want to budge on this. He even claimed that the previous federal Assault Weapons Ban (1994-2004) didn't work. Unfortunately for Heck, the data on hand shows otherwise.

These so-called “external features” not only themselves allow for faster rates of fire and other more lethal uses of the guns, but also serve as effective proxy definitions for the sort of weapons best suited to kill people as efficiently as possible. The definition of “assault weapon” in the new federal ban proposed by Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) with respect to semi-automatic rifles and pistols is focused on two kinds of each. The rifles are civilian equivalents of “assault rifles,” the main class of rifle used by modern militaries. “Civilian” versions are distinguished only by their inability to fire either automatically or in bursts without a conversion kit. The pistols have features that make them liable to be converted to full automatic versions (that is, into submachine guns) or otherwise enhance their lethality (e.g., allow for faster rate of fire).

[The new Assault Weapons Ban] picks out those sorts of weapons in two ways. First, it bans specific guns (like the AR-15s used by James Holmes in Aurora and Adam Lanza in Newtown) that are particularly deadly. Many of these guns are civilian equivalents of military assault rifles, because — as assault rifle expert C.J. Chivers puts it — these guns were “conjured to form solely for the task of allowing men to more efficiently kill other men” because they are “smaller, lighter in weight, more tactically versatile and require a lighter per-man effective ammunition load than the infantry rifles that preceded them.” The Feinstein provisions, unlike in the 1994 federal ban, specify that “altered facsimiles with the capability of any such weapon thereof” are also banned, so taking out a single screw and calling the weapon something different would not allow manufacturers to skirt the ban. The second provision defines generic features — like barrel shrouds that allow for faster fire or (for pistols) magazines outside the pistol grip —and bans any gun that has more than one of them and a detachable magazine (the old ban allowed a maximum of two features, making it easier to skirt).

These aren’t merely cosmetic features: they’re the ones that mark guns optimized for effective performance in combat-style situations. They also mark guns easily convertible to full automatic fire, like the TEC-9 submachine guns once favored in gang killings. One such kit is fully legal, despite the 1934 National Firearms Act banning the possession of automatic weapons without a permit. The kit produced by the company Slide Fire product allows you to turn your AR or AK series assault rifle into a rapid-fire machine without technically running afoul of the federal definition of “machine gun.”

The notion that assault rifles are similar in caliber to hunting rifles, and hence no more dangerous, doesn’t stand up to scrutiny for similar reasons. As the California Attorney General’s office explains, “Caliber has no bearing on a weapon’s status as a series weapon and should be disregarded when making an identification. For example, upper receiver conversion kits are available to convert almost any AR series weapon into .45 ACP, .40 S&W, 7.62 X 39 mm, 9 mm, 10 mm, or .223 caliber.” [...]

There is evidence that the 1994 federal ban saved lives despite a series of loopholes closed in the Feinstein bill and several state bans. Though there isn’t reliable data on the number of people killed by assault weapons in the United States, there is strong evidence from the Mexican border that both California’s assault weapons ban the federal assault weapon ban lowered the homicide rate. The clearest comes in a 2012 academic paper that treated the expiration of the federal assault weapon ban in 2004 as a natural experiment —California still had its assault weapon ban, but Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona didn’t have equivalents. The authors tracked homicides and weapon seizures in the Mexican provinces bordering the states, finding disproportionately lower homicide rates in provinces near California. This difference remained when other potential causes (like police presence) were accounted for, suggesting the federal and California bans had successful kept assault weapons out of the hands of cartels and other criminals. The expiration of the federal law, on this paper’s model, has gotten roughly 239 people killed on the Mexican border per year since 2004. This is consistent with another paper that found “the expiration of the AWB is responsible for at least 16.4 percent of the increase in the homicide rate in Mexico between 2004 and 2008.”

The 1994 ban, according to a Department of Justice review, also appears to have caused the percentage of crimes involving assault weapons in some major US cities to drop from 72 percent to 17 percent.

Even with its loopholes and other flaws, the 1994 federal ban actually did work to a large extent. And the new proposed ban goes a long way to fix those past flaws.

What's the purpose of civilian ownership & use of military grade assault weapons? And why are high-capacity magazines needed? How are these fit for "recreational use"? Heck didn't really answer that. And his spin falls flat once the facts are brought out.

Otherwise, it seems like Heck at least wants to be seen as "moderate" and "reasonable". So at least he's now open to background checks, curbing trafficking, and even lifting the ban on CDC researching gun violence. So maybe there's a chance of something getting through this Congress? Heck seems amenable to at least some measures, but it remains to be seen if his House G-O-TEA leaders allow a floor vote on anything... And if Alan Stock and the rest of the Nevada "tea party" will tolerate this talk from Heck.

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