Opinion: Right to bear arms does not include assault-style weapons – Austin American-Statesman


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Michael C. Burton
 |  Austin American-Statesman

In the wake of the deadliest mass shooting in Texas that snuffed out the lives of 19 children and two adults, our state leaders have told us deadly combat-style weapons had little to do with the massacre. NRA officials claim limitations on the Second Amendment will infringe on the right of law-abiding citizens to own weapons, but they oppose any restrictions on dangerous people from legally purchasing these weapons.

In Texas, an 18-year-old boy not old enough to drink alcohol can go to a nearby sporting goods store and buy a semiautomatic assault-style weapon designed to kill as many people as quickly as possible (Gov. Abbott doesn’t distinguish the difference between a hunting rifle or shotgun and a rapid-fire, semi-automatic weapon like the AR-15 that can fire either 30 or 60 rounds a minute).

What these gun advocates believe, ingrained in the NRA culture, is that the right to bear arms is absolute. Before 2008, when a conservative US. Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that there was an individual right under the U.S. Constitution to own a firearm, courts had consistently ruled that this right belonged to a state-organized militia. But in the District of Columbia v. Heller case, the conservative Supreme Court majority concluded that the amendment protected a private right of individuals to own a firearm for self-defense.

In that majority opinion, Justice Antonin Scalia wrote that the individual right to bear arms was not unlimited and has restrictions:

“We do not read the Second Amendment to protect the right of citizens to carry arms for any sort of confrontation, just as we do not read the First Amendment to protect the right of citizens to speak for any purpose,” Scalia stated.

Scalia went on to say the Second Amendment does not grant citizens to carry any weapon they wish. States can still ban prohibit “the possession of firearms by felons and the mentally ill,” or forbid “the carrying of firearms in sensitive places such as schools and government buildings.”

In fact, the U.S. Supreme Court ruling concluded the right to bear arms does not include the right to carry “dangerous” weapons. And that ruling has been upheld by courts ever since.

Semiautomatic weapons with detachable high-capacity magazine clips designed for rapid-fire and combat use (sometimes referred to as “assault weapons”), once banned under U.S. law, are certainly dangerous and deadly, as they were designed for “maximum wound effect.” Put simply, these weapons are civilian versions of military assault weapons developed for a specific combat purpose: laying down a high-volume of fire over a wide killing zone. Sporting rifles don’t have this feature. This is why more deaths occur in mass killings with these type of weapons. In the decade after the federal assault weapons ban lapsed, America saw a 183 percent increase in massacres and a 239 percent in fatalities.

Interestingly, the NRA claims there is no such thing as civilian assault weapons, but the gun lobby, in marketing these weapons to adults and juveniles, have in the past enthusiastically described these civilian versions as “assault rifles,” “assault pistols” and “military assault weapons” to boost sales. Now they claim that the only true assault weapon is an automatic weapon like a machine gun, which is already banned for civilian use.

High-capacity, semi-automatic assault weapons are dangerous, military-style guns that are designed to kill or wound the maximum number of people in the shortest amount of time, and have no legitimate sporting use. The majority of Americans favor a ban on the sale of these military-style assault weapons and a ban on the sale of large-capacity magazines.

We just need the political will to do so.

Burton is a freelance writer living in Garland and author of John Henry Faulk: The Making of a Liberated Mind, a biography of Texas folklorist and First Amendment champion John Henry Faulk. 

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