It is wrong to automatically assume an automatic rifle is the worst case scenario

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If you pull the trigger of a rifle and it shoots, and then you have to add a new bullet to shoot again, you might be firing an old fashioned weapon (that may not even be a rifle, technically) and you are probably a hobbyist.

If you pull the trigger of a rifle and it shoots, and then you have to wiggle a metal object around to move a bullet from a storage area within the firearm, into the chamber from which it can be shot, you are using a non-automatic rifle, and you might be living in the old days (as a soldier) or perhaps you are a hunter, because many excellent hunting rifles work this way. It is also possible that you are a sniper of some kind, depending.

If you pull the trigger of a rifle and it shoots a bullet, and then you pull it again and it shoots one more bullet, and so on, with no additional wiggling of metal parts, you are firing a semi-automatic rifle, or at least, a rifle in semi-automatic mode. This is the ideal rifle for accurately hitting several targets, and if the rifle has a couple of additional design features, it may be the ideal rifle for killing the maximum number of people in a given killing bout.

Like for instance, a classroom full of students or a church full of worshippers or a grocery store full of shoppers.

If you choose, instead, to fire a fully automatic rifle in that school room, church, or grocery store, then you are being a firearms idiot. A rifle on a fully automatic setting fires a lot of bullets all in a short time when you pull the trigger. Most of the bullets will miss their targets, and you will run out of bullets really quickly. The students, churchgoers, or grocery shoppers will duck out of the way, and then when you are out of bullets they will (hopefully) swarm you and rip out your liver.

In fact, an automatic rifle is not really designed, while in full-auto mode, to fire at targets, so much as it is designed to fill the air over and near a target.

Does this seem wrong to you? If so, that could be because you, as a non-gun nut, have fallen into a trap frequently set by gun-nut trolls.

You may ask, if a fully automatic rifle is not an effective means of killing school children, then what kind of rifle should I get for that job? (If you were actually thinking that, call 911 and turn yourself in.)

The misconception arises because non experts tend to put rifles on a spectrum, where on one end is the musket like firearm, in the middle are non-automatic and semi-automatic rifles, and at the far end is a fully automatic rifle such as the MG34, one of the earlier fully automatic war machines that could fire over a thousand bullets a minute. Clearly, the rifles on that high-yield end of the spectrum are best for a mass murder, right?

No, actually. Fully automatic fire is not for killing. It is for suppressing. Consider this scenario. Eight or so soldiers are advancing into a village they intend to occupy. A couple of them are carrying radios, or are medics, or in charge, or whatever. Most of them are carrying fully automatic rifles but set on semi-automatic, so they will be shooting one bullet at time. Two of them are carrying the same rifle, but set on full auto.

They are all hiding behind trees and rocks. The enemy is in sight, so if they advance, they will be shot at. So one of the full auto soldiers pulls out from cover an fires a burst of automatic fire in the general direction of the enemy, and ducks back down, while the other full auto soldier then does the same. They take turns doing this, and the enemy keeps their heads down because they are being suppressed. And maybe repressed too, depending.

Meanwhile, while these two are blasting thin air with lead, the other soldiers with the semi-auto settings turned on, don’t fire their rifles, but they run ahead to a better, closer location with a view of the enemy. The enemy did not see this because they were busy ducking. Then, a bit later, the semi-auto soldiers start picking off the enemy, one carefully fired bullet at a time.

The enemy backs off a ways, maybe one or more are wounded or killed, by they are hit by the soldiers firing one bullet at a time, and NOT by the “bam bam bam” fully automatic soldier.

So, when gun nuts* try to tell you that everything is OK because automatic weapons are not legal, only semi-automatic, you may want to tell them that you already know that the ideal killing machine in a school classroom, temple, grocery store, or nightclub is a semi-automatic assault style rifle, not an automatic weapon, and if you are using an automatic rifle, better set it on semi-auto mode to maximize the number of people you are going to tear apart with bullets.

*I chose the term “gun nut” to single out people who are not merely pro-gun, but rabidly so. Pro-gun people are not necessarily anti-gun regulation.

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12 thoughts on “It is wrong to automatically assume an automatic rifle is the worst case scenario

  1. I know this is a basically unpopular opinion but if governments aren’t going to ban firearms in their entirety (which they should) then they should at least ban non-single shot rifles (I count pump action and lever action as single shot) and for those with a magazine nothing with a greater capacity than 5 shells.

  2. It doesn’t really matter which type of gun is better at killing. To ban any type of gun will require amending the constitution. Even if an assault gun ban is passed and signed into law, it will get struck down by the Supreme Court. That is because any type of gun ban violates the 2nd amendment (in my opinion).

    Even saying an AR15 isn’t necessary for hunting misses the mark. One of the reasons for the 2nd amendment is so people can have guns for self-defense and defense of country – so of course guns which are better at killing people cannot be banned.

    On my reading of the 2nd amendment and Supreme Court precedent, even fully automatic guns cannot be banned (See the Miller decision). Miller found any gun typically issued to a soldier couldn’t be banned. Since sawed off shotguns were not typical issue at the time, they could be banned.

    So laws trying to ban guns are a waste of time. Better to focus on things that are not unconstitutional (in my opinion).

    1. The three latest SC gun cases actually spell out the characteristics of guns which make them able to pass constitutional challenge. I don’t think a machine gun would pass challenge, but a semiauto assault rifle would, imho.

    2. Shame on you for repeating those old sawes.

      It doesn’t really matter which type of gun is better at killing. To ban any type of gun will require amending the constitution.

      Of course. Has the constitution never been amended? Of course not how else would you have a Second.

      The manner in which you dig your heels in to defend the indefensible hints at a primitive mindset every bit as rigid as that of the Taliban. With such cranky beliefs as those claiming to be pro-life (the irony of the claimed will to prevent foetal death whilst allowing living children to be mown down is clearly lost on you) who will use violence to press their case, note guns have already been used in this context, then the US as a democracy will become a lost cause. It is a minority who are effectively controlling gun laws, a minority with financial clout allowing the subversion of due process.

    3. Roger:

      Hmmm – I will have to review those decisions again. I only recall they found the 2nd amendment an individual right and incorporated it via the 14th amendment. I recall they talked about the rules requiring the weapon to be useless for its intended purpose (Heller). So I will go back and look for the discussion of different types of weapons and what about a weapons made it pass muster. They have not overrules Miller (from 1939) and that decision makes it clear the 2nd amendment applies to any type of weapon issued to the average foot soldier. But worth another read.

    4. Lionel:

      People are talking about passing laws banning guns without changing the 2nd amendment. That is a waste of time. The proper order is first change the 2nd amendment and then pass gun control laws. Passing unconstitutional laws which will be struck down is actually counterproductive (in my opinion).

      Just trying to be helpful!

    5. Roger:

      After a quick review I found this comment from a gun control web site:

      In 2010, the Supreme Court heard a case challenging Chicago’s handgun ban, one similar to DC’s recently overturned ban. Otis McDonald and three other Chicago residents sued the city over the ban, and because the Heller decision only applied federally, the Supreme Court agreed to hear the case.

      In McDonald v. City of Chicago, the Supreme Court held in a 5–4 ruling that the Second Amendment applies to state and local governments in addition to the federal government. While Chicago’s complete handgun ban was overturned, the Court reiterated in McDonald that a wide variety of state and local gun laws are constitutionally permissible.

      The McDonald court stated that: “It is important to keep in mind that Heller, while striking down a law that prohibited the possession of handguns in the home, recognized that the right to keep and bear arms is not ‘a right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner whatsoever and for whatever purpose.’”

      * * * *

      So while we know the 2nd amendment doesn’t apply to any weapon in any manner whatsoever and for whatever purpose (I paraphrase) – I didn’t see very much meat on that bone. I will keep looking.

      In the meantime Roger – did you have a specific quote in mind?

    6. Roger:

      I cannot find the 3rd supreme court gun control decision. Bruen is pending and we are expecting a decision this month. However, this is about a New York restriction on conceal carry and so is about the right to bear. Also the New York restriction is expected to be struck down as to restrictive. We will have to wait and see.

      Anyway – I haven’t found any language specifying what characteristic of a gun makes it pass the 2nd amendment. Again, a quote would be helpful in steering me in the right direction.


  3. “It is a minority who are effectively controlling gun laws, a minority with financial clout allowing the subversion of due process.”

    Due process includes the Supreme Court, which has ruled three straight times on the constitutionality of the individual right to own and use guns. And that probably includes assault weapons.

    And the Constitution exists to protect the rights of minorities. That said, approximately 146 million people live in gun-owning households in the US. That’s 44% of households. A very substantially-sized minority.

    That’s a lot of voters to alienate by proposing a gun ban which is very likely to be unconstitutional and therefore quixotic. And by “quixotic” I mean to say political suicide. There are a lot of Democratic gun nuts who would grit their teeth and vote Republican if it came down to it. And for what? A ban that would be reversed?

    The question we need to answer definitively and firstly is “Are assault rifles constitutionally protected?” I’m pretty sure the answer is yes, but I am not a lawyer.

    1. All assault rifle seems to mean is a semi-automatic rifle. I do not see semi-automatic rifles being banned or the ban being upheld. And I am a lawyer. But I guess we will have to watch and see if any bans pass congress and if so, whether they are struck down by the Supreme Court.

      My money is on no bans passing congress and being signed into law and no bans (if passed) surviving the Supreme Court.

  4. “In the meantime Roger – did you have a specific quote in mind?”

    This is what I remember – and my memory ain’t what it used to be. Buried in the opinions of Heller (I think) are criteria for determining the constitutional protection of particular firearms. IOW, what would be considered appropriate for an individual to keep and bear.

    One – they have to be reasonable. A Howitzer or a machine gun would not be considered a reasonable homeowners weapon.

    Two – they have to be useful for the purpose. So, a single-shot pistol, for example, would not be considered up to the task. So, you could not ban everything but a single-shot pistol.

    Three – the popularity of a weapon counts toward its constitutionality. So here we would assume that assault rifles, being popular would be protected, but a machine gun, not being popular, would not find such protection.

    An assault rifle, it seems to me, would be hitting all three criteria. It’s not overkill (barely), not underkill; it is useful because of its small dimensions, firepower, ease of use; it is extremely popular.

    1. Roger:

      I wonder if this is the section you are referring to:

      From page 52 of the majority opinion in Heller:

      We may as well consider at this point (for we will have
      to consider eventually) what types of weapons Miller
      permits. Read in isolation, Miller’s phrase “part of ordinary military equipment” could mean that only those
      weapons useful in warfare are protected. That would be a
      startling reading of the opinion, since it would mean that
      the National Firearms Act’s restrictions on machineguns
      (not challenged in Miller) might be unconstitutional,
      machineguns being useful in warfare in 1939. We think
      that Miller’s “ordinary military equipment” language must
      be read in tandem with what comes after: “[O]rdinarily
      when called for [militia] service [able-bodied] men were
      expected to appear bearing arms supplied by themselves
      and of the kind in common use at the time.” 307 U. S., at
      179. The traditional militia was formed from a pool of
      men bringing arms “in common use at the time” for lawful
      purposes like self-defense. “In the colonial and revolutionary war era, [small-arms] weapons used by militiamen
      and weapons used in defense of person and home were one
      and the same.” State v. Kessler, 289 Ore. 359, 368, 614
      P. 2d 94, 98 (1980) (citing G. Neumann, Swords and
      Blades of the American Revolution 6–15, 252–254 (1973)).
      Indeed, that is precisely the way in which the Second

      Continued on pg 53:

      Amendment’s operative clause furthers the purpose announced in its preface. We therefore read Miller to say
      only that the Second Amendment does not protect those
      weapons not typically possessed by law-abiding citizens
      for lawful purposes, such as short-barreled shotguns.
      That accords with the historical understanding of the
      scope of the right, see Part III, infra.25

      * * * *

      I think this hits on your points. Anyway – I agree that handguns, rifles and shotguns are typically possessed by law-abiding citizens for lawful purposes and so those classes of arms will be found incapable of being banned. Rifle would of course include semi-automatic.

      More difficult is the question of a fully automatic machine gun. This weapon is not typically possessed by law-abiding citizens, but is commonly used in the military. So I can see language in Heller which supports a ban on fully automatic machine guns, but I can also see some language supporting the use of machine guns in the military and therefore the types of weapons people would bring for service in a militia or military. I don’t think we will be presented with the question of the fully automatic machine gun anytime soon. But surely handguns, rifles and shotguns will not be banned under the 2nd amendment (in my opinion).

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