My Two Cents: Straight shooting needed in assault weapons controversy

An incident last month at Evergreen High School in White Center, where a student was arrested after a sheriff’s deputy found a fully loaded “Mac-10” weapon in the teen-ager’s backpack, has highlighted the feel-good legislation that is the federal assault weapons ban that has been in the news recently.

With the 1994 ban set to expire next year, it remains unclear at this moment whether Congress will even bring up extending the ban for a vote. For his part, President Bush has said he supports extending the ban.

Be that as it may, the problem with the assault weapons ban boils down in large part to a question of semantics, which was aptly demonstrated in the early reporting on the 17-year-old Evergreen student caught toting around a Mac-10.

When the story first broke, many news organizations reported the young man had been caught with a machine gun, which was technically incorrect. While the compact weapon the young man was found in possession of was indeed powerful and is capable of firing 32 rounds, it fires one round per one pull of the trigger, making it a semiautomatic weapon.

In order for a weapon to be classified as a machine gun or a machine pistol, it must be fully automatic – that is, it must continuously expel rounds for as long as the trigger is pulled. Many – perhaps most – people seem to be under the impression the assault weapons ban targets machine guns. In fact, private ownership of machine guns has been virtually banned in this country since the National Firearms Act of 1934.

The obvious question, of course, is what does the assault weapons ban do? What it does, in effect, is outlaw weapons that look like machine guns but aren’t. When you get right down to it, the assault weapons ban has made certain weapons illegal based on cosmetic appearances, rather than function.

Sadly, Congress has decided you can’t own a scary-looking firearm because of its militaristic characteristics, despite the fact it fires one shot at a time – just like a handgun or a hunting rifle, which are legal to possess.

Whatever your take on the assault weapons ban, it could only help the debate if people were informed with regard to this particular issue.

“My Two Cents” is a weekly column where the author – whose dad has often remarked that automatic weapons are good for laying down suppressing fire – gets in his two cents worth, in defiance of the old saying that you only get a penny for your thoughts.