Wednesday, August 22, 2012

PF 2012 AWB - Ammo for the Pro

For part 1 of this topic, click here
For other Public Forum Debate topics, click here

What The Current Ban Did
The proposed Federal Assault Weapons Ban of 2003 (HR 2038) was intended to replace the 1994 bill which was set to expire. ( The bill defined semiautomatic assault weapons as a list of specific makes or models and copies. It included specific pistols, shotguns and rifles.  Additionally, the definition of assault weapons was generalized and identified certain physical characteristics such as detachable magazines, pistol grips, etc. and any semiautomatic rifle with a fixed magazine with a capacity greater than 10 rounds. The law did not ban weapons that were already legally in people's possession.  The bill basically preserved the original bill while amending some its provisions such as the sunset (the wording that causes it to expire) and strengthened the ban on large capacity magazines.

The original bill, ( banned the manufacture and transfer of the specified weapons.  It banned their possession by juveniles, and people who have committed domestic abuse and strengthened the penalties for using an assault weapon in the commission of a crime.  The original bill included a provision to produce a study within 30 months of enactment to determine the impact of the bill on crime and violence.  That report was the Koper study cited previously in my analysis (

What The Bad Did Not
The ban did not put restrictions any ordinary, common weapons which individuals are inclined to buy, sell, collect or even use except those specified in the bill and then only those which may come into existence after the bill took effect.  It did not require individuals to dispose of their existing weapons, ammo clips, bullets, etc.

Banned Weapons
There are presently, certain kinds of weapons that are banned.  They are considered dangerous or unsuited for self-defense and these bans have been upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court.  While the court has traditionally held the right of individuals to possess weapons for lawful purposes such as self-defense (District of Columbia v. Heller, 554 U.S. 570 (2008)) certain kinds of weapons fail a certain reasonability test.  For example, in the case United States v. Miller, 307 U.S. 174 (1939), the Court ruled that a "sawed off" shotgun was not a weapon that could ordinarily be applied to the defense of the nation, hence, not suitable for militia use.  In general, various kinds of arms are, while not banned per se, tightly regulated.  Examples of these include various kinds of explosives, automatic weapons, weapons which are unusually cruel or destructive, etc.  While these devices are considered forbidden to possess, certain private individuals or entities may still possess these devices for specific purposes.  Generally speaking, they are not the kind of devices that would be prudent of useful for sport or self-defense, or for that matter, considered a militia man's weapon because in many cases keeping these weapons creates a greater than normal risk to lives or property.  The question Pro must answer in this debate, do semiautomatic assault weapons with large capacity magazines, present a greater than normal risk.

Guns Used in Crime
Obviously, not all crimes involve the use of weapons, and of those, an even smaller percentage involve the use of semiautomatic weapons.  Nevertheless, in a 2007 Justice Dept. study by Christopher Koper with Mary Shelley ( in one jurisdiction, it is reported criminal gun users and traffics preferred semiautomatic, high-caliber pistols with high-capacity magazines. They are up to 56% more likely to be used in crime and as high as 90% for medium and large caliber handguns.  Koper cites two studies which suggest "gun attacks involving semiautomatics tend to result in more shots fired, more persons hit, and more wounds inflicted per victim than do attacks with other firearms".

Possession by Juveniles
A major concern it the possession of weapons by juveniles.  In a Justice Dept strategy paper, ( written at the time of the 1994 AWB was in effect, stated: "Current law prohibits juveniles from possessing assault pistols, but allows them to possess assault rifles and large capacity ammunition feeding devices manufactured before the effective date of the Assault Weapons Ban in 1994. This dangerous loophole should be closed by prohibiting the possession of all semiautomatic assault weapons and large capacity magazines by persons under age 21."  In the Koper paper cited above, it was noted that most juveniles obtain weapons through "straw purchases"; meaning an adult purchases the weapon and illegally gives it a juvenile. A report by the Future of Children in 2002 puts in perspective: "Each year, more than 20,000 children and youth under age 20 are killed or injured by firearms in the United States. The lethality of guns, as well as their easy accessibility to young people, are key reasons why firearms are the second leading cause of death among young people ages 10 to 19. Only motor vehicle accidents claim more young lives."  The Firearm and Injury Center at University of Pennsylvania ( reports: "In 2000 semi-automatic pistols were the most frequently traced handguns by law enforcement for all age groups (50%).22 Among juveniles less than 17 years old arrested in 1999, handguns were the most common type of firearm recovered by law enforcement (87%). Semi-automatic pistols were the weapon of choice for juveniles, with 58% traced among youth under age 18 and 60% for those ages 18-24, compared to 47% among persons age 25 or older."

Law Enforcement is Impacted
Jake Matthews of the Harvard Political Review ( writes: "Even the claim that banning assault weapons would limit Americans’ freedoms is largely unsubstantiated. If anything, I’d argue the reverse. Legalized high-powered weaponry forces public safety agencies, mainly the FBI, to attempt to monitor more civilian activity. On its domestic terrorism homepage, the FBI states that a major part of its job is “preventing homegrown attacks before they are hatched.” Their mission would involve, in theory, extensive research into the lives of many who purchase assault weapons or massive amounts of ammunition, even if both purchases were made legally, as in the case of Aurora shooter James Holmes...In 2004, Congress failed to renew the Federal Assault Weapons Ban originally passed in 1994 under President Clinton. Since the law’s expiration, police deaths from gunshot wounds have increased substantially. In 2009, 49 police officers died from gunfire, a 24 percent increase from 2008. In 2010, 61 officers were shot and killed, a 37 percent increase from 2009. And in 2011, 68 officers died from gunfire. In fact, 2011 represents the first year of the past 14 years when the leading cause of on-duty police officer death was from gunfire and not from traffic fatalities."

In an interview with Governor Pat Quinn of Illinois, Christopher Wills of the Associated Press quotes regarding assault weapons: "Statistics on their current use are extremely hard to find, but a gun-control group called the Violence Policy Center searched news reports for crimes involving assault weapons from March 2005 to March 2007. It found reports of 235 incidents, more than one-quarter of which involved police and often included shots fired at the officers. Eleven assault-weapon incidents were found in Illinois.
Quinn acknowledged it's not clear just how many assault weapons are out there or how often they're used in crimes.
Tim McCarthy, chief of police in Orland Park, agreed there's no firm data but said he's "pretty certain" assault weapons and high-capacity magazines are being used more often.  Banning them "will help reduce violence against our residents. It will help reduce violence against our police," McCarthy said at the governor's announcement"

Focusing In
No one is calling for a general ban on the possession of guns. Instead Pro is advocating a very limited ban or a particular class of weapons which have little practical use.  Studies show the major reasons Americans purchase weapons is for sport or self-defense.  Pro is asking for a ban on weapons that are not suited to either.  The ban will have little or no impact on the sale and possession of other kinds of weapons.  But what the ban will do, is reduce a very particular risk that someone with murderous intentions in possession of a semiautomatic weapon could kill or maim many people in a very short time, before police or anyone can react.  Moreover, a ban will reduce the likelihood these weapons will end up in the hands of juveniles.  Finally it should be noted that a ban on these very dangerous weapons will reduce the risks to law enforcement and innocent bystanders.  Pro fully supports the Second Amendment Right to Bear Arms, but argues it makes no sense to allow the importation, trade and possession of these few, extremely dangerous weapons.

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