Recently, a longtime firearm prohibition advocate confirmed at least two points that people who follow the gun control debate have long known. First, anti-gun activists have not abandoned the holy grail of their agenda, getting handguns banned. Second, they will never be content with an “assault weapons” ban that applies only to external features of semiautomatic firearms and not to the operating systems of those guns.
In an article published Sunday in the Sacramento Bee, Josh Sugarmann, a/k/a the Violence Policy Center (VPC), essentially proposed banning all semi-automatic firearms that use detachable magazines, regardless of their external features or the capacity of their magazines. Hoping to alarm gullible readers, Sugarmann claimed that detachable-magazine semi-automatics are “unprecedented” in America, despite the fact that they have been popular in our country for more than a century. John Browning’s Model 1911 .45 caliber pistol is a prime example.
Obviously, a ban on firearms that can use detachable magazines would prohibit the manufacture of all modern semi-automatic pistols and general-purpose semi-automatic rifles such as the AR-15. These firearms together account for a majority of new firearms sold in the United States. Of course, that is precisely why banning guns based upon their ability to use detachable magazines appeals to Sugarmann. Formerly with the National Coalition to Ban Handguns, Sugarmann is the author of Every Handgun is Aimed at You: The Case for Banning Handguns. He also wrote Assault Weapons and Accessories in America, a 1988 paper which proposed that gun control groups temporarily pretend to give up on banning handguns and instead use “assault weapons” as a “new issue” to “reinvigorate the handgun restriction lobby.”
Sugarmann further displayed his handgun and semi-automatic rifle banning aspirations today in an op-ed for Salon.com. Condemning innovations that increase firearms’ defensive capacity, Sugarmann claimed that modern "gun violence" is shaped by a “combination of semi-auto firearms (and) detachable ammunition magazines, and it ranges from high-capacity pistols to semi-automatic assault rifles.” Thus, Sugarmann concluded, “we need to ratchet down the firepower in civilian hands. We need to get assault weapons off our streets and off the gun store shelves … We should ban handguns.”
Given Sugarmann’s ultimate goal, his idea to ban all detachable-magazine semi-automatics was just a matter of time. In 1988, he recognized that “assault weapons . . . are difficult to define in legal terms.” He was proven right when Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s (D-Calif.), federal “assault weapon” ban of 1994-2004 “banned” detachable-magazine semi-automatic rifles only if they had two or more external attachments. As a result, over 730,000 AR-15s having only one attachment were manufactured and bought during the 10 years her “ban” was in effect. (By comparison, more than 800,000 AR-15s were manufactured for sale in the U.S., with their full complement of external attachments, in 2012 alone.)
Sugarmann knew from day one of Feinstein’s ban that it didn’t stop any guns from being manufactured altogether, but for political purposes he pretended otherwise. In 1995, Sugarmann’s group claimed, “The assault weapon ban has finally turned off the spigot that for more than a decade has flooded the nation’s streets with these weapons of war.”
However, as the “ban’s” 2004 expiration approached and gun control supporters contemplated whether to push legislation to extend it “as is,” or in a much more restrictive form, VPC changed its tune. Fulfilling its role as advocate of the most aggressive positions in the gun control debate, the group complained that Feinstein’s ban was “badly flawed,” “a ban in name only,” and a “fictional ban.” The group called for it to be more restrictive, as proposed by Rep. Carolyn McCarthy (D-N.Y.).
Sugarmann explained why in Bullet Hoses: Semiautomatic Assault Weapons—What Are They? What’s So Bad About Them? “Most of the design features listed in the 1994 federal ban—such as bayonet mounts, grenade launchers (sic), silencers (sic), and flash suppressors” were pointless criteria on the basis of which to define a firearm as an “assault weapon,” Sugarmann complained. Instead, he said, “The most significant assault weapon functional design features are: (1) ability to accept a high-capacity ammunition magazine, (2) a rear pistol or thumb-hole grip, and, (3) a forward grip or barrel shroud.”
Whatever significance Sugarmann really attached to the manner in which a person holds a rifle against the shoulder or in the hand, he knew that any firearm that can accept a “small” magazine can also accept a “large” one. Thus, banning firearms that could accept “large” magazines would mean banning them all, which is precisely what Sugarmann’s new proposal is all about.
Sugarmann now pretends that if handgun owners were limited to revolvers, America would be immune to crimes like the one that recently took place in Santa Barbara, California. “Until the early 1980s, the most popular handgun sold in America was the standard six-shot revolver,” the activist who would ban all handguns pretended to reminisce.
However, as competitive shooter Jerry Miculek has demonstrated, revolvers can be fired and reloaded as fast as pistols. Furthermore, a follow-up study to the report that Congress required of the federal “large” magazine ban concluded that “gunshot injury incidents involving pistols were less likely to produce a death than were those involving revolvers.”
Sugarmann’s grand schemes may seem like little more than one activist’s pipe dreams. However, VPC is a tiny anti-gun activist cell that receives millions of dollars from the Joyce Foundation to push the pervasive restrictions that “mainstream” gun control supporters ultimately want, even if they generally avoid discussing them for political reasons. The danger posed by the group is that its radical musings, if repeated unchallenged enough over time, would eventually seem not so radical after all to courts, legislators and the general public.