Joe Biden gave another State of the Union (SOTU) speech last week, and, as most anticipated, it included an attack on our right to keep and bear arms. Biden has hammered away at this theme throughout his term in the White House, and there was nothing in his latest broadside against gun owners that showed any more insight, nuance, or understanding of the subject than his prior efforts.
Apparently, not only can you not teach an old dog new tricks, you cannot teach an old politician to update his script.
Biden speeches are well known for a number of characteristics, and most of them work against taking him seriously. As is typical, he yelled angrily at times, garbled words, jumped randomly from subject to subject, seemed to verbally attack members of the audience, and leaned theatrically toward the microphone for emphasis.
Then, of course, there were a number of his trademark gaffes. He was barely off the first screen of his teleprompter when he referred to Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) as the Minority Leader.
But the one “policy proposal” that virtually everyone has learned to expect, and on which Biden again delivered, was a call for banning guns. Not just more anti-gun laws, but specifically banning guns. It happens incredibly frequently, even when he is making a speech about unrelated subjects.
So we were not the least bit surprised to hear Biden yell, “Band [sic] ‘assault weapons’ now!”
We also were not the least bit surprised to see him put his call for a ban into the context of not just banning semi-automatic rifles, but also banning semi-automatic handguns.
Immediately prior to demanding a ban, Biden had been talking about a recent horrific crime in California (where laws regulating firearms are a gun prohibitionist’s dream), and praised (rightfully) the actions of a young man named Brandon Tsay, who disarmed a murderer.
Biden twice referenced the murderer using a semi-automatic pistol, then immediately transitioned to shouting for his “ban.”
The particular firearm used in that crime could also have been described, under California law, as an “assault weapon.” So it was notable that Biden didn’t emphasize that point but instead switched back and forth between “semi-automatic pistol” and “assault weapon,” as if the terms were inherently interchangeable.
It is important to remember that the original idea behind mislabeling certain semi-automatic firearms as “assault weapons” was to blur the distinction between popular semi-automatic rifle platforms like AR’s and AK’s and actual machine guns. This was made clear in the late 1980s, when gun-ban advocate Josh Sugarmann noted about AR and AK platform rifles:
“The weapons' menacing looks, coupled with the public's confusion over fully automatic machine guns versus semi-automatic assault weapons—anything that looks like a machine gun is assumed to be a machine gun—can only increase the chance of public support for restrictions on these weapons.”
Now it seems Biden and his anti-gun handlers are trying to expand the “confusion” to include any semi-automatic, not just popular rifles that happen to look like the fully automatic rifles used in the military. This apparent intent to expand “confusion” is supported by Biden’s desire to ban 9mm semi-autos, arguably the most popular type of handgun purchased by law-abiding citizens for self-defense. It is also supported by Biden implying that anyone who owns a semi-auto—the vast majority whom are law-abiding gun owners—is “sick.”
Biden will typically exploit the occasion of any high-profile firearm-related crime, no matter what sort of gun was involved, to reflexively call for a ban on “assault weapons.”
But last week – when delivering a scripted, practiced speech to Congress and the nation – he explicitly used the term “semi-automatic pistol” before segueing into a call to ban “assault weapons.” This appeared too calculated to be just another Biden gaffe. Biden now seems to be expanding the ever-malleable term “assault weapon” to include America’s most popular types of semi-automatic handguns, as well as its most popular types of semi-automatic rifles.
Fortunately, Americans seem to be catching on to Biden’s shtick. A recent poll showed that Biden is underwater when it comes to support for banning America’s most popular guns, with a majority of 51% opposed to the concept. This may well be because the public is now wise to the slight of hand the gun ban lobby used to confuse machine guns and semi-automatic rifles and better educated on the dynamics of firearm-related crime.
For example, it is understood that – horrific as they are – public mass murders committed with firearms remain quite rare. Meanwhile, the much more frequent sorts of firearm-related homicides that rarely get national attention tend to be concentrated among a notably small subset of crime-involved individuals in relatively discrete geographic areas and to involve ordinary handguns. This doesn’t mean such crime is not a serious problem, but it does mean the risk to the public at large, or the criminal misuse of semi-automatic rifles, is not as great as the typical firearm prohibitionist would have you believe. And it also means robotic incantations to “ban assault weapons” will not get at the heart of the problem.
Although public support for banning guns may be on a steady decline, don’t expect that to lead to Biden making any changes to his marquee proposal to undermine the Second Amendment. It may be the only position he has not changed in more than a half-century of his Washington, D.C., political career.