One of the issues that pervades and distorts the ongoing debate about gun violence is whether guns are designed for ‘sporting’ as opposed to ‘non-sporting’ use. This attempt to differentiate between ‘sporting’ and ‘non-sporting’ goes to the heart of the 2nd Amendment because the courts have always held that this difference is the basis upon which Constitutional guarantees of gun ownership rest; namely, civilian ownership of ‘sporting’ guns are protected by the 2nd-Amendment, ‘non-sporting’ (meaning military) guns are not.
Since 1968, the ATF has been granted the authority to classify guns as ‘sporting’ or ‘non-sporting’ when it comes to allowing the import of gun manufactured overseas. Most of the criteria that ATF uses to determine whether an imported gun does not meet the criteria for ‘sporting’ use ended up being incorporated into the 1994 assault weapons ban and these design features (rifles with pistol grips, flash hiders, etc.) effectively keep many types of what are generally called ‘assault rifles’ from being shipped in from overseas. But ever since the assault weapons ‘ban’ ended in 2004, with the exception of a few states that opted to maintain the ban, or have subsequently reinstated it, the question of what really constitutes a ‘sporting’ as opposed to ‘non-sporting’ weapon remains confused.
Ten years ago or so, when the gun makers realized that hunting, a true sporting activity, was dying on the vine, they began promoting the idea that ‘black’ guns like the AR-15 were no different from any other type of ‘sporting’ gun. And their rationale for this argument was that the civilian version of the AR lacked one essential feature of the non-sporting (i.e., military) gun, namely, that it could not be fired in full-auto mode. And because the AR could only be fired in semi-auto mode, this made the gun no different from any other traditional semi-auto hunting gun, many of which had been around for 50 years or more.
The problem with this argument, of course, is that it’s not true. Oh well, oh well, just because something isn’t true doesn’t mean we shouldn’t say it anyway. Right, Mr. Trump? But the truth is that the current battle gun allows its user to set the firing mode as either a 3-shot burst or semi-auto pull. So if a soldier decides that the particular tactical situation of the moment requires that his gun operate in semi-auto mode, should we say that he or she is now going into battle with a ‘sporting’ gun? Give me a break, okay?
The gun industry has always claimed that ‘sporting’ guns, are not designed to be used for shooting humans, as oppose to ‘non-sporting’ (military) guns that are considered weapons of war. This is also not true. The first gun that was ever invented came out of China in the 13th Century, utilizing a new technology called gunpowder to push a solid, ball-shaped object, out of a metal tube with the gases created by igniting the powder creating the necessary pressure to put the cannon ball into flight. This technology and the corresponding weapons began to appear in Europe in the 15th Century, and very quickly the same technology appeared in weapons that could be used by individual soldiers – which is how and why the small arms industry was born.
In this country, some of these military designs were adapted for hunting use, but non-commercial hunting was and never has been more than a marginal social and sporting activity, and commercial hunting was generally outlawed because otherwise the various species would have been killed off – and some like the bison almost disappeared.
The point is that what the gun industry calls ‘sporting arm’ were never designed to be used for sporting purposes at all. The fact that a relatively small population enjoys shooting their guns at paper targets on a range or trying to bag that elusive White Tail doesn’t change the fact that guns were designed and are still designed to do one thing, and we all know what that one thing is.