What’s the difference between a modern sporting rifle and a weapon of war? A court decision, that’s what.

When it comes to court decisions, it hasn’t been a particularly good few days for my friend at the NRA or, for that matter, the NSSF.  It’s the latter group, after all, that has been promoting this marketing scam known as the ‘modern sporting rifle’ to make everyone believe that an AR-15 or AK-47 is just a modern version of the same, old semi-auto hunting rifle that Grandpa used to lug out into the woods.

AR2            I used to own one of these guns.  In my case it was a Remington Woodmaster 742 which had a magazine that held 4 rounds and was almost as accurate as my bolt-action Remington 700 – the best hunting rifle I ever owned.  The Woodmaster was a heavy old thing and it didn’t work so well with the lighter-weight 30-06 bullets, but put a 220-grain Federal Express cartridge up the pipe, aim the gun at Bambi standing 200 years downrange, and parts of Bambi ended up in the pressure cooker that night.

Folks – that Woodmaster was a ‘modern sporting rifle.’ My Colt AR H-Bar, which means it has a heavy barrel is not. And it’s not a sporting rifle because it’s a weapon of war. Yea, yea, I know that Colion Noir and all the other Gun-nut stinkheads like to post videos of themselves prancing around in some sandpit blasting away with their ARs at this Coke bottle or that tin can. And of course they’ll all repeat the NSSF nonsense about how their AR can’t be a military weapon because it only fires in semi-auto (one trigger pull, one shot) mode. But what these marketing warriors all fail to mention is that the standard rifle used by our troops in the field also can be set to fire one round at a time.  So if a trooper decides to set his battle rifle in semi-auto, is he now taking a modern sporting rifle into the field?

The good news is that the 4th Circuit Appeals Court understood this issue exactly when they upheld the new Maryland law on assault rifles which basically puts Maryland back to the situation that existed for ten years after the 1994 Clinton assault rifle ban.  The law defines an ‘assault rifle’ as any semi-auto rifle with a detachable magazine and other military-style attachments (handgun grip, etc.) and also bans magazines which hold more than ten rounds. The majority opinion says that such guns are ‘weapons of war’ and therefore do not fall under the 2nd-Amendment protections enumerated by the Heller decision handed down by the SCOTUS in 2008.

Last week another court case rocked Gun-nut Nation, in this case where the 11th Circuit tossed out the Florida law that criminalized the behavior of doctors who counsel their patients about guns.  In the 8-3 decision, which is about as definitive as you can get, the Court held that doctor-patient discussions are protected by the 1st Amendment’s protection of free speech because in order to fulfill their professional responsibilities, physicians must be able to talk about anything they please.  Of course such conversations are entirely confidential and, like any other counseling by a physician, the patient is always free to reject the doctor’s advice or refuse to discuss the issue at all.

Right now Gun-nut Nation is 0-2 on issues that have been at the forefront of the promotion of gun violence over the past twenty years.  And why do I say that this bunch is trying to promote gun violence instead of, as they claim, just protecting all our 2nd-Amendment rights?  Because the argument that 125,000 gun deaths and injuries each year are the price we have to pay to protect ourselves with guns is an argument with no basis in truth.

But let’s remember that we are in the Age of Trump where truth and evidence-based information have little relevance to the public debate on gun violence or anything else. At least the majority of two federal courts have chosen to disagree.

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7 thoughts on “What’s the difference between a modern sporting rifle and a weapon of war? A court decision, that’s what.

  1. I was wondering how that would come down. The question left open by Heller was what would be considered “…the sorts of weapons protected were those “in common use at the time.” 307 U. S., at 179…” as opposed to “…the historical tradition of prohibiting the carrying of “dangerous and unusual weapons.” See 4 Blackstone 148–149 (1769)…”

    Seems the 4th Circuit checked the second box.

    I had a similar comment in an old blog post, with a pic of the Browning hunting autoloader v a Bushmaster. I never bought an AR but bought the sleeper version, a Mini-14 with a few 20 and 30 rd magazines. I usually use the 5 rd magazine at the range as it is easier to benchrest the thing with the flush magazine and I usually don’t load more than five anyway. I suppose if there was a mass zombie attack….

  2. Whenever the pro-gun control side asserts that “guns are the problem” per se and that the Heller decision was misguided (ie no inherent right of individual armed self defense – comprehensive gun bans are an allowable end point) every other thing they say will inevitably be analyzed with this in mind.
    The outer reaches of paranoia would see the proposed AWB in these terms: The very fact that the differences between legal guns like a Mini 14 and the M1 carbine and the get-you-arrested ones like the AR platform are so narrow is a critical advantage for the movement. The more arbitrary, subjective, and meaningless the categories are the better, because the goal of an AWB is not reducing GV (ARs do so little, there is no room for meaningfully reducing it) but establishing the principle in law that types of guns can be banned for arbitrary, word based distinctions largely unrelated to down range lethality. Like, one type of barrel covering is fine but another functionally the same is a felony. Or one angle for a hand grip is fine but 10 degrees more is a felony. Or one type of adjustable stock is fine but another should be punished.
    Keep in mind, none of the differences between a legal Mini 14 and an AR would make you safer if you were down range of either.
    Once the principle is established that vague, near meaningless categories can be applied, the process comes down to brute political power.
    As in, “If we say this category is a military feature of war, it is!” Without any limit.
    Current military forces make use of all sorts of small arms, including exact analogues of many civilian pistols. It is not clear how any of these could not be described as “weapons of war.” They fire with each trigger pull and take box mags of any size and don’t burn your hands when they get hot.
    It is also not clear how any weapons used by the military in war are not justifiably subject to this description – even my 1873 Springfield. Because it certainly was designed to, “Kill as many people as possible in the shortest time on the battle-field.” If that is the definition used – which it often is.

  3. “Keep in mind, none of the differences between a legal Mini 14 and an AR would make you safer if you were down range of either.” Indeed. Just ask Anders Behring Breivik.

    Adam Winkler has suggested that GVP folks put less emphasis on ARs, since handguns are overwhelmingly associated with most gun violence in the US. But rare but ugly mass shootings are what provoke the politically empowered class, while most inner city shootings are with handguns. Plus, black rifles just look so….military. As I have said before, it is hard to put the horses back in the barn when the barn door has been wide open for most of a half century. I’ve got mixed feelings about this. I don’t think Maryland will solve its violence problems with magazine or black rifle restrictions.

  4. Well said. The argument I use with the “it’s just a scary looking hunting rifle, not an assault weapon” nonsense is to ask, “if all the stuff that makes these weapons physically different doesn’t make them more lethal than a wood stocked, bolt action, 4 shot hunting rifle, why does the military pay all the extra money for them, and why do more people want to buy them than the old ones”?

    • I’ve said the same. If the WWI vintage Springfield military rifle was as good as an M4 than why spend money on M4’s?

      But as one gun mag author said about ARs, “they are fun to shoot”. Certainly my Mini-14 is fun but going through a nine buck box of ammo in a few minutes is something I do rarely. I’d rather spend nine bucks on the House White Chardonnay. My wife agrees…

      Of the ten million or so ARs out there, a tiny handful are used in mass shootings. So it is no surprise that most AR owners are annoyed with being tarred with the brush of mass murderers, and the discussion does nothing to tone it down. The rhetoric often used with the discussion of “modern military….oops…sporting rifles” makes civil discourse really tough. This has to be toned down to a harm reduction discussion rather than treating AR owners like social pariahs.

  5. Mike- the banned weapons are under 100, the site also lists those firearms that look like they might be banned but are not.

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