Guns can be used to kill kindergarten children, as we found out at Sandy Hook. Semi-automatic weapons with large box magazines, both rifles and handguns, are the weapon of choice for spree shooters, and are the weapons that are proposed to be banned. So, what purposes are guns used for, what kinds of guns are used for those purposes, and how would such a ban affect those users?
There’s basically four kinds of things you can hunt: birds, varmints (rabbits, squirrels, and other small animals), medium-sized game like deer, and large-sized game like elk or grizzly bear.
For birds, shotguns are the king of the roost. 20 gauge shotguns are preferred by smaller shooters, 12 gauge shotguns by larger shooters. The 12 gauge shotguns of course have greater powder and shot load and thus better range and spread, making it easier to hit the duck or dove that you’re aiming at. Most shotguns used for hunting are pump-action with tubular magazines. Shotguns with box magazines are extremely rare, due to being illegal to use for hunting in some jurisdictions. Semi-automatic shotguns are also available, but use of the recoil to cycle the action a) isn’t as reliable as cycling the action by hand (since if you aren’t firmly in place you can get the equivalent of “limp wristing” a semi-automatic handgun), and b) results in less force pushing pellets out the front of the gun, thus less accuracy. The majority of bird hunters care more about accuracy and reliability than about firing rate.
For varmints, the .22 Long Rifle rimfire is the preferred round, in a fairly lightweight rifle or carbine. Some people prefer a .410 or 20 gauge shotgun, aiming for the head in order to preserve as much meat as possible. Typical .22 rifles are either tube magazine lever rifles, magazine-fed bolt action rifles, magazine-fed semi-automatic rifles, or tube-fed semi-automatic rifles (and of course the old standby bolt-action single-shot rifle). Of those, only the box magazine fed semi-automatic .22 rifles would be affected by a ban on box magazine fed semi-automatic rifles.
For medium-sized game such as deer, semi-automatic rifles are virtually unknown because, as with shotguns, semi-automatic rifles are less accurate and reliable than bolt action or lever guns. In close country the Winchester .30/30 round in a tube-fed lever gun is probably the most popular round, while in less close country, bolt-action rifles with box magazines in .30-06, .308, or a variety of similar-sized rounds are the preferred weapon. A ban on semi-automatic rifles with box magazines would not affect the vast majority of deer hunters.
For large game, bolt-action rifles with box magazines in large calibers are all you find.
Note that the .223 round used in the Bushmaster military-style carbine used at Sandy Hook is not useful for hunting for meat. Its velocity and ability to penetrate brush is too great for hunter safety, it is not large enough to take down a deer, yet is too large for varmints (it would mangle them too badly as it hit bones and fragmented). A ban on that round for sale to civilians would not affect hunters at all, though it might annoy ranchers who use the round to kill gophers and other rodents that are nuisances to them.
2. Self defense.
The most effective self defense weapons are a) a 12 or 20 gauge pump shotgun with open choke and the shortest barrel that’s legal (12 gauge preferred, 20 gauge if you simply can’t handle that big a shotgun), and b) the .357 Magnum revolver or, if that is too large for your effective use, the .38 Special revolver (which is the same size round, actually, but with a shorter cartridge and thus less recoil and can be built lighter). Examination of self-defense applications of handguns show that if the defender does not disable the attacker within three rounds, the defender is dead. Thus for self defense, a five, six, or seven round revolver is all the handgun that you need. Note that the .38 Special has approximately the same stopping power as the 9mm round that has largely replaced it in police use, the reason the police switched to 9mm semi-automatic handguns was rate of fire after the first six rounds were fired, not stopping power. But rate of fire after six rounds is not an issue in typical self-defense scenarios. Indeed, a large number of self-defense scenarios play out without any rounds fired at all, the potential attacker sees you pull out the weapon and decides that he has business elsewhere.
There is no — zero — self-defense need for a civilian to possess a handgun capable of holding 17-shot magazines. There is no self-defense justification, for the most part, for civilians to possess *any* semi-automatic handgun — they are all far less reliable under pressure than a revolver (which is literally point-and-click — no worries about safeties, racking the slide to put the first round in the chamber, etc.) and offer no improvement in stopping power compared to equivalent revolver rounds. The only advantage for self defense purposes is that they also tend to be smaller and lighter than revolvers, which makes them easier to conceal, thus there might be an exception made for small semi-automatic handguns with limited-round magazines for concealed carry use.
There is also no — zero — self-defense need for a civilian to possess a semi-automatic rifle that accepts box magazines (as vs having a tubular magazine). A shotgun has greater stopping power at close ranges as are typical for self defense and the limit of three to five rounds in the tubular magazine of a typical shotgun is not going to be an issue in typical self defense situations. Indeed, the simple act of racking the first round into the chamber of a pump-action shotgun is enough to make most potential attackers decide they’d rather be elsewhere.
3. Overthrowing a tyranny
Find me one single example of unorganized armed individuals overthrowing a government via force of arms and I won’t laugh and giggle at the notion. Organized militias such as in Somalia and Lebanon have managed to do so, but the end result of militia rule in those states has not been particularly good — Lebanon manages to rebuild, then one of its militias does something stupid that gets the country pounded into rubble again, while meanwhile Somalia has been chaos and death for decades now.
But even those kinds of organized militias have never arisen in a national security state such as the old Soviet Union or today’s United States of America. The reality is that our national security state is very effective at identifying and taking out with extreme prejudice any armed individuals that might threaten its existence. There are three concepts that render the armed overthrow scenario ridiculous: intelligence, concentration of forces, and logistical supply train. Our police forces regularly take down heavily armed individuals (we call them “drug dealers”) without harm to themselves via use of these concepts. The deal being that armed individuals must work for a living in order to provide for their logistics, which in turn precludes effective concentration, while the State taxes for its living (a.k.a. seizes the resources it needs at gunpoint) thus is able to have the logistics to concentrate. Armed individuals who challenge the State’s monopoly on seizing resources at gunpoint are swiftly identified via intelligence. Application of laws that have been on the books for decades (note that you’re likely breaking a law anytime you walk down the street, given how many laws are on the books, and certainly armed robbery is one of the laws in those books) are used to justify concentration of forces that then are then used to overwhelm said armed individuals before sufficient of them gather together to create an existential threat to the State. Just ask David Koresh about that one. Oh wait.
The reality today is identical to 1959 when the Louisiana legislature demanded that Governor Earl Long resist a desegregation decree from the Federal courts. He ranted to the Legislature, “are you fuckin’ kiddin’ me? We’re talking about the government of the U S of A here, they got the goddamned ATOMIC BOMB!” Armed militants in both Iraq and Afghanistan were unsuccessful at overthrowing tyrannical governments installed and propped up by our military. The only reason our military is leaving those states is because there is no existential threat to the existence of the USA in either of those locations, and thus no real reason to continue incurring the large logistical costs of maintaining standing armies in those locations. But the reality is that neither the Taliban in Afghanistan nor Al Qaeda in Iraq have any hope of overthrowing the U.S. military dictatorships of those countries as long as the U.S. military remains. And once that military returns home, the logistical tail becomes *much* shorter.
The Soviet Union fell because everybody agreed it was over. The military basically dissolved into regional militaries, the security establishment basically deserted to regional security establishments, and people simply started ignoring the orders coming out of the Kremlin, until Gorbachev was reduced to rattling around the Kremlin issuing orders to the wait staff, and had to admit reality and formally dissolve the Soviet Union once even the wait staff quit taking his orders. That is how tyrannies end in the modern era — with a whimper, not a bang of machine-gun fire, as the majority of people decide they want something else and simply quit cooperating with the tyrannical government. If you want to know why the Chinese government freaks out so badly over dissent, now you know — if the notion that the national government is not firmly in control and worth following ever took hold, they’d fall just like the Soviet Union did. And they know it. And that’s why they do their best to use both the carrot and the stick to maintain the support of their citizenry. It ain’t democracy, but it could lead to something akin to democracy over time — and that, friends, is how tyranny ends in the modern era — with a whimper, not the bang of machine-gun fire.
Add in the fact that we have a revolution every four years via the VOTE here in America — or could, if the majority of Americans gave a damn about who rules them — and the “overthrow tyranny” bullshit becomes even more bullshit-worthy. Neither Japan nor Germany are tyrannies. Both were disarmed after WW2, and personal ownership of firearms is still illegal in Japan. Neither nation is a paradise — but in case you haven’t noticed, neither is the United States. Just sayin’.
– Badtux the Well-armed Penguin
(* But *not* with semi-automatic weapons that have no — zero — application to hunting or self defense).