This isn’t going to be a cute little anecdote from life. There is nothing cute or funny about the recent events in Uvalde, TX and Buffalo, NY. Once again, people with some pretty serious mental issues and a very skewed outlook on life decided their best course of action was to take the lives of others. I won’t repeat the details here. We all know them far too well by now. The shootings were heart-breaking and tragic.
As always when these things occur, there is a justifiable public outcry for action from the public. People, including myself and other gun users, want something done to stop these shootings. The reaction from many is the same: Get rid of the guns. Make them go away. Repeatedly we hear calls for “rational gun control” and limitations and restrictions on what kind of guns people can buy. Yet most proposals are anything but rational and most of these cries come from people who don’t own or use guns. I get it. If you aren’t involved in the shooting sports or any sort of recreational use of firearms, it is understandable that you’d be okay with clamping down really hard on gun ownership and it wouldn’t affect your way of life. This is much the same as if my reaction to all the crazy dirt bike/ATV misuse on our public streets was to say “Ban the sale of ATVs and dirt bikes.” I’m not a rider of ATVs and dirt bikes. Banning them wouldn’t bother me. But I don’t make such a statement because it would bother other people who legally and legitimately own and use their ATVs.
Likewise, non-gun users don’t comprehend or flinch at the total inaccuracies thrown out by the media and political leaders regarding guns and ammunition. Recent favorites include the idea that a 9mm bullet is a “high powered round” that will, according to President Biden, “blow the lungs out of the body”. This couldn’t be farther from the truth. Likewise is the almost routine statement that the rounds fired by AR-15 and AK-47 style rifles are somehow magically more powerful than they are. Both are considered high-powered rifle rounds but in the caliber hierarchy, are modest at best.
While I realize it probably does no good to answer these inaccuracies I just have to scratch that itch and perhaps provide a little knowledge to readers as we move ahead with the new gun laws that are inevitably coming down the road. Perhaps it is good for the casual gun owner as well since, with hundreds of laws regulating gun ownership, it is increasingly difficult to be a law abiding gun owner.
Starting with one of the big favorites we’ll discuss the need to tighten up background checks. Believe me when I say there isn’t a gun owner out there who isn’t in favor of this. None of us wants to see a criminal easily buy a gun. The issue here is, there really aren’t that many ways to buy a gun without going through a background check. Every gun purchase at a commercial dealer is subject to a State background check and if the state in question does not have their own system, then the dealer must use the federal National Instant Check System (NICS). Private sales are regulated somewhat differently than commercial sales and varies from state to state. Here in Pennsylvania long guns (rifles and shotguns) may be sold person to person without a background check but all hand gun sales must go through a Federal Firearms Licensed (FFL) dealer and must include a background check. I’ve heard countless times that someone knows someone who bought a handgun from someone without going through a background check and I’m certain that is the case. There is nothing stopping anyone from meeting in a parking lot, or an apartment, or a restaurant or anywhere else and exchanging money for anything. I’m assuming if someone wishes to acquire a gun with which to commit a robbery, murder, or other gun-related crime, they probably aren’t overly worried about obeying the law in acquiring said gun.
Another common misconception is the idea that you can oder a gun on-line. Well, yes and no. First of all, places like Amazon, Facebook, and eBay have climbed on to their moral high horse and prevented the sale of firearms through their platforms. This despite them being a perfectly legal product to purchase. It is noteworthy you can go to Amazon and buy things like this Department of Defense manual that teaches you how to make bombs and other weapons, but hey at least it isn’t a gun. As far as actually ordering a gun on-line, unless you live in one of the victim states* (NJ, CA, IL, NY, NJ and perhaps one or two others) you can go find a gun and send payment to a seller but they aren’t shipping it directly to you. You have to supply the information for a local FFL to whom they will ship the gun. Once is arrives there, you go to the FFL and go through the normal background check before taking possession.
If you think you are circumventing that process by buying directly from a private seller and having them ship it to you . . . . wrong! I suppose you could find some person of low morals willing to disassemble a gun, carefully hide it in a box of stuffed Teddy Bears or pajamas or some such thing and ship it illegally to you. But we are talking about being a law abiding person here. To ship a hand gun legally to another person one must either use UPS overnight or FedEx overnight. Both services require an adult signature and will only ship to an FFL. Upon receipt by the FFL, the buyer must clear the background check (there’s that background check again) before taking possession. I went through this process once. I sold a .22 caliber handgun to a gentleman in Texas. He paid me $225.00 for the gun. It cost $205 to ship it via Fedex. UPS was even more. You can ship long guns through the US Postal Service but the same constraints apply and it is just as expensive. In summary, it is not worth it to try to buy or sell a gun privately if there needs to be shipping involved.
Let me step back for a moment and address the current theme from people like President Biden and Texas Governor wannabe Beto O’Rourke who claim the AR-15 and the 9mm possess some sort of out-of-this-world power to kill. Starting with the ridiculous statement made recently by the President that a 9mm will “blow the lungs out of the body” which is utter nonsense. Anyone vaguely familiar with guns, handguns, and ammunition already know this is quite possibly the all-time winner of the dumb-statements-about-guns award. The 9mm is a middle-of-the-road as far as powerful handgun rounds go. It is considered by most to be the bare minimum round for use as a defensive cartridge. The 9mm was invented in 1901 and adopted by most of the world’s militaries as a standard handgun round prior to World War II. (A common name for the cartridge is 9mm Luger from the famous German sidearm.) Since then, It has been adopted by the US military as the standard defensive round. It is one of the most popular rounds in the world and is easy to find and relatively inexpensive.
As far as being powerful, looking at history we find a time when the FBI considered it not nearly powerful enough. After the now infamous 1986 Miami shootout, the FBI wrote the 9mm off as not enough gun and went searching for a replacement. They considered the time-honored .45 ACP (used by John Browning’s Model 1911 through two wars), the 10mm which is a vastly more powerful round than the 9mm, and finally settled on a shortened version of the 10mm in the .40 ACP. Because of the 1986 shootout and the belief that the 9mm was to blame, the FBI and many other law enforcement agencies adopted the .40 in ensuing years. But as the Miami incident was scrutinized, it was learned that bullet choice and shooting skill (or lack thereof) had much more to do with the poor performance of the 9mm in Miami than previously thought. All the while, better bullets, powders, and cartridges were developed for the 9mm. In the end, the 9mm remains one of the most popular calibers in the US for both civilian and law enforcement use. This popularity is not because it is super-powerful or contains some other-worldly power of death but because ammunition is inexpensive, readily available, and men and women of all different statures and strength can comfortably shoot most 9mm pistols. Meanwhile, in gun communities, arguments occur every day with many still saying it is not an adequate cartridge for defense.
The AR-15, meanwhile, is typically chambered in 5.56 Nato/.223. They are subtly different calibers but most ARs are built to shoot either so for our purposes we’ll discuss them as one because they aren’t very different. The .223 round is, in rifle terms, really tiny. There are smaller necked cartridges out there but it is at the bottom end of the power scale when it comes to rifle cartridges. The design of the M-4/M-16 (military version of the AR-15) and the .223 adoption was due the military seeking a rifle and round that soldiers could carry and have more firepower (more rounds of ammo). The predecessors to the M-16 were the M-14 and M1 Garand (famous in WWII). These rifles shot the .308 Winchester and .30-06 rounds respectively. Both the .308 and the .30-06 are much larger, much more powerful cartridges than the 5.56/.223.
To put it in perspective both the .308 and .30-06 have been popular for decades as big game cartridges taking everything from deer up to elephant. While some may try, weighing in at 1/3 the weight of a typical .30-06 bullet, the standard AR round is not a great deer cartridge. It can be used for small game and predators very successfully. In fact the .223 in a bolt action rifle or longer-barreled AR is an excellent choice for things like ground hogs and coyotes.
“Wait, what do you mean in a longer barrel?” (Oh . . caught that did you?) Well, one of the common misconceptions often thrown out around the AR-15 is that the rapid twist rate in the barrel rifling somehow adds oomph to the bullet and make it rip a person apart or cause them to bleed out faster. This is 100% inaccurate. The damage a bullet does is a function of the kinetic energy it hits with and the design of the bullet. Energy is a function of velocity and bullet weight. Different bullets are designed for different purposes. The most common style of rifle bullet for killing something (be it a person or animal) is some sort of bullet that expands while a bullet designed for maximum penetration would be more solidly built. The purpose of rifling (or twist) is not to make the bullet more deadly but to stabilize it so it shoots accurately. Picture lobbing a football sideways versus throwing a hard spiral. The non-spiraled ball flies all willy nilly after a short distance where the spiral can be thrown accurately and much farther. (Well, maybe not by me but by a talented football player.) For a .223, the ideal twist rate to stabilize a bullet is about a 1:12 twist. (One twist for every 12 inches of barrel.) This would mean ideal barrel length to get the most power and accuracy out of the cartridge would be about 20-22 inches which is far too long for a compact rifle we expect a foot soldier to carry. To account of the shorter M-16 or AR-15 barrel, the twist rate is reduced to anywhere from 1:7 to 1:9. You can find AR-15s designed specifically for hunting or long range accuracy with longer barrels but the norm is something in the 16″ to 18″ range. Phew. That’s a lot. Ballistics is an amazing science that will make your head spin. Mathematicians go gaga for a good ballistics problem.
The gist of all that was that there is nothing magically powerful about the rather modest 5.56 NATO/.223 round. It and the M-4/M16 were adopted by the military to meet the requirements they put out during the cold war. Those requirements were based on the idea that there would be a European war with expected ranges of up to 400 meters. They wanted soldiers to be able to carry a lot of ammunition. The fact of the matter is, compared to animals people are relatively thin skinned and light boned and don’t require an extremely powerful round to be incapacitated. Of course, now with the changing requirements of modern warfare, the military has begun adopting larger rounds again.
That last paragraph segues nicely to the next most commonly talked about idea for new gun laws. Why do civilians need a weapon designed for war? Tell me, what gun wasn’t designed for war? Muskets? Designed for war. Single shot falling blocks? Designed for war. Bolt action rifles? Designed for war. You get the idea. Still one can make a lot of good arguments to take away AR-15s. I fear that removal of guns is simply the removal of a tool. I hear the argument made that the founding fathers didn’t have M-16s in mind when they wrote the second amendment. Or the President’s favorite line of “You couldn’t buy a cannon back then”. (Actually, you could. Private artillery was welcomed and heavily used in the revolutionary war . . but that’s a whole other post.) The fact is, very powerful high capacity semi-automatic weapons have been around for well over 100 years. They were first used by civilians and only later adopted by the military who, until WWII, staunchly believed the bolt action was the only reliable rifle to take to war.
As just one example, I give you the Winchester Model 1907. Introduced in the early 20th century, the 1907 was the third iteration of semi-automatic rifles designed for Winchester by T.C. Johnson. Yes, third generation. The first was designed in 1885. A full half-century before the AR-15 was first produced. The Winchester Model 1907 shot a fairly anemic 35 caliber round that was still way more powerful than today’s .223 albeit with not nearly as efficient a projectile. There were over 400,000 Winchester 1907s produced with up to 20 round magazines available. While a few saw military use, they were primarily a a civilian arm. The 1907 wasn’t the only choice. Similar designs from other companies soon followed. It wasn’t until the success of the Garand in WWII that the military conceded that the self-loading rifle could be successful in combat.
What is this important? Because despite being able to order a Winchester model 1907 from the Sears catalog and having it delivered to your house without a background check, nobody was taking them into grocery stores or schools and killing people with them.
Politics and need aside, why would I as a consumer want an AR-15 over say a Remington Model 700, or other popular bolt action rifle? This is really a great question and the answer is “It depends”. (You knew that was coming, right?) As an example, if you are a Pennsylvania deer hunter and 99% or more of your planned use of your rifle is deer hunting then by all means buy the Remington or another brand of deer rifle. In fact, you cannot legally use an AR-15 (in any caliber) to hunt deer in Pennsylvania. Semi-automatic weapons are not legal for big game here, but they are in other states. It is noteworthy that AR-15s can be had in many different, more powerful calibers. They are a very popular rifle to start kids out in hunting with because they aren’t complicated to use and feature very light recoil.
But let’s say my needs or wants for a rifle involve target shooting, competition, plinking at the range or teaching my family how to shoot. In that case, an AR-15 style rifle is difficult to beat. There are hundreds if not thousands of accessories, the rifles can be quickly adjusted to fit any shooter by simply squeezing a lever. They can easily be reconfigured by the user for different activities. They are light recoiling, and are accurate enough for most needs. The AR-15 is the most popular rifle in the United States for all of these reasons and more. By contrast, if one were to buy a bolt action rifle with a traditional stock, it would be necessary to find a gunsmith to properly fit the gun for a smaller person and then that rifle would be only useable by that person. A bolt action rifle even in the same caliber has much more recoil than an AR-15 as well. Lastly, the cheapest and most prevalent rifle ammunition available is 5.56 NATO or .223.
Another favorite topic the media and social media like to harp on is quantity. That is, how many guns or how much ammunition do people really need? Why can’t we limit what they buy? Surely no reasonable gun owner would object to that? Let’s discuss.
What is enough guns? What is enough ammunition? What is an arsenal? (One of the media’s favorite words.) I think the media and a lot of non-gun owners picture the devout gun owner as someone with an AR-15 in their hands, and a 9mm pistol in a holster, hiding behind their couch in the basement surrounded by piles of ammo. They never go out. They never actually shoot their guns. They just want to have their guns and ammo in case of a zombie apocalypse. As a very active shooter (not in the school or business sense), I can tell you that is far from the case.
Once upon a time I was a very avid trap shooter. Trap is a shotgun sport involving clay targets. Many people will say they shot skeet or trap once and are usually referring to shooting some clay targets that someone launched in a field with a hand thrower. But trap is a big international game that hundreds of thousands of people participate in. A typical trap tournament starts at 100 targets and, most typically, include about 300 targets. (Singles, doubles, handicap). If one were to shoot every event at the week long Pennsylvania state trap shoot, it would involve 2400 targets or 2400 shots just for the events. That doesn’t include practice during the week or in the weeks leading up to the shoot. I shot modestly compared to many more dedicated trap shooters and I burned through about 15,000 shotgun shells a year. That is less than half of what many go through.
In addition to trap there are a dozens of other shooting sports: Skeet, sporting clays, 3-gun, Cowboy Action Shooting, IDPA, IPSC, GSSF, Rimfire Challenge, Steel Challenge, Practical Hunter, Long Range bench rest shooting and others. Not to mention those that simply shoot all year for fun and to be prepared for hunting season. All of these sports require huge quantities of ammunition and each requires one or more types of gun. Even someone who hunts and dabble with a shooting sport or two probably owns a half-dozen guns for those purposes.
To put it in terms of other sports, if you are a runner you probably own a dozen (or maybe more) pairs of running shoes. Is that excessive? Or a cyclist may own 3-6 very expensive bikes? What do you need all them for? The point is, if you are a non-shooter or unfamiliar with guns and the shooting sports, don’t be too judgmental about a number or too ready to leap on the bandwagon to limit purchases. Also remember that street criminals aren’t out there practicing on the weekends. They acquire a minimum amount of ammunition and generally can’t hit the broadside of a barn from more than a foot or two away. By limiting quantities of ammunition we would simply be restricting law-abiding gun owners who want to be proficient with their guns and possibly excel at a sport they are passionate about.
Finally, we live in not a great world these days. District Attorneys, judges, and police are more concerned about getting accused of racism, sexism, or some other wrong doing than seeing to it that dangerous criminals are removed from the streets. Every day there are shootings in our cities. Every day crime makes its way further and further outside the city. Many argue that owning a gun for protection is a mistake and that you should just call the police. But let’s be real. The police generally don’t stop crime. They respond to and document crime. They may even ultimately catch the criminal but the victim will remain a victim for the rest of their days. Personally, I choose to keep the option to protect myself and my loved ones to the best of my abilities. I don’t tuck my guns away and hope I don’t need them. I, like most gun owners, actively practice and train for an event I hope NEVER occurs . . that I might need to use a gun to protect myself or my wife.
* – Victim State: States like California or New Jersey where felons are regularly released and people are just expected to be a willing victim and dutifully call the police after they’ve been violated. Most of these states severely restrict gun ownership.