The Quiet but Inevitable Death of the Assault Weapons Ban

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
Feb. 7 2013 12:23 PM

The Quiet but Inevitable Death of the Assault Weapons Ban

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A customer looks at an assault rifle equipped with a high capacity drum magazine and grenade launcher at a gun expo in El Paso, Texas, on March 13, 2011.

Photo by STR/AFP/Getty Images

Soon, there will be three concrete Democratic proposals on guns. There'll be the president's, which includes an assault weapons ban. There'll be the Senate's package, everything from Kirsten Gillibrand's trafficking bill to Dianne Feinstein's assault weapons ban. And there'll be the House bill, which includes mental health reforms, background checks, and "outlawing semi-automatic assault weapons."

And yet nobody in the press thinks the assault weapons ban can pass. The chatty gun control movement is already talking about a future without it. Molly Ball talked to a few veterans of the cause who admit, with admirable self-reflection, that the debate on guns has swung to the right and that they can't possibly challenge the consensus (legally, in public opinion) that people should be able to buy whatever firearms are currently legal.

"The right to own a gun is flat-out stated in the Second Amendment," [Jon] Cowan [of the defunct Americans for Gun Safety] told me. By taking a position -- however legally defensible -- that that right didn't apply to individuals, gun-control advocates were putting up "a stone wall, a barrier to gun owners" that made them "logically presume you want to take their gun away," he added.

This brings us to Alex Seitz-Wald's ahead-of-the-curve warning to liberals that the assault weapons ban should probably be traded away because it's not worth a damn. "Shedding the ban makes it possible to do effective gun control without even touching guns," he writes. One, the bill—largely a change of legal definitions with a long appendix of exemptions—touches guns used in 2 percent of crimes. Two, it wouldn't have prevented the killings in Tucson or Newtown. Extended clips, not scary-looking guns, enabled the longer-lasting slaughters.

Any conservative who Googles around can see this consensus developing, but until the ban is actually traded away, the pundit class and the NRA can still bang on about Dianne Feinstein's gun grab and ignore the likely final bill.

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. You can reach him at daveweigel@gmail.com, or tweet at him @daveweigel.