If you are the sort of person who feels compelled to demand new gun control laws after a mass shooting, you have several options. You can keep your recommendations vague, letting your audience fill in the blanks; push the policies you always push, regardless of whether they have anything to do with the latest outrage; or latch onto a detail of that crime, inflating its importance to support a seemingly germane solution.
All three of those strategies were on display after a gunman murdered 12 people at the Virginia Beach Municipal Center on Friday. None of them reflected well on the persuasive powers of leading gun control advocates, who long ago abandoned logic in favor of emotional appeals and moral posturing.
“Enough is enough,” said former Vice President Joe Biden. “We must act now.”
Sens. Cory Booker, D-N.J., and Kamala Harris, D-Calif., who are competing with Biden for the Democratic presidential nomination and have made gun control a prominent component of their campaigns, concurred. “Enough of excuses,” Booker said, calling for “commonsense things.” Harris announced that she was “sick and tired” of “senseless violence.”
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., who has supported restrictions on firearms throughout her career, declared that “it’s time for commonsense gun safety laws.” Details TBD.
Feinstein’s reticence was understandable.
The gun control policy with which she is most strongly identified — banning so-called assault weapons, which are distinguished from other firearms by mostly cosmetic features that do not affect their lethality — was plainly irrelevant to the Virginia Beach shooting, the perpetrator of which, like most mass shooters, used ordinary handguns.
The Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence was more specific, urging Congress to pass a bill that would prohibit firearm sales unless they involve federally licensed dealers, who are legally required to conduct background checks. But according to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, the Virginia Beach killer bought his weapons legally, meaning he either passed a background check or would have, which is typically true of mass shooters.
Hillary Clinton, the Democratic Party’s 2016 presidential nominee, noted that the killer used “silencing equipment,” which she thinks demonstrates the folly of loosening restrictions on such accessories. “The sound of gunfire can save lives,” she said.
So-called silencers, aka suppressors, do not eliminate “the sound of gunfire.” On average, they reduce the noise generated by a .45 ACP pistol (the kind used in Friday’s attack) from around 157 decibels to something like 127 decibels, which is still louder than a siren or a thunderclap. It’s not surprising, then, that “most law enforcement experts say” the Virginia Beach shooter’s suppressor “likely had no bearing on his ability to kill so many people in so little time,” as the Associated Press noted.
The perpetrator of last week’s attack also used “extended magazines,” although police have not specified their capacity. A bill that would have imposed a 10-round limit on magazines died in the Virginia Legislature last January, and Feinstein has proposed the same limit at the federal level.
As switching magazines takes a couple of seconds, the significance of having to do it more often while attacking unarmed people is debatable. But if having more than 10 rounds in a magazine sometimes matters in such cases, that is even more likely to be true for someone defending himself against armed attackers.
When states impose limits on magazines, current and retired police officers always insist that legislators make exceptions for them. They clearly recognize that larger magazines have legitimate defensive uses; they just don’t think ordinary citizens deserve the advantage they demand for themselves.
In April, a federal judge concluded that California’s 10-round magazine limit “places a severe restriction on the core right of self-defense of the home such that it amounts to a destruction of the right and is unconstitutional under any level of scrutiny.” For advocates of “commonsense gun safety laws,” the Second Amendment is just another detail they would prefer to ignore.