Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) produced an impressive display of rifles in her Capitol Hill office last week.
They looked quite menacing despite exhibiting virtually no functional differences when compared with dozens of other popular rifles.
The weapons Sen. Feinstein discussed are already banned in Washington, where she staged her event, as well as in many other cities such as Chicago.
And yet these laws have done little to stop violent crime in these places, because the overwhelming majority of gun murders are committed with standard handguns.
The FBI does not keep statistics on homicides involving what the left calls â??assault weapons,â?ť a term invented to convince the public that the guns referred to are machine guns. The Bureau does, however, report that rifles were used in just 3.7 percent of gun homicides in 2011. (â??Assault weaponsâ?ť are typically rifles.)
But more than 70 percent of gun homicides involve handguns.
So when banning a fraction of rifles, which are used in a small fraction of murders, fails to stop the violence, the left will predictably rediscover that it is necessary to put more restrictions on handguns — which several cities attempted to ban outright, with no positive results, before the Supreme Court ruled it unconstitutional.
CNNâ??s Piers Morgan more or less conceded this desire when I was on his show last week when he was unable to draw a distinction between his rationale for banning â??assault weaponsâ?ť and the leftâ??s historically documented urge to ban handguns.
We are correct to fear incrementalism when the burden of proof in the debate shifts from legislators convincing the people that a law can accomplish its proper aim, to the people having to persuade legislators that they should be permitted to keep certain weapons.
The left has grown fond of asking why Americans need more than 10 bullets in a magazine, or why we need the particular guns they call â??assault weapons.â?ť
But they donâ??t ask themselves the inverse of that question: Do mass shooters â??needâ?ť high capacity magazines, or rifles with certain cosmetic styling, in order to commit their crimes?
Of course not. The deadliest mass shooter in U.S. history, who killed 32 people at Virginia Tech in 2007, used two handguns and a backpack full of 10 round magazines.
One of the Columbine shooters carried 13 10 round magazines with him.
There is no evidence that reloading frequency makes a significant difference in mass shootings as long as those youâ??re attacking are unarmed.
Appearing on a Sunday show last weekend, we were asked what if, hypothetically, the Connecticut shooter had walked into the school â??with a baseball batâ?ť?
Notice that we were not asked, â??What if a school security guard had only had a gun?â?ť (Incidentally, according to the FBI, blunt objects like baseball bats killed 50 percent more people in 2011 than did rifles.)
Feeling the need to â??do somethingâ?ť after a tragedy like the one that occurred at Sandy Hook is certainly understandable. But we shouldnâ??t pass laws that punish law-abiding citizens, fail to deter or prevent crime, and do nothing to make us safer.
If we can win this debate, maybe the left will get around to asking why so many people are shooting each other in Chicago and Los Angeles, rather than obsessing over which particular guns theyâ??re using to do it.