State Rep. Helena Moreno Calls for Assault Weapons Ban With Trite, Misleading Arguments

Louisiana State Representative Helena Moreno has penned an op-ed for the Times-Picayune in which she calls for the state to debate a ban on so-called “assault weapons” in the wake of the Parkland High School Shooting, in which 17 people by a former student armed with Smith & Wesson M&P 15 .223, a civilian rifle based on the AR-15.  Unfortunately, Moreno’s arguments are more of the same, tired dreck that we are used to hearing from anti-gun forces:

In the U.S. Congress, yet again, legislation to reauthorize an assault weapon ban was introduced in November. For months, senators in support have been calling for a hearing in the Judiciary Committee, but nothing.

We’ve all heard the common arguments against a ban: issues with defining the weapon, it’s not the sole solution, people can still get weapons illegally, focus on background checks and mental health, hunters and sports shooters enjoy these weapons, there’s already a massive supply, and (my favorite) it’ll never pass, so don’t even bother.

But, just because these arguments exist, should that shut down meaningful policy debate on whether there should be a ban on these weapons? Should we not examine how these arguments against compare to the arguments in support?

Moreno’s argument is superficially reasonable.  Who could argue against simply debating the issue? What is there to fear?

The problem with this line of reasoning is that the issue of an assault weapons ban has already been argued to death.  This is a well-worn trail, and the controversy is more fundamental than “issues with defining the weapon.”  The problem is that, at its core, “assault weapon” is little more than a species of political agit-prop.  It has nothing to do with rate of fire or overall lethality.  Legal definitions of “assault weapon” tend to name models of firearm directly and/or designate them categorically based on superficial characteristics, like a threaded barrel or a pistol grip.  The end result is that certain guns are banned based on trivial features, so that the ban is essentially one against scary looking guns.

Anybody who has performed even the most cursory research on the issue of assault weapons bans knows that the heart of the debate is whether “assault weapon” is a meaningful category at all.  This argument in featured in virtually every single opinion piece opposed to assault weapons bans.  Even Mayor Mitch Landrieu, who is certainly no friend to gun owners, has called the debate “[a] zero sum political fight about a symbolic weapon.”

If Moreno were really interested in engaging this issue, she would have the courage to actually define the class of weapons she proposes to ban.  If she wants to ban all semiautomatic rifles that accept a detachable magazine, she should say so.  That’s a radical, unworkable step and a nonstarter politically, but at least it points to a readily identifiable class of firearms.  Instead, Moreno’s column proceeds into the arena of outright mendacity.

Here in New Orleans, we know the carnage that assault weapons have left on our streets. According to crime analyst Jeff Asher, there were 11 incidents between 2010 to 2014 where multiple people were killed with assault rifles. Most recently, during Mardi Gras, five people were shot in the Ninth Ward by an assailant with an assault weapon. Two of the victims died.

I have found nothing to corroborate Moreno’s claim that the shooting on Mardi Gras in the Lower Ninth Ward in which five people were shot was committed by a single person using an assault weapon.  According to a police spokesperson, the shooting occurred when “multiple suspects opened fire on a car with five people inside.”  To my knowledge, no firearms have been recovered.  Perhaps Moreno knows information that hasn’t been released publicly, but this claim is highly suspicious.

Then, of course, we’re all familiar with the tragedies in Parkland, Orlando, Las Vegas, Newton and Sutherland Springs. All of these shooters used legally purchased AR-15 rifles (or a similar style rifle), which is a semi-automatic civilian version of the military’s M-16. The AR-15 is easy to hold and the standard magazine holds 30 rounds, according to a recent story by The New York Times titled “In Florida, an AR-15 Is Easier to Buy Than a Handgun.”

“Equipped in this way, a gunman can fire more than a hundred rounds in minutes,” the article reads. Unlike a typical handgun wound that causes lacerations to organs, this rifle, with its high velocity bullets, delivers devastating blows, according to a radiologist who treated Parkland victims. She was quoted by The Atlantic as saying that the organ of one of the victims looked like it had been “smashed by a sledge hammer.” In the same article, another victim is described to only have “shreds of the organ that had been hit.”

These weapons are made to kill many people very fast, and as seen in Las Vegas, with an AR-15 rifle, it can be done from a far distance.

Should the everyday civilian be able to buy this weapon? I think it’s worth the discussion. It’s clear that a ban isn’t the panacea to end mass shootings and gun violence in our country, but maybe it’s part of the solution. One thing is clear, shutting down policy debate over this issue won’t get us anywhere. The last time an assault weapon ban was considered in Louisiana was almost 10 years ago when now U.S. Rep. Cedric Richmond authored the legislation when he served as a state representative.

This is the meat of Moreno’s argument, and it’s pretty thin.  Moreno’s description of the AR-15 and its variants is not entirely accurate, and is ultimately highly misleading.  First of all, the standard magazine on the AR-15 actually held 20 rounds, not 30.  Granted, 30 round magazines are very common, especially for newer rifles based on the AR-15 platform, but a magazine is not an essential part of the firearm — it’s basically just stamped metal and a spring for pushing bullets into the chamber.  Magazines can be loaded in advance and changed out rapidly.  Even ordinary pistols can be outfitted with 30 round magazines, and standard police firearms currently use 15 round magazines.

Secondly, the description of wounds from the AR-15 is specious.  Moreno neglects to note that the AR-15 actually uses very low caliber ammunition, and that virtually all rifles use “high velocity bullets.”  The entire point of using a rifle (as opposed to a handgun) is greater power and accuracy.  Also, there is no “typical handgun wound.”  Depending on range, the caliber, and the type of ammunition used, performance vastly differs.  At close range (which is typical in mass shooting situations) a powerful handgun would probably do more damage than an AR-15.

Finally, Moreno incorrectly states that the AR-15 was designed “to kill many people very fast.”  This is simply a tired talking point from anti-gun groups.  I’m sure it plays well with focus groups, but it’s little more than inflammatory rhetoric.  In truth, the AR-15 was simply designed to be a rifle that balanced firepower with ease of use.  If the AR-15 had been designed for the purpose of going into a crowded room and killing as many people as possible, it would be heavier, fully automatic, belt fed, and have a higher caliber with a shorter barrel.  It would not be a particularly good military or SWAT weapon.

In short, because Moreno refuses to specify what exactly makes a particular firearm so uniquely dangerous that it qualifies as an “assault weapon” to be banned, she is left with ignorant statements.  The truth is, nothing about the AR-15 is uniquely dangerous.

I believe it’s time to have this policy debate again here in Louisiana and in Congress. For the 2018 Louisiana legislative session, I’ll be authoring legislation for a high capacity magazine and assault weapon ban. Rep. Terry Landry, who is the former superintendent of State Police and a U.S. Army veteran, has agreed to be my co-author.

We’re willing to listen to all sides of this issue and take recommendations into account. That’s what we as members of the Legislature were elected to do. Let’s schedule this bill, debate it, and most importantly, let’s allow the people of Louisiana to have a voice on where they stand. Maybe by confronting this head on, real and effective reform will emerge that could prevent someone’s son or daughter from being the next victim.

It sounds less like Moreno is interested in debate, and more likely she has made up her mind.  Thankfully, Moreno’s efforts are probably doomed to fail.

It should also be noted that, for people who carry guns for personal protection, magazine restrictions are certainly onerous.  It is little problem for a mass shooter or armed thief to bring along additional magazines or weapons when they plan their crimes.   By contrast, individuals with concealed-carry permits (armed solely to defend themselves if attacked) cannot be expected to be loaded for bear at all times.  A larger magazine is a simple way to improve their chances of successfully defending themselves.  Moreno would take that away.

This is consistent with Moreno’s proposal vis-a-vis “assault weapons.”  She is not considering measures that would make people safer.  She is considering measures that she believes might serve as a Trojan Horse for additional gun control laws.  After all, once we’ve agreed to these types of arbitrary restrictions, what basis is there to reject even more stringent measures?

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