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Regulating the Right to Keep and Bear Assault Weapons

May 9, 2008

Back after a week of vacation in Europe, I returned home to find disturbing and increasingly more frequent news: a Philadelphia police officer was fatally shot by suspected robbers.  It is a sad commentary on today’s society when such criminals could take the life of a police officer in a cold blooded and calculated manner.  The only solace has been that the triggerman was later gunned down, and the other two perpetrators were also apprehended. 

This recent tragedy has renewed focus again on the issue of gun control.  The city recently passed a series of gun control laws, which include the limitation of handgun purchases to one a month, requiring lost firearms to be reported within 24 hours and outlawing the possession and sale of certain assault weapons.  Now, in the wake of Sgt. Stephen Liczbinski’s death,  the mayor, the governor and the police chief have called for the renewal of a federal assault weapons ban.  The weapon used by the criminals was a Chinese SKS assault rifle. 

It’s a particularly thorny issue.  Almost everybody acknolwedges that the new city laws directly contravene state law and are unconstitutional (the Second Amendment bars only Congressional action, not state bans on firearms or private interference with the ownership or use of guns).  Additionally, there has always been an issue of how well the laws can really be enforced.  And perhaps most notably, even if the city laws and federal assault weapon ban would have been in place, it is probable that the criminals still would have had access to the weapon through illicit means.  As the argument goes, gun control laws prevent only law abiding citizens from owning guns.  Still, the weapon used here was powerful enough to penetrate through bullet proof vests.  Most people would agree that civilians have no business possessing these types of weapons.   

The city should be applauded for its efforts (whether unconstitutional or not) to try to address a major problem, and Congress should take note of what the mayor and governor are advocating.  Perhaps some day, the disturbing trend of Philadelpha police officer deaths in the line of duty will cease.


14 Comments leave one →
  1. Gre Ree permalink
    May 9, 2008 3:44 am

    I agree that the murder of a police officer is tragic. However, you have a few facts wrong. The police officer wasn’t killed with an assault rifle. He was killed with a Chinese SKS rifle. An SKS rifle is no different than most hunting rifles. It doesn’t fire fully automatic. Pull the trigger once, and only one bullet comes out.

    Also, you said “Still, the weapon used here was powerful enough to penetrate through bullet proof vests.” A “bullet proof” vest is designed to stop most handgun bullets. Almost ALL rifle rounds will penetrate a vest. SKS rifles, as well as just about ALL rifles the news media classifies as “assault rifles”, aren’t particularly powerful. Most liberals want to ban them only because they look scary.

  2. John E. permalink
    May 9, 2008 4:27 am

    Gree Ree – thanks for the input, and I’ve updated the post slightly. The SKS is semiautomatic, but many, including the press, do refer to it as an “assault rifle” even though it technically doesn’t fit the definition of a modern assault rifle. Some bullet proof vests worn by the police can offer protection from common rifle shots, but most worn by the force are intended only for protection from handguns.

  3. John permalink
    May 9, 2008 7:10 pm

    The SKS is used as a hunting rifle in many states. The cartridge it fires is no more powerful than the 30-30 cartridge. Should your grandpa’s deer rifle be banned too?

    More importantly, I think it is a disgrace that any PA attorney, who has sworn to uphold and defend the US and PA Constitution would call for the enactment of laws which run counter to those Constitutions. Lynn Abraham, the Philadelphia DA has stated that the recently-enacted Philadelphia gun bans violate the PA Constitution and recent PA Supreme Court decisions and has stated that the DA’s Office will not enforce them. Yet, numerous PA attorneys, including those in the City’s law department, continue to insist that Philadelphia can enact gun control laws.

    “Most people would agree that civilians have no business possessing these types of weapons.”

    Who agrees with this? Maybe only your fellow gun-banners. If what you say is true, then answer these queries:

    (1) If these types of ugly guns, such as the SKS, have no “lawful purpose” and are “weapons of war”, as Mayor Nutter and Gov. Rendell have said numerous times, why does *every* gun ban *specifically* exempt the police? How can a firearm have no “lawful purpose” and be a “weapon of war” in the hands of a “civilian” yet have some use in the hands of the police? Why do the police need “weapons of war”? I though the purpose of the police was to protect and serve.

    (2) If these types of ugly guns can’t be used for self-defense in the hands of us “civilians” how can they be used for self-defense in the hands of the police?

  4. John E. permalink
    May 9, 2008 8:34 pm

    Actually, if you read my post, I don’t think I could be considered one of the “fellow gun-banners.” I looked at both sides of the issue and noted that the city is trying to actually address a problem rather than doing nothing. Now the method of addressing it may be unconstitutional and wrong, but at least they’re trying something. And the implication regarding civilians not having those types of weapons is to note that such weapons have a military purpose. Whether the police should have those weapons is a different story.

    Thanks for your input to the debate.

  5. John permalink
    May 10, 2008 4:55 am

    The police aren’t the military. The police are supposed to “serve and protect”. Why does the police need a gun that is a “weapon of war” and has “no lawful use”? Are you trying to say that the overriding goal of the police is to kill people? That they need accesses to these “killing machines”? Heck, why not just give street cops belt-fed machine guns and be done with it? That is what you’re saying, isn’t it?

    Also, why can’t us stupid, dumb “civilians” have a firearm that has a military purpose? Is that the standard now? Doesn’t this contradict the principal holding in US v Miller – that the 2nd Amendment protects firearms that have a “military purpose”? You’ve just banned 99% of the firearms out there – because most, if not all of them, have a “military purpose”. What makes the “military purpose” so bad? Is it because they are ugly? A Springfield 1903 has a “military purpose”, so does a Lee Enfield No. 4 MK1, Mauser K98, M1 Garand, Browning A5, Remington 1100, etc. Should all of these be banned too? How about a 1911 or a Remington 700? Both have “military purposes” too. Why stop with guns? Why not ban Jeeps because they are a “weapon of war” and have a “military purpose”? Come to think of it, so do cigarettes and, gosh, M&Ms. So, if I understand you correctly, a “civilian” should be prohibited from owning *anything* that has a “military purpose”?

    And, if you advocate banning firearms, even ugly-guns, I think it is fair to say that you are a gun-banner. That is the classic trick of the gun-control crowd – they’ll tell anyone who will listen that they don’t want to ban any guns, then turn around and call for gun bans, like you did in your post.

    PS – This isn’t a debate. It is a bunch of self-important politicians and their sycophants in the media baying at the moon for more gun bans and labeling anyone who dares to disagree as being an “extremist”. Remember what TIME magazine said back in the late 1980s? “The time for debate is over. Ban guns now.”

  6. John E. permalink
    May 10, 2008 11:01 pm

    I’m pretty sure you misinterpreted my post and comments. I never said anything about the police needing to have, what you term, “a gun that is a ‘weapon of war.'” My whole point was that the type of weapon has a military purpose and made no mention of the police needing those guns. So no, that’s not what I was saying.

  7. William permalink
    May 12, 2008 4:29 pm

    You, John E stated, “And the implication regarding civilians not having those types of weapons is to note that such weapons have a military purpose.” Why else would you say that other than to imply that “military purpose” = “unfit for civilian use”.

    You are engaging in the same tactics as other gun control supporters when confronted with logical fallacies. Deny it was said and change the subject.

    For the record, please answer these questions:

    (1) Do you support banning guns?

    (2) Should the police be treated the same as “civilians” when it comes to gun control laws?

    (3) Is the City of Philadelphia legally-permitted to pass gun control laws?

    And you keep harping on the City’s need to “do something”. May I suggest that they work to arrest all those with outstanding warrants and showing the same zeal when a police officer is involved in a crime as to when a normal, everyday “civilian” is involved in a crime.

  8. John E. permalink
    May 13, 2008 2:56 am

    I’m sorry William, I don’t have time to answer your interrogatories. And yes, believe it or not, there are certain things we civilians shouldn’t have that the military, or others in certain circumstances, should. Things like, oh, I don’t know, hand grenades? But I guess you could probably find a civilian use for them.

    Maybe the answer is, indeed, to better enforce the current laws or go after those with outstanding warrants or even to impose stricter sentences. The point is to “do something” rather than standing pat. Now, the city trying to pass its own gun laws is a violation of state law. There’s few who argue that. But at least the mayor isn’t just ignoring the problem like the prior administration. His first effort may be misguided but, if nothing else, it’s a start.

  9. May 21, 2008 7:27 pm

    There must be better gun control. Remember the horror at Virginia Tech? There is no justifiable reason for any American citizen to wield an automatic or semi-automatic weapon, unless he or she is a member of law enforcement or the armed services. The NRA and many right-wing members argue that every American citizen should have the right to own and carry guns because such a right is guaranteed by the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Yet, at no point does the Constitution suggest that the average individual off the street with no military training should be permitted to own a gun. The Second Amendment states only that, “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” So, it is clear that the authors of the Constitution intended the Second Amendment to be used to supply guns to the Army. Since the Second Amendment’s purpose is solely for national defense, it seems to me that individuals do not have the right to keep and bear arms for personal uses under the Constitution.

    I know we’re talking about a Philadelphia police officer who was killed. And he’s not the only one who was needlessly shot. Young people die everyday from gun wounds. How many more young people have to die by bullet before the rest of us, who can vote and have gained modicum of economic and political clout, get our act together and force our elected officials to put a stop to this insanity? Regardless of what gun rights groups say, guns kill. Statistics show that when the civilian population has easier access to guns, more teens and children die from gun wounds. For example, during a year when over 5,000 teens and children died from gun wounds in the U.S., in Great Britain, where gun ownership is very restricted, only 19 teens and children died from gun wounds.

    John, I agree Congress should take note of what the governor and mayor are advocating. I do hope that more of us get our act together. The problem is, of course, that the NRA and other gun rights groups (e.g., Gun Owners of America) wield such an enormous amount of influence in Washington. These gun rights groups have given more than $17 million in individual, PAC and soft money contributions to federal candidates and party committees (mostly to Republicans) since 1989, compared with nearly $1.7 million from gun control advocates (mostly to Democrats).

  10. John Lacey permalink
    May 31, 2008 1:34 am

    “I’m sorry William, I don’t have time to answer your interrogatories.”

    You have time to write your post, write about things that you can not support, but don’t have time to answer legitimate questions asked of you? Is it because you can not defend the things you have written about?

    Girlygirl, can you please tell us why guns are bad in the hands of us civilians, but ok in the hands of the police? Why can the police us a firearm for self-defense but I cannot? And, why did you label gun owners as being “right wing”? Is it easier for you to label people? There are plenty of people who self-identify as “progressive” who are firearm owners.

    Also, Girlygirl, are you saying that the word “people” means one thing in the 2nd Amendment, but means something else entirely in the rest of the Constitution? Is the term “people” in the 1st Amendment really referring to the government or to an individual? And the 4th Amendment really is about the government too, not individuals? How about the 5th Amendment? If you have not done so already, read the Federalist Papers to see how the Founding Fathers though about individuals owing firearms.

  11. John E. permalink
    May 31, 2008 3:42 pm

    Yes, Mr. Lacey, I have time to write my blog. No, Mr. Lacey, I’m not going to spend hours and hours answering every follow up question posed of me. That’s not how blogs work. You go ahead and find a blog on or other similar regional or legal sites that has anywhere near as much interplay between original blogger and the comments from this post. I write about things in this blog that I cannot support? Really? It seems to me that I referred to facts written in articles, noted the arguments on both sides and expressed some opinions. Last time I checked, opinions are just that. Heck, I even went beyond the call and clarified certain viewpoints I expressed. But you can go ahead and post your comments and criticisms (a comment at 1:34 a.m. on Friday night is very impressive, by the way). That’s fine. Just don’t expect an obligation from me or other bloggers to automatically respond. Time to move on to other topics.

  12. Mark permalink
    June 2, 2008 4:29 pm

    To John, John Lacey, William, Girlygirl, and John E,

    Good points on all sides, but I think this online debate only underscores the deep cultural differences in this country when it comes to the issue of gun control. The fact is: we already have gun control in this country. I don’t recall anyone driving a tank down Kelly Drive or building a bunker in Rittenhouse Square.

    The question about gun control must be set in a context if it’s going to make any sense at all. Living in an urban city, particularly in a poverty-stricken area, is much different than living in a rural community. I’ve lived in and worked in both; my gun-toting friends in York, Pa., and Montgomery, Al., are different than my peers in East Falls and center city. So are their communities. It can be argued (persuasively , I might add) that the gun control limits and laws currently on the books certainly disadvantage communities who do no have the resources to deal with the unintended consequences of relatively easy access to guns.

    Telling urban communities (who are dsproportionately and adversely affected by gun violence)–and who are disenfranchised already–to get with the program, to cut down on crime, to enforce the laws that already exist, to clean up their act, etc., is not effective in reducing the murder rate, even if we had hundreds of more police on the street. More must be done. We need to think outside of our own individual “crosshairs” or “targets,” so to speak. Raise our eyes and look across the aisle and look people in the eye. This is what John E’s original post was all about.

    Girlygirl also makes some good points: The Second Amendment has been used as a shield for years (by gun advocates) and everybody knows that the language was never meant to oversee, for perpetuity, ever-more-sophisticated gun technologies and the complexities of modern society.

    I commend the mayor for stepping up to the plate on this issue. For the record: Yes, I am anti-gun and all for keeping guns out of the hands of all kinds of people, including the police. What’s needed on this issue is less partisanship, more communication, and more collaboration. The pro-gun people, including the zealots (of which I have a few friends) and people like me have a lot in common: Nobody likes to see people die by bullet (well, nobody but the fierce right-wingers who are itching for tresspassers to step on their property).

    Seek a compromise that saves more lives without ripping bullet holes in the Constitution. Now that’s something I wish someone would blog about.

  13. Nate Bellows permalink
    June 13, 2008 6:41 pm

    Why is it that only the people who support firearms rights are asked to “compromise”? What kind of compromise are the gun-banners going to make?

    Also, why do you insist on using inflammatory terms such as “zealots” and “right-wingers” to refer to people who support the Second Amendment? How is using those terms going to take the “partisanship” out of this issue? From reading the various posts, only those who advocate banning firearms have resorted to using inflammatory names and labels. I wonder why that is?

  14. B Smith permalink
    June 18, 2008 7:01 pm

    Meh. You don’t have to answer here on the blog, we already know the answers:
    Why every study, EVERY one, that purports to show gun ownership increases violent crime has been thoroughly discredited. You can skew the data all sorts of ways, such as including people up to age 22 as ‘children’, or labeling self-defense shootings as ‘homicides’ (yes, technically they are, but the implication is clear.) In contrast, Prof. John Lott’s ‘More Guns, Less Crime’ has yet to be refuted.
    Why crime tends to DECREASE when right-to-carry laws are enacted by states and municipalities. I’m not sure where the ’19 teens and children (in Britain) killed with guns’ comes from, I’ve heard that before. However, I just saw a British ad declaring ‘9650 firearms offences…last year’ ( in the country that banned ALL firearms…how could this be? Aren’t the laws effective? Violent crime—rape, robbery, murder— has skyrocketed, and they are now pushing to ban KNIVES. I am not kidding.(Great comment from a British subject—“How often do you really need a knife, anyway?”) It is so bad that British Olympic shooters cannot legally practice their sport in their own country !! I guess with the looming knife ban, Olympic fencing is next.
    Why mainstream media here in the States refuse to even mention that a crime was prevented or stopped by someone with a gun, while criminal/negligent gun use gets first-sentence mention, if not the headline. According to the AP, apparently the ONLY possible use of a firearm is for some nefarious, criminal purpose. At one highly publicized school shooting, a teacher ran to his truck OFF-CAMPUS to retrieve a gun and stop the killing. Is it too much of a stretch to suppose that fewer people would have been killed by the shooter if this teacher had had his firearm immediately available? Or, that he might not have been able to kill in the first place?
    God forbid it, but I think that a lot of people will have to become victims before their thinking changes. There’s a great saying, “when seconds count, the police are only minutes away”. Criminals don’t usually strike where their plans might be readily thwarted by (armed) police. Also, are you aware that the Supreme Court has ruled that police are “under no specific obligation to provide protection to an individual”? They don’t HAVE to answer your cries for help. In the case of the Columbine shootings, police set up a perimeter around the school and waited as Harris and Klebold continued killing students inside. And when they had killed enough, it wasn’t the police that stopped them—they committed suicide. This is not intended as a condemnation of police—it’s wrong to COMPEL anyone to risk his or her life for someone else. How then, is it right for me to be COMPELLED to rely on others for my safety and security? I’m not demanding that you rush out and buy a gun, just asking you not to force me to relinquish my rights. You may believe whatever you want about guns, but what right do you have to deny me my property and enjoyment when I have committed no crime?

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