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I Didn't Have To Use My AK

Back in my pre-shrill days, and especially when I was surrounded by very bright but typically underinformed leftwing college students I spent a lot of time trying to clear the brush of liberal argumentation, so in that spirit I'm going to risk the wrath of the Almighty Atrios and say that I find Pie's worry that terrorists will acquire assault weapons by the boatload (literally) and kill us all to be uncommonly silly. The differences between banned assault weapons and many non-banned cognate guns are quite small. We could argue 'till the cows come home as to whether these differences mean anything at all, but they certainly aren't major enough that the make-or-break decision for al-Qaeda as to whether or not to unleash a hail of bullets on the American people is going to hinge on the renewal or non-renewal of the assault weapons ban.

Given that under the current gun regulation regime it's not especially hard to acquire deadly firearms in America, I think it's safe to conclude that the reason we haven't seen terrorists shooting up shopping malls is the same as the reason we haven't seem them launch a wave of suicide bombings: The recruits don't exist. Whether by bomb or by gun, these sorts of attacks simply don't kill very many people (every death is a tragedy, every attack an outrage, etc.) so to make them work you need to be able to produce a fairly steady drip, drip, drip of violence. What you lose in spectacularity you make up in seeming ubiquity -- people wind up dying not just in major cities and landmarks but here, there, and everywhere demoralizing the population and wrecking the economy. Al-Qaeda (whatever "al-Qaeda" means nowadays, which is somewhat hard to make out in light of its decentralization/metastasization) clearly doesn't have the requisite number of footsoldiers and/or North American organizational capacity to do it.

For liberal criticism of the conventional crime control case for the assault weapons ban see me, Kleiman, and me again. For the record, I think the AWB is both bad policy, bad politics, and extraordinarily trivial as a substantive matter, especially in light of its extremely high political salience.

September 10, 2004 | Permalink

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