On multiple occasions in recent weeks, Vice President Joe Biden advised people who want to defend their homes against intruders to purchase a double-barrel shotgun. He alleged no villain would be foolish enough to confront someone armed with such a weapon and no civilian would need more for protection.
In attempting to defend the administration’s stance against guns labeled as assault weapons, he demonstrated ignorance about guns, about mass shootings and about the Second Amendment.
There is no question that a properly outfitted shotgun can be a superb defensive weapon and a devastating assault weapon. In fact, they have the potential to be far deadlier than the weapons listed in proposed bans.
Instead of the double-barreled version Biden suggests, a better alternative would be a pump action that holds up to eight rounds. A 12-gauge, 3 ½ inch shotshell with number 4 buckshot holds up to 54 .24 caliber pellets. That means eight shots would deliver 432 projectiles. With an effective range out to about 45 yards, such a weapon could create a massive swath of destruction.
In short-range conditions, this shotgun would probably be a much more effective weapon than the AR-15-type assault weapons that have drawn attention from anti-gun groups and left-wing politicians. These military-type weapons are singled out because of their firepower and lethality. Yet an AR-15 with two 30-round clips would deliver just 60 projectiles of .223 caliber and would likely take longer to fire than the shotgun mentioned above.
The selection of AR-15-type weapons by some crazed shooters is likely as much about availability as it is about an intentional desire for lethality.
AR-15s and other similar rifles are popular for several reasons:
- Their small caliber and relatively light loads means they offer little recoil;
- They are easy to operate and shoot;
- Their design easily adapts to different configurations and accessories;
- Ammunition is relatively cheap and readily available;
- They closely resemble the M16 used by the U.S. military since 1963.
That last point is important, because Americans have long had an affinity for the weapons selected for our military usage. And in many cases throughout our history, civilians owned weapons superior to those issued to the military.
During the Revolutionary War, the personal rifles militiamen brought to battle were far more accurate and deadly at longer ranges than standard military muskets. During and after the Civil War the U.S. government provided troops cumbersome, single-shot rifles long after many civilians switched to repeating rifles that offered greater firepower.
In World War II and the Korean War the U.S. military provided troops with variations of the M1, a semi-automatic rifle that fired a 30.06 round. Not coincidently, the 30.06 became the most popular caliber in the world. A vast array of civilian rifles use the 30.06 round.
A 30.06 bullet is much bigger and heavier than the current military .223 bullet. The 30.06 is far more lethal and accurate at longer ranges than the .223. In fact, when the military first adopted the M-16 in .223 caliber many experts criticized it as too light and small to be an effective killing round. Its practical effective range is generally limited to 300 yards or less.
For those reasons, the .223 caliber is rarely used for hunting big game animals like deer or elk. Many states ban its use for hunting large animals. Utah law allows big game hunters to use a .223 round with an expanding bullet, but most hunters opt for larger calibers and more power.
The pro-gun control argument that people don’t need assault-style weapons for self protection or hunting presumes that those are the only legitimate reasons for owning guns. There are, however, million of Americans who enjoy shooting as a recreational activity. People don’t need to drink alcohol. People don’t need cars that go 100 miles per hour. People don’t need downhill skiing. The Bill of Rights does not specifically protect any of those activities. Each is dangerous. Yet they are permitted because this is a nation that respects all kinds of freedoms. Our government is founded upon a belief that the majority of people are inherently good.
The terms “amok” and “berserk” are used in English to describe situations or individuals out of control. The words have Malaysian and Norse origins and originally referred to people who went on killing sprees. Both words have been around for centuries.
England has strict laws that severely limit gun access. Yet in the 1987 Hungerford massacre Michael Ryan killed 16 people and wounded 15 others before committing suicide. Australia also has rigorous gun control laws, but in 1996 Martin Bryant killed 35 people and wounded 21 before police stopped him.
The first mass school shooting in the United States occurred on July 26, 1764. Four American Indians in Greencastle, Pennsylvania shot a teacher and 10 students. Given the date, the weapons were likely single shot muzzle-loading muskets.
The recent shooting in Connecticut occurred in spite of a state ban on assault weapons. A national ban on assault weapons did not prevent the Columbine massacre. The shooter in the Trolley Square spree killings in Utah used a shotgun and handgun.
Proximity to specific types of weapons is not an inducement to murder. Banning a class of weapons will not deter crazy people who go berserk or amok. Men with explosives, men with swords, and even men using vehicles have committed mass killings.
The cartridge in the middle of this image is a .223, the round fired by most assault-type weapons that gun control advocates want to ban. The shell at left is a 30.06, the round used by the U.S. in WWII and probably the most common round used for big game hunting worldwide. At right is a 2 3/4-inch 12-gauge shotgun round loaded with buckshot.