So, in Alabama, it is currently legal to sell a Bushmaster sniper rifle, and as soon as the assault weapons ban ends in September it will be OK to sell an AK-47 or Uzi, but you would be guilty of a crime if you sell a vibrator to a consenting adult. I mean, if there were even one case of someone using a dildo to hold up a bank, at least there'd be some logic to the whole matter.
The reason it struck me is that it made me realize, again, how little most folks understand about how gun laws work, and about the gun laws we do have. The assault weapons ban being a case in point. So I figure a very brief explanation from your friendly neighborhood gun nut might be in order.
The first thing you need to know is that the assault weapons ban does not actually ban assault weapons.
Sounds crazy, I know. Stay with me!
An assault weapon is a battle weapon. That is, an assault rifle is capable of fully-automatic fire (when the trigger is depressed, the weapon continues to fire until the trigger is released or the magazine is empty). They've been illegal to possess for anybody without an expensive, hoop-jump-requiring federally-issued firearms license since the passage of the 1934 National Firearms Act, which did the same for sawed-off shotguns, silencers, that kind of thing.
So, if assault weapons are banned already, then what does the assault weapons ban actually, y'know, ban?
It shall be unlawful for a person to manufacture, transfer, or possess a semiautomatic assault weapon.
The problem is that "semiautomatic assault weapon" is an oxymoron. An assault rifle, by definition, is capable of firing full automatic -- which means that you can't ban the semiautomatic assault weapon and leave it at that, because there's no such thing. You have to actually define your new concept. Which is where things get silly.
Rifles fall under the ban if they have any two of the following: a folding stock, a pistol grip, a bayonet mount, a flash suppressor, and a grenade launcher. (Grenade launcher! you say. But those should be banned! Well, they are, effectively. They're for launching rifle grenades. Good luck getting those; they're highly regulated on their own.)
OK, what about pistols? You're in trouble if it has a detachable magazine and any two of the following: its magazine is longer than the grip, its barrel is threaded for screw-on attachments (silencers! you're thinking -- but remember, they're highly regulated as of 1934), there's a shroud on the barrel (so you can grip it when it's hot), it weighs 50 oz. or more unloaded, or it's the civilian (semi-automatic) version of a fully-automatic gun.
If your eyes haven't glazed over, maybe you've noticed one thing these regulations don't actually address.
How the gun shoots.
The assault weapons ban affects the manufacture and import of rifles and pistols that shoot just the same way as every other semi-automatic weapon in existence. They just look scary.
As one wag put it, it's sort of like banning red cars because they look fast. Or, given Alabama law, like banning vibrators that are purple and bumpy.
(And yes, I know how sad it is that I read the quote that started this whole thing off and my immediate reaction was, "that's not how the assault weapons ban works!" I'm a gun nut. That's how we think. It's almost like those folks I know who are so slash-keyed that they need to make a conscious effort sometimes to read actual text. Only, y'know, with more explosions and less porn.)