Firearms Discussion (Part V): 'Reasonable' or 'Sensible' Firearms Policies?
President Obama routinely promotes his firearms policies with the adjectives “reasonable” or “sensible,” and he probably believes quite sincerely that his proposals are just that. Implicit in such adjectives, however, is that those who disagree with him (including, I suppose, the framers of the National Firearms Act of 1934 or the Gun Control Act of 1968) are un-reasonable or non-sensible. Some of the president's proposed policies, however, are not evidently “reasonable” or “sensible.”
Consider, for instance, the proposals to limit firearms magazines to 10 rounds. Here, there are at least three considerations that weaken the president's claim that his proposals are “reasonable.”
First, why the magic number 10? Who was it that determined that nine rounds are too few, 11 are too many, and 10 are just right? Would 11 or 12 rounds be unreasonable? Was the number not chosen for the sake of mere political expediency? Surely the president knew that if he had chosen “zero” as the magic number, the legislative prospects would have also been zero But why is a 10-round magazine “reasonable,” whereas a 12-, 15-, or 20-round magazine unreasonable?
Second, does the president not know that even a moderately skilled shooter can change magazines so quickly that it makes little practical difference? Magazines for the AR-15 series (one of the specific weapons targeted by the Obama administration) can be exchanged extremely quickly; in one particular YouTube video, the entire video takes 12 seconds, and there are several “blank” seconds before and after the exchange, as an individual fires seven rounds from three different magazines in about seven seconds. Any man standing in front of this shooter would neither care nor notice whether he was shot an equal number of times in seven seconds from one “unreasonable” magazine or from three “reasonable” ones.
Further, these magazines can easily be attached to one another in tandem; many shooters pair them this way. When one is emptied, it is removed and the other, tandem magazine, is quickly inserted, in less than a second or two. In a mass shooting, the brief time taken to change magazines is of no practical consequence; the action can be done without removing the firearm from the shoulder, and without losing one's sight-picture. It is not “reasonable” or “sensible” to think that two 10-round magazines are less lethal than a single 20-round magazine.
Third, what is considered “reasonable” is situation-specific. If a sheep farmer in western Pennsylvania is protecting his flock from feral dogs, wolves, or coyotes, it is much more convenient to have a single, large-capacity magazine in his rifle than to carry several additional magazines that he must keep with him at all times. Why would it not be “sensible” or “reasonable” for him to use a large-capacity magazine to drive off or kill such predators? If there were a dozen wolves, would it be “sensible” to shoot 10 of them, and let the other two kill his sheep?
Similarly, if the sheep farmer's brother were defending his family against looters, would it be “unreasonable” to have a large-capacity magazine inserted in his weapon? Would it be “sensible” to defend his home and family against the first 10 looters (assuming unreasonably perfect accuracy with each round) and to permit the next 20 looters to overrun the place? Why is it un-reasonable to defend one's home against all of the looters? Suppose it were only three looters? Would 10 rounds be sufficient? Firearm wounds are not often or immediately fatal; many soldiers have survived multiple gunshot wounds. The survivors of the Virginia Tech tragedy averaged over two-and-a-half wounds each. Presumably, the non-survivors were wounded even more frequently. If we assume even a ballpark estimate that it takes three or more hits (and we cannot “reasonably” assume that shooters never miss) to stop an assailant, is it “reasonable” to permit people to defend themselves effectively from only two or three assailants? And is it “unreasonable” to permit them to defend themselves against three or more?
A “reasonable” or “sensible” person may assume two realities – of which television, movies, and possibly the president of the United States are completely unaware: that shooters do not hit their intended targets 100 percent of the time, and that it normally takes multiple gunshot wounds to stop or even slow down an assailant (whether animal or human). On the basis of these two realities, the same “reasonable” individual would realize that, effectively, a 10-round magazine permits the individual to defend himself against, at most, two assailants, whether they be feral dogs, wolves, coyotes, or looters. Why is it “reasonable” to defend oneself against two such assailants, and “unreasonable” to defend oneself against more than two?
Editor's note: This is Part V in a five-part series on the topic of firearms. See Parts I, II, III, and IV below:
T. David Gordon, Ph.D., is a professor of religion and Greek at Grove City College and a contributing scholar with The Center for Vision & Values.