One way some members of the gun-loving subculture try to keep their toys out of public debate is by demanding outsiders be fluent in gun lingo. The National Rifle Association's Wayne LaPierre tried this trick at his spectacular press conference in December, sneering, "The media calls semi-automatic weapons a 'machine gun.'" You do not need to know the physics of how armor-piercing bullets work to have an opinion about whether they should be legal for civilians to buy. But having a basic knowledge about how these guns work is a good thing. Here's a GIF guide to some of the weapons gun control advocates would like to see banned.
Ten gun-control bills were introduced in Congress last week, and California Sen. Dianne Feinstein is working on legislation that would ban "120 specifically-named firearms." A list of the rumored 120 has been circulating on gun sites. Feinstein hasn't released her actual list yet, though her aides say Bushmaster's AR-15 will be on it. Despite the public outcry over the Newtown massacre, it will probably be difficult to get the legislation passed. It's a big deal that even pro-gun Democrats are now calling for some gun control. There hasn't been much Republican support yet. Nevertheless, gun enthusiasts are buying up guns just in case. At Arms List, which is like a Craigslist for guns, one poster wrote under the headline "SERIOUSLY GUYS..."
The level at which a lot of you guys are price gouging is pretty embarrassing. If you're going to do it, at least do it with a better gun. Drastically marking up a lot of these, mediocre at best, ARs may be good for business but it is borderline pathetic. People too eager to take advantage of the media driven hysteria.
Here are some of the guns people want to ban and why.
The famous one lots of people want to ban: The AR-15. This is the weapon Adam Lanza used in the Newtown school shooting. It's the popular civilian knockoff of the U.S. military's M-16. Here's a GIF made from a cutaway animation on Bushmaster's site. For you gun n00bs, this is what semi-automatic means -- you pull the trigger, it shoots a round, and automatically reloads:
The AR-15 is very customizable, as you can see in this GIF, posted on a Pennsylvania Firearm Owners Association message board.
For the most part all those add-ons are primarily cosmetic (folding stocks, bayonet mounts, pistol grips, etc.), which is why some AR-15 enthusiasts like to call them Barbie Dolls for Men. But one of the ways the 1994 assault weapons ban determined whether a semi-automatic gun was an "assault weapon" or not was if it had a detachable magazine and could take two or more of these add-ons. (It also outright banned certain models, like the Uzi and TEC-9.) As the Violence Policy Center's Tom Diaz explained to WHYY's Terry Gross, that created a huge loophole in the ban that gun manufacturers could take advantage of:
The requirement that you have at least two of those meant that gun manufactures could say, "Aha, we can keep the ability to take the high capacity magazine and just knock off the rest of these bells and whistles [and] we still have essentially the same gun, ... but it's now federally legal." And that's what Bushmaster figured out. They actually rose to prominence after the 1994 semi-automatic assault weapons ban because they took off all the truly irrelevant bells and whistles and just produced a basic gun.
This emphasis on the gun cosmetics has also opened up a tactic for the NRA to attack gun bans: it's racist to ban guns because of how they look. Former NRA president Marion Hammer said said on an NRA-produced news show last week, "Well, you know, banning people and things because of the way they look went out a long time ago. But here they are again. The color of a gun. The way it looks. It’s just bad politics."
However, some customizations of the AR-15 do more than just make it look cool. As Slate's Justin Peters explained this week, there's even a simple and legal add-on that allows the AR-15 to fire 900 rounds a minute. Slide Fire Solutions makes a replacement rifle stock, the SSAR-15, that makes it possible to bump fire an AR-15 from your shoulder. What does all that mean? Bump firing is a way of firing faster by using the weapon's recoil, but it usually requires holding the weapon at your hip. (Still from an instructional video unearthed by Peters at right.) That makes it harder to shoot your target, because, despite what we've all learned from gangster movies, holding a gun the cool way sacrifices accuracy.
But the SSAR-15 lets you to simulate the fully automatic setting while holding the weapon at your shoulder, so you can aim and correct. It's so easy, even a grandma can do it, as a Slide Fire Solutions video shows. Granny is simulating the M-16's burst setting, which shoots three rounds at once.
The counter-terror weapon every civilian can own: The FN Five-seven. This is the gun that my gun-loving Army brother would ban. Why is it so dangerous? It doesn't look nearly as scary as the AR-15! The Five-seven has a lot of power and a lot of range because its rounds have such a high velocity. Its 5.7×28mm ammunition is small, which means its magazine can carry more rounds, and the velocity doesn't decrease as much as with larger rounds over a longer distance. Think of the bullet the Five-seven uses as being like Usain Bolt, and the 9mm round as a linebacker. Who would go fastest the longest?
As Diaz explained on public radio, "It was specifically designed for use by counterterrorism teams because it fires a very small but very high-velocity bullet that will penetrate body armor — what people call ballistic vests or bullet-proof vests." The Brady Campaign has called it a "cop-killer." But the armor-piercing version of its 5.7×28mm ammunition is not available for civilians, which you can find gun enthusiasts complaining about on message boards like The Firing Line: "For civilians, it's got a lot of capacity, little recoil, and is supposed to be accurate, but it's not going to serve the intended purpose of going through the thickly layered clothing or vests of bad guys. You can't have the ammo that does that." Nidal Hasan used a Five-seven in the 2009 Fort Hood shooting.
One reason the weapon gets less attention is that it's expensive -- the photo above right is from Bass Pro Shops, where it's selling for $1,219.99. You can find posters on gun message boards complaining that local gun shops rarely have the ammunition in stock.
The one we can't believe is legal: The .50 caliber sniper rifle. Why is it so dangerous? To state the obvious, the bullets are huge. It's classified as an anti-materiel rifle, instead of an anti-personnel rifle. That means it can cause serious damage to hard military equipment, not just soft human bodies. The .50 cal unleashes 13,000 ft/lbs of muzzle energy. By comparison, the AR-15 has 1,300 ft/lbs of muzzle energy. (The .50 cal is also available in bolt action.)
At right is a Barrett M82A1 for sale at Arms List for $11,000. This weapon is powerful enough to make troops say "Holy shit!" in this YouTube of one being fired in Iraq. It's big enough that guys like to post videos showing they can just fire the thing while kneeling or standing. (I like the GIF below because firing the weapon warps the video a little.)
Here's a video of a man shooting an iPhone 5 with an M82, because... well, I don't understand certain male subcultures entirely. But you can see the ammunition at work in this GIF.
There's no question that lots of law-abiding citizens love these guns. What's being questioned is whether their hobby -- and the really cool YouTubes it produces -- are worth the risk of some non-law-abiding crazy people getting their hands on them.