Why Semi-Automatic Rifles Should Be Banned

Semi-Automatic rifles are a favored weapon by mass shooters and terrorists. Let us look at the case for banning them.

I am a pragmatist. Whether semi-automatic rifles should be banned in your country or not depends, I think, on how frequent mass shootings and terrorist attacks happen and how important a role semi-automatic rifles play.

However, if you look at the US, they have been involved in pretty much every mass shooting in the US in the last years. One of the most favored semi-automatic rifles is the AR-15.

To get a sense of how dangerous these guns are, consider this: In 2011 the right-wing terrorist Anders Behring Breivik blew up the government building in downtown Oslo, Norway where I live. There were blown out windows and glass all over downtown wherever I walked for days afterwards. Yet this massive car bomb only killed about 8 people. It was a whole van filled with explosives.

In contrast, with his automatic-rifle, he managed to kill 70 people on the island of Utøya. We have seen the same with other terrorist attacks over the last years. Guns tend to kill a lot more people than bombs.

Breivik did not need a fully-automatic gun to kill 70 people. A semi-automatic rifle lets you fire quite rapidly. With full automatic, you don’t have much control anyway. About 23 years ago, I served in the Norwegian armed forces in the Royal guard and was issued an assault rifle. We trained very little on using fully automatic fire. We generally discouraged from doing so, except for cover fire. And I understand why. I know that when I fired on fully automatic it was really hard to control the weapon and hit anything. Rapidly pulling the trigger manually gives you far better control.

Bump Stock to Fully Automatic Rifles

The difference between semi-automatic and fully-automatic is minimal as you can very easily convert a semi-automatic AR-15 rifle to a fully automatic one. All you need is a bump-stock. If you don’t know what that is, you can see this demonstration of adding a bump-stock to an AR-15.

Okay, I know you are going to tell me: “But bump-stocks have been banned!” Except that is almost of symbolic significance. Bump-stocks are easily 3D printed and fitted on an AR-15. This is what it looks like:

Here is a demonstration by Braxen McConnell of how this works. As you can see, this works very well. How are you supposed to stop criminals and terrorists from printing a piece like this?

Bans on Semi-Automatic Rifles Have Historic Precedence

In the US, talks of banning semi-automatics will certainly produce a lot of noise about 2nd amendment rights. But this is not a new thing. The US has had bans against semi-automatic rifles on many occasions. The history news network has a story: Guns Were Much More Strictly Regulated in the 1920s and 1930s than They Are Today.

Back in the 1920s before much federal law enforcement existed, at least 27 states enacted strict gun laws. Here is an example of such a gun law:

Minnesota’s 1933 law outlawed “Any firearm capable of automatically reloading after each shot is fired, whether firing singly by separate trigger pressure or firing continuously by continuous trigger pressure.” It went on to penalize the modification of weapons that were altered to accommodate such extra firing capacity.

In 1994, Bill Clinton enacted the Federal Assault Rifle Ban, which was in effect for 10 years. It is important to not get hung upon the word “Assault Rifle.” That means a gun where you can switch magazines and which gives you a choice of how rapid you want to fire the gun. Despite the name, this was in fact a ban on semi-automatic rifles and large capacity magazines:

The ban tried to address public concerns about mass shootings by restricting firearms that met the criteria for what it defined as a “semiautomatic assault weapon,” as well as magazines that met the criteria for what it defined as a “large capacity ammunition feeding device.”

How the US Assault Rifle Ban Enabled Norwegian Terrorism

For us in Norway, this expiration of the assault rifle ban in the US had deadly consequences. Large magazines were banned in Norway for obvious reasons. Norwegian authorities made a slip-up by not paying attention to the fact that the US assault rifle ban expired and high capacity magazines once again were put on sale in the US.

Breivik was only able to get hold of a small-capacity magazine for his semi-automatic in Norway. But the American Assault Rifle ban expiration gave him access to large capacity magazines in the US.

Any Semi-Automatic is Potentially Dangerous

There is a tendency to focus on tactical looking rifles, but the reality is that any semi-automatic rifle can be turned into a mass murder weapon. The gun that Breivik used was a Ruger Mini-14 — legal in Norway due to the popularity of hunting. This may look innocent, but with a high capacity magazine it can kill a lot of people.

In Norway, these guns remained legal after the terrorist attack because the weapon laws were not deemed a key contributor to the massacre. The import of high capacity magazine loophole was, of course, closed.

However, times are changing. Now almost anyone can 3D-print high capacity magazines and bump-stocks. Making semi-automatic rifles widely available thus becomes a danger. That is why Norway in 2019 passed a law banning semi-automatic rifles. Owners were given 3 years to get rid of their guns: 900 nordmenn rammes — får tre år på å bli kvitt disse våpnene.

Politics of Gun Ownership and Rights in Norway

While this is not of significant importance to this story, I thought foreign readers might potentially be interested in knowing something about how the gun debate works in Norway. From the US, we are accustomed to gun rights uniting the political right while the left are the opponents.

In Norway, it is actually not like that at all. In Norway, it was the Conservative party which took the initiative to ban these weapons. The only party loudly protesting this ban was what directly translated would be called the Centre Party in Norway. However the Centre party is a left-of-centre party. They will usually govern in coalition with social democrats and socialists. Not what an American would expect from gun advocates, I suppose.

So what kind of party is this? It is an agrarian party representing the interests of farmers, fishermen and people living far out in the provinces in small towns and villages. To be clear, there is no such thing as village in Norway, but I don’t know of any English word for the Norwegian concept of “bygd.” Naturally they also represent interests of hunters or anyone harvesting from nature. Like the American Republican party, they are very anti-elitist, especially educated liberal elites like Republicans. But they differ in some key ways. They are not big fans of capitalism at all. It does not mean they are socialists, but they tend to dislike big business and billionaires.

Anyway, that was a tangent. Let me get back to the main topic.

How Will I Hunt or Protect Myself Without a Semi-Automatic?

Lots of people use semi-automatic rifles for hunting, also in Norway. So what are their options after a ban? Do you have to give up hunting? Of course not!

You can still buy lots of great rifles for hunting in Norway. Below is one example of a rifle you can buy with a 10-round magazine. But what if somebody puts a large magazine in it? No problem, this is not a semi-automatic rifle, but bolt action. You need to manually reload it.

Of course, for home defense you would want the ability to easily fire multiple shots. But you don’t need a semi-automatic for that. In fact, revolvers are frequently preferred as they are more reliable and less likely to jam or misfire.

In short, even if we ban semi-automatic weapons, that does not mean you are out of options with respect to hunting, recreational shooting or self-defense.

If somebody claims that they absolutely must have a large capacity semi-automatic for self-defense or hunting, then I challenge them to make the case in the comment field below.

Other Aspects of the Gun Debate

Of course, there are many other sides to the gun debate that I have not touched upon here but which I have written about earlier.

Geek dad, living in Oslo, Norway with passion for UX, Julia programming, science, teaching, reading and writing.

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