By Mark Houser
It’s a common trope of American political discourse: a politician will emphatically declare his respect for the Second Amendment. He will deny that he’s “coming for your guns.” After all, he knows that gun-grabbing is unpalatable to many Americans.
But, in his very next breath, he’ll backpedal a bit — surely, civilians don’t need and ought not possess “military” firearms, those notorious “weapons of war.” And…well, yes, he will come for those guns.
Clearly, the politician believes that there is a real, categorical distinction between military and civilian firearms. Many American voters do, too. Moreover, they think this distinction somehow matters.
There are two problems with that perspective.
First, in all of American history, there has never been any substantial distinction between military and civilian firearms. Rather, there has always been tremendous overlap of guns used by the military and guns used by civilians.
Civilian weapons are routinely adopted by the military and vice-versa. Firearm features and characteristics are neither intrinsically “military” nor “civilian.” Consider the iconic photograph of Malcolm X with his M1 carbine — is that a military firearm or a civilian firearm? Obviously, it’s both, and many of the same characteristics that made the carbine militarily useful also made it useful to civilians.
Second, of course an artificial distinction can be constructed by legislatively defining certain weapons or particular features/characteristics as “military.” That’s what “assault weapons” bans and similar laws attempt to do.
But such a constructed distinction ought not matter anyway: American civilians have a right to own military arms. Existing and proposed laws to the contrary are blatantly unconstitutional — the Second Amendment isn’t about duck hunting or target shooting.
Please keep both points in mind whenever you hear a politician speak of this distinction as if it’s real or somehow meaningful. At best, it’s ignorant. At worst, it’s deliberate obfuscation or deception for the sake of political gain.
This article was originally published at marklivesthings.medium.com and is reprinted here with permission.