One of the most frustrating things about the rhetoric from the gun control lobby is that they either ignorant of current gun law and the capabilities of legal firearms or they are intentionally misleading the public.  This campaign of misinformation is employed to advance the lobby’s efforts to deny the law-abiding public their civil right to gun ownership.

Retired Army General Stanley McChrystal appeared on MSNBC’s Morning Joe promoting his book, My Share of the Task.  When prompted by Mika Brezinski to comment on gun control, he said:  “I spent a career carrying typically either a M-16, and later a M-4 carbine.  And a M-4 carbine fires a .223 caliber round, which is 5.56 millimeters, at about 3,000 feet per second. When it hits a human body, the effects are devastating. It's designed to do that. That's what our soldiers ought to carry.”

McChrystal’s comment is absolutely irrelevant to the current gun control debate, yet it has been seized upon by gun grabbers as proof that AR-15—the gun used by Adam Lanza in the Newtown, CT mass shooting–is an evil gun that should be banned for civilian use..  However, the AR-15, one of the most popular guns owned in America, is NOT the same gun used by our military.

Frankly, I am surprised and appalled that a retired four-star general does not know the difference between military rifles and rifles legal for civilian ownership.  I certainly hope Gen. McChrystal reads this post and educates himself on the differences between these two types of firearms. 

The guns that McChrystal used in the Army were machine guns, a specific category of gun defined in federal law that is either capable of a three-round burst, or fully automatic in the case of an M-4A1.  Under current federal law, neither of these is available for purchase at your local sporting goods store.   The M4 carbine has a 14.5 inch barrel, and federal law requires prior approval from, and registration with, the BATFE to purchase a rifle with a barrel length of less than 16 inches.  Both rifles are select-fire, or can fire more than one round with a single pull of the trigger, and are unavailable to the public. 

The National Firearms Act of 1934 heavily regulated the sale of machine guns, and requires registration with the BATFE, an extensive background check, payment of an excise tax, and approval from both the BATFE and local law enforcement for a civilian to even own one.  The Firearms Owners Protection Act of 1986 makes it illegal to own any machine gun manufactured after 1986, and only allows ownership of those machine guns that were registered with the BATFE prior to 1986.  Because availability of these guns is so rare, the price for the "cheapest" of these weapons–outdated curio pieces–is well over $10,000.

The effect of these laws means that machine guns are simply unavailable to almost all private, law-abiding individuals because they are both scarce and transfer of ownership heavily regulated. Current federal law provides a 10-year sentence and $250,000 fine for a person violating any of the barrel-length or automatic weapon registration requirements.

Secondly, the .223 round is unremarkable as far as bullets go.  While McChrystal throws out some impressive-sounding numbers about grain weight and velocity, the 5.56mm/.223 round used by AR-15 (as well as the M-16 & M-4) is not an omnipotent bolt of lightning – far from it.  The .223 round is considered inhumane to use against deer and prohibited as a hunting round in many states (Virginia among them).  The fact is, any bullet that moves faster than you can throw a stone is potentially lethal to human beings.

Unfortunately, McChrystal’s comments cloud the issues of the gun control debate.  He played right into the hands of the gun control lobby, who has a deliberate interest in misinforming the public and confusing the debate about guns.  As Josh Sugarmann of the Violence Policy Center put it:

“The weapons’ menacing looks, coupled with the public’s confusion over fully automatic machine guns versus semi-automatic assault weapons–anything that looks like a machine gun is assumed to be a machine gun–can only increase the chance of public support for restrictions on these weapons.” 

The concept of “assault weapon,” is entirely superficial, and designed to facilitate the banning of ordinary firearms based solely on their cosmetic similarity to machine guns.  Furthermore, the “AR” in AR-15 does not mean “automatic rifle” or “assault rifle.”  AR refers to Armalite, the company that initially designed the weapon.

There is a big difference between automatic and semi-automatic. The AR-15, which was used by Lanza, is not a machine gun.  It is, however, a semi-automatic rifle, which means that only one bullet is fired for each pull of the trigger, the casing for that bullet ejected, and a new round chambered and ready for the next pull of the trigger—a capability that is common to most handguns, rifles, and shotguns owned in America.  Lanza used a garden-variety rifle and reloaded multiple times, firing less than the 30 rounds in each magazine before reloading. 

Lanza had 20 minutes to wreak havoc on unarmed, defenseless adults and children before police arrived.  With that much time, he could have achieved that level of carnage with any common firearm – revolver, pump-action shotgun, or lever-action rifle. 

McChrystal took an oath to support and defend the Constitution, which includes the Second Amendment.  With his misleading comments, he is offering cover to people who deliberately confuse the facts about guns in their attempts to deny citizens those rights protected by the Constitution.

The bottom line is that guns are used for lawful self-defense every day. Sadly, they also used for illegal violence every day.  But enacting laws that further restrict or ban law-abiding citizens’ access to firearms does nothing to address violent crime.  It merely disarms the good guys.