In January, California Senator Dianne Feinstein introduced Senate Bill 66, called the Assault Weapons Ban of 2019, with a subtitle that further details the intent: 

“To regulate assault weapons, to ensure that the right to keep and bear arms is not unlimited, and for other purposes.”

To be clear, when Senator Feinstein refers to “ensuring that the right to keep and bear arms is not unlimited,” she isn’t talking about restricting people’s right to unusual armaments, or those that are only legally used by members of the US Armed Forces. She is talking about the most common rifle platform owned by ordinary law-abiding citizens, the AR-15.  The National Shooting Sports Foundation estimates there are 16-million AR-15-type modern sporting rifles owned by civilians in the US. 

Then on September 25th, The House Judiciary Committee held a hearing on “Assault Weapons and Gun Violence.” There is a great divide between those who believe that banning commonly owned firearms because some bad actors have use them for crimes is more important, and those who consider going after those criminals —regardless of their weapon of choice— is more important. Those on either side of the divide gave their impassioned opinions at this hearing.

Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler opened the hearing with statistics about the 1994 so-called “Clinton Assault Weapons Ban” that have been proven not to be accurate. A 2018 op-ed by the LA Times —no bastion of pro-gun policy support— debunks the idea that the 1994 ban reduced crime. It didn’t. The LA Times op-ed is titled, “The assault weapons ban didn’t work. A new version won’t, either.”

Nadler went on to say that the AR-15 is only used by killers to kill mass amounts of people. But that’s not accurate either.

Among the people testifying were two women who dispute Nadler’s claims: Amy Swearer a Senior Legal Policy Analyst with the Heritage Foundation, and Dianna Muller, a retired Tulsa, Oklahoma Police Officer and the Founder of The DC Project.

Swearer corrected the record to reflect that a full two-thirds of firearms deaths are suicides, regardless of the type of firearm. More than 90% of homicides using guns are committed with handguns. While neither of these statistics should be minimized —reduction of suicides and homicides should clearly be everyone’s goal— Nadler’s implication that a ban on AR-15s will reduce killings in disingenuous. In fact, Swearer pointed out that murder victims are four times as likely to be stabbed to death, as they are to be shot to death using a rifle. And over half of mass shootings use only handguns. Those are pertinent facts that should be a part of the conversation. 

Swearer also testified that semi-automatic rifles like the AR-15 are well-suited to be defensive, life-saving firearms. Millions of law-abiding people choose them for personal defense weapons. She related a story from earlier this month in Rockdale County, GA, when three armed and masked teens came on to a homeowner’s property and began shooting. The homeowner returned fire, killing the teens. When outnumbered by criminals 3-1, this homeowner was lucky to have an accurate rifle with enough ammunition capacity to protect himself and his family.

Swearer also referred to a story from 1992 when the overwhelmed LAPD was unable to protect all of the area residents during the LA riots. Many storeowners in Koreatown took self-defense in to their own hands and saved many of their businesses.

Then the committee members heard from Dianna Muller of Oklahoma. Muller described herself as an ordinary American and a dissenter of the proposed “assault weapons ban.” She retired after 22 years with the Tulsa Police Department to focus on her career as a competitive shooter. As the founder of The DC Project, Muller has organized women from all 50 states to help educate members of Congress on the rising numbers of women who are choosing firearms for self-defense. In contrast to women who have been victimized then lobby for gun control, Muller described DC Project members who have also endured unspeakable violence, and choose to fight for the right to choose firearms to protect themselves. 

Muller also said that her view is not well represented in mainstream media. Because she is smaller and less equipped to defend her life, a firearm is the great equalizer, and an AR-15 is her go-to home defense weapon.

In answer to a common question, “Why does anyone need an AR-15?” Muller answered with an analogy about shoes. She said, “You wouldn’t run a marathon in dress shoes and you wouldn’t go to a formal ball in sneakers. Each firearm has a specific purpose.” She uses an AR-15 for home defense, and her husband hunts with one. 

Muller learned as a member of the law enforcement community that criminals using guns in their crimes are frequently let off or receive lenient punishment. She suggested more strictly enforcing laws against criminals, as opposed to proposing more laws against the law-abiding. She also suggested that if people want to focus on real safety measures, they might support organizations that focus on actual safety.  One such organization she mentioned is Kids Safe Foundation, whose tag line is, “Zero Firearm Accidents is the Only Acceptable Goal.” Another organization is FASTER Saves Lives in Ohio (which also has a Colorado Affiliate, FASTER Colorado) that has trained thousands of armed school staff members across the country to save lives in the event of school violence.

If the goal of so-called gun safety legislation is to “do something” to reduce death and injury, then proposed legislation need to advance policies that have been documented to actually reduce violence.