SID SALTER: Argument over semi-automatic weapons self-defeating

By Sid Salter

STARKVILLE – Nationally, the debate over automatic and semi-automatic weapons has become downright comical.
Some of the responses to my recent column after the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, Conn. were predictable. Several readers took me to task for not hewing to the National Rifle Association’s specious arguments over the “difference” in automatic and semi-automatic weapons – especially the automatic AK-15 weapon and the semi-automatic .233 Bushmaster weapon that Adam Lanza used in murdering 26 at the school.
Because I support Second Amendment rights, most of the mail was complimentary, but several wanted to “educate” me on the difference in automatic and semi-automatic weaponry. That response came despite the fact that I know the distinction between those types of weapons from years of covering the military and from my own experiences both with weapons for self-defense and for hunting.
One reader emailed that complaint with this instructional paragraph: “The military has modified the fully automatic M-16 to also shoot 3-shot bursts with a single trigger-pull for accuracy and to save ammunition. However, the look-alike AR-15, of which the Bushmaster is only one of several brands, will only shoot 1-pull, 1-shot, making it a true semi-automatic.”
Another reader observed: “I believe you are caught up in the media misdefining the weapon and therefore the confusion of the public knowledge about the weapon.”
For the record, I see the reaction to the Sandy Hook tragedy for what it is – a prime opportunity for gun control advocates to manipulate the nation’s sorrow over the slaughter of innocent children and women to carry the day to pass sweeping gun control laws. Similar efforts took place after the Aurora movie theater massacre.
I oppose gun control efforts because I believe that the notion of citizen soldiers – a militia, if you will – remains part of the checks and balances over the potential rise of tyranny. When our nation becomes too complacent to take up arms in our own defense if that necessity arises, we forsake freedoms that generations of Americans have defended.
But the hair-splitting laws hard won by the NRA and gun manufacturers that lead to these most specious arguments over automatic and semi-automatic weapons don’t do the cause of defending the Second Amendment much good.
But a semi-automatic Bushmaster .233 like Lanza used is – in the hands of a skilled shooter – about four seconds slower in discharging 30 rounds of ammunition than is a fully automatic AK-47. So I do not engage in the rather mindless argument about the differences in automatic and semi-automatic weapons of that type.
When the target is a 6-year-old, that four-second distinction isn’t relevant and the vast majority of Americans – Second Amendment defenders and otherwise – know that.
The debate shouldn’t be over the old automatic vs. semi-automatic definitions that were used to skirt the issue to settle an earlier iteration of the nation’s laws regarding so-called “assault weapons.” The debate should rightly be about what the intent of the Second Amendment and the inherent dangers of eroding those rights to address the far more complex issue of mass shootings and the mental illnesses that drive them.
The debate should be about whether gun owners are willing to jump through more regulatory hoops in deference to public safety – particularly in reference to obtaining weapons like that used in the Sandy Hook shooting.
But to be sure, the picayunish arguments over the four-second, five-second difference in firing rates on similar automatic and semi-automatic weapons are not going to be part of reaching any real national consensus over these important issues.
Sid Salter is a syndicated columnist. Contact him at or (601) 507-8004.

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