As the gun debate’s presence in the national media and social media has grown over the past several years, it has become increasingly clear that many of the prominent lawmakers calling for increased gun control are either unwilling or unable to do their homework on what laws and regulations already exist. U.S. Senator Kamala Harris, despite having served as a prosecutor, recently revealed herself to be one of the least informed candidates running for the Democratic nomination.
At a presidential campaign rally in New Hampshire, Sen. Harris told the crowd that if elected to office she would use executive orders to “pause imports of ‘AR-15 style’ firearms until the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives can analyze whether the ban should be permanent.” While this may have gotten rousing applause from those in the crowd, the reality is that this proposal is just as misleading as suggesting that rifle owners often attach chainsaw bayonets to their firearms. The truth, however, is that the ATF already strictly regulates what types of firearms, especially rifles, can be imported into the United States.
In order to qualify for importation, a rifle must have “generally recognized sporting features… such as single shot, a lever action, or a bolt action.” More specifically, a rifle featuring “non-sporting” characteristics such as pistol grips, folding stocks, suppressors or threaded barrels designed to fit suppressors, and night vision scopes has been illegal to import since 1989.
While many of these features are a frequent sight on the more than 16 million modern sporting rifles in lawful private ownership in the United States, that is because they were produced domestically and not subject to the same regulation. Sen. Harris seems determined to ignore these important details and is instead focused on beating all other Democratic presidential candidates in the race to the ideological left by banning firearms that the ATF already bars from import. While we do not agree with this ATF policy because modern sporting rifles are in fact used for sporting purposes like target shooting and hunting, it is has been thus for 30 years.
She Didn’t Stop There
In the same rally, Sen. Harris went on to say that “one in four police officers killed in the line of duty by gunfire is killed by an assault weapon.” This stat, however, fails to paint an accurate portrait of the threats facing law enforcement. Over the course of the past 10 years, 21 percent of law enforcement officers (LEOs) were killed by a rifle but this figure has been trending down since 2016. From 2016 to 2017, the percentage LEOs who died with rifles fell a dramatic 15 percent and, in 2018, was 18 percent, the lowest percentage since 2012. Though we are only five months into 2019, firearm related deaths of LEOs so far this year are a third fewer than what they were at this very time last year. Out of those, only 7 percent have been perpetrated with a rifle.
Moreover, data also shows that criminals with handguns, not rifles, are the No. 1 threat to LEOs by a significant margin. Over the same period of the last 10 years, handguns contributed to a stunning 66 percent of LEOs killed feloniously. Here as well, the Senator is making an apples-to-oranges comparison. More clearly, she’s conflating lawful firearms ownership with that of criminal possession. The Department of Justice released a report earlier this year that noted nearly 90 percent of criminals using guns in their crimes stole it or obtained it illegally.
Whether she was simply misinformed or willfully uninformed, Sen. Harris’ talking points about the laws surrounding Americans’ Second Amendment rights don’t reflect reality and only seek to further mislead the public on this incredibly important issue. If we hope to preserve our right to protect ourselves and our families, it is imperative we hold elected officials accountable and ensure that the truth is not buried under presidential campaign rhetoric.
Larry Keane is Senior Vice President of Government and Public Affairs and General Counsel for the National Shooting Sports Foundation, the firearms industry trade association.