Précis — May 20, 2013, 9:00 am

Dan Baum Argues That Efforts to Ban the AR-15 are Hopeless

“The smart question is not ‘How we can ban more guns?’ but ‘How can we live more safely among the millions of guns already floating around?’ ”

“Even if federal gun-control advocates got everything they wanted,” writes Dan Baum, “they couldn’t prevent America’s most popular rifle from being made, sold, and used.” In his cover story for the June issue of Harper’s Magazine, the author of Gun Guys explains how the AR-15, the weapon used in both Aurora and Sandy Hook, can be constructed in a garage, and what that means for the assault-weapons ban.

“One way to acquire a gun without the government knowing is to make it yourself,” Baum explains. AR-15 owners call the rifle “Lego for grown-ups,” or “Barbie for men,” because it can be snapped apart into a dozen pieces. Only the lower receiver, which holds the trigger mechanism, carries a serial number; it is the only part of the weapon that is considered a firearm under the law and whose purchase is subject to background checks and other gun regulations. “Once a shooter has a single lower receiver he can build himself an almost infinite variety of guns without anyone knowing exactly what he’s got,” Baum writes. “Everything else that makes the AR-15 a gun — the barrel, grip, stock, magazine, trigger, bolt assembly, and more — can be bought and shipped through the mail without any need for paperwork or government approval.”

Baum explores DIY gun culture across America, spending time with men like Cody Wilson, who produced a plastic prototype AR-15 receiver using a 3-D printer and attempted to distribute the design for free on the Web; Oliver Mazurkiewicz, owner of Iron Ridge Arms, who makes guns in a space smaller than a two-car garage in Longmont, Colorado, and who, under a series of new state laws called Firearms Freedom Acts, may be able to sell his guns locally without federal oversight; and Richard Celeta, who runs a company called KT Ordnance out of his home in Montana and specializes in an AR-15 receiver that is 80 percent finished, with just enough holes undrilled and sections uncut so that he doesn’t need a license to make them and buyers don’t need a background check to buy them. “It’s an American tradition to make your own guns,” Celata says. “We’ve always been innovators. Guns are part of America. You can’t get rid of them.”

Baum argues that the movement to vilify and ban the AR-15 demonstrates outdated thinking about gun violence. “When it comes to crime, the AR-15’s significance is mainly symbolic.” (The AR-15 accounts for fewer than 3 percent of all murders, while the figure for handguns is 50 percent, he reports.) “The smart question is not ‘How we can ban more guns?’ ” Baum writes, “but ‘How can we live more safely among the millions of guns already floating around?’ ” One way to do this, he suggests, is for gun control-advocates to begin treating gun owners as allies, since gun owners have the power to keep weapons from getting into the wrong hands. At the same time, Baum argues that Second Amendment absolutism is a dead end: “To be a gun owner in a democracy is a sacred trust,” he writes. “We who choose to own firearms have a responsibility to our fellow citizens to be better custodians of our guns — and better guardians of public safety.”

Share
Single Page

More from Harper’s Magazine:

Official Business March 17, 2015, 4:01 am

Radio Hustle

Listen to the broadcast version of “American Hustle,” Alexandra Starr’s story, for the April 2015 issue of Harper’s Magazine, about how elite youth basketball exploits African athletes.

Official Business January 8, 2015, 3:57 pm

The Art of Outrage

We defend Charlie Hebdo’s right to publish its cartoons—and our right to critique them.

Memento Mori September 2, 2014, 5:33 pm

Charles Bowden (1945–2014)

Get access to 165 years of
Harper’s for only $45.99

United States Canada

CATEGORIES

THE CURRENT ISSUE

February 2016

Isn’t It Romantic?

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

The Trusted Traveler

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

The Trouble with Iowa

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

The Queen and I

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Disunified Front

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

We Don’t Have Rights, But We Are Alive

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

view Table Content

FEATURED ON HARPERS.ORG

Article
Isn’t It Romantic?·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“He had paid for much of her schooling, something he cannot help but mention, since the aftermath of any failed relationship brings an ungenerous and impossible impulse to claw back one’s misspent resources.”
Illustration by Shonagh Rae
Article
The Trouble with Iowa·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“It seems to defy reason that this anachronistic farm state — a demographic outlier, with no major cities and just 3 million people, nine out of ten of them white — should play such an outsized role in American politics.”
Photograph (detail) © Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
Article
Rule, Britannica·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“This is the strange magic of an arrangement of all the world’s knowledge in alphabetical order: any search for anything passes through things that have nothing in common with it but an initial letter.”
Artwork by Brian Dettmer. Courtesy the artist and P.P.O.W., New York City.
Article
The Queen and I·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“Buckingham Palace is a theater in need of renovation. There is something pathetic about a fiercely vacuumed throne room. The plants are tired. Plastic is nailed to walls and mirrors. The ballroom is set for a ghostly banquet. Everyone is whispering, for we are in a mad kind of church. A child weeps.”
Photograph (detail) © Martin Parr/Magnum Photos
Article
We Don’t Have Rights, But We Are Alive·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

“If I really wanted to learn about the Islamic State, Hassan told me, I ought to speak to his friend Samir, a young gay soldier in the Syrian Army who’d been fighting jihadis intermittently for the past four years.”
Photograph (detail) by Anwar Amro/AFP/Getty

Estimated percentage of New Hampshire’s bat population that died in 2010:

65

A horticulturalist in Florida announced a new low-carb potato.

In Turlock, California, nearly 3,500 samples of bull semen were stolen from the back of a truck.

Subscribe to the Weekly Review newsletter. Don’t worry, we won’t sell your email address!

HARPER’S FINEST

Two Christmas Mornings of the Great War

By

Civilization masks us with a screen, from ourselves and from one another, with thin depth of unreality. We habitually live — do we not? — in a world self-created, half established, of false values arbitrarily upheld, largely inspired by misconception, misapprehension, wrong perspective, and defective proportion, misapplication.

Subscribe Today