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Baum argues that the movement to vilify and ban the AR-15 demonstrates outdated thinking about gun violence.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.”

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