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Baum argues that the movement to vilify and ban the AR-15 demonstrates outdated thinking about gun violence.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

Weekly Review September 17, 2019, 8:14 am

Weekly Review

John Bolton was fired; Mike Pompeo blamed Iran for bombing two Saudi oil facilities; Milo Yiannopoulos was banned from an upcoming furry convention

Podcast September 13, 2019, 11:43 am

Common Ground

Feet of clay: on the troublesome uses of archeology, past and present

Weekly Review September 10, 2019, 11:31 am

Weekly Review

The president displayed an alternative map of Hurricane Dorian’s path; the British government was reportedly stockpiling body bags in case of higher mortality rates following a no-deal Brexit

Get access to 169 years of
Harper’s for only $23.99

United States Canada

CATEGORIES

THE CURRENT ISSUE

October 2019

FEATURED ON HARPERS.ORG

Article
Secrets and Lies·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

In 1973, when Barry Singer was a fifteen-year-old student at New York’s Yeshiva University High School for Boys, the vice principal, Rabbi George Finkelstein, stopped him in a stairwell. Claiming he wanted to check his tzitzit—the strings attached to Singer’s prayer shawl—Finkelstein, Singer says, pushed the boy over the third-floor banister, in full view of his classmates, and reached down his pants. “If he’s not wearing tzitzit,” Finkelstein told the surrounding children, “he’s going over the stairs!”

“He played it as a joke, but I was completely at his mercy,” Singer recalled. For the rest of his time at Yeshiva, Singer would often wear his tzitzit on the outside of his shirt—though this was regarded as rebellious—for fear that Finkelstein might find an excuse to assault him again.

Post
Seeking Asylum·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Out of sight on Leros, the island of the damned

Post
Poem for Harm·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Reflections on harm in language and the trouble with Whitman

Article
Good Bad Bad Good·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

About fifteen years ago, my roommate and I developed a classification system for TV and movies. Each title was slotted into one of four categories: Good-Good; Bad-Good; Good-Bad; Bad-Bad. The first qualifier was qualitative, while the second represented a high-low binary, the title’s aspiration toward capital-A Art or lack thereof.

Some taxonomies were inarguable. The O.C., a Fox series about California rich kids and their beautiful swimming pools, was delightfully Good-Bad. Paul Haggis’s heavy-handed morality play, Crash, which won the Oscar for Best Picture, was gallingly Bad-Good. The films of Francois Truffaut, Good-Good; the CBS sitcom Two and a Half Men, Bad-Bad.

Article
Life after Life·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

For time ylost, this know ye,
By no way may recovered be.
—Chaucer

I spent thirty-eight years in prison and have been a free man for just under two. After killing a man named Thomas Allen Fellowes in a drunken, drugged-up fistfight in 1980, when I was nineteen years old, I was sentenced to life without the possibility of parole. Former California governor Jerry Brown commuted my sentence and I was released in 2017, five days before Christmas. The law in California, like in most states, grants the governor the right to alter sentences. After many years of advocating for the reformation of the prison system into one that encourages rehabilitation, I had my life restored to me.

Cost of renting a giant panda from the Chinese government, per day:

$1,500

A recent earthquake in Chile was found to have shifted the city of Concepción ten feet to the west, shortened Earth’s days by 1.26 microseconds, and shifted the planet’s axis by nearly three inches.

A solid-gold toilet named “America” was stolen from Blenheim Palace, the birthplace of Winston Churchill, in Oxfordshire, England.

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

HARPER’S FINEST

Happiness Is a Worn Gun

By

“Nowadays, most states let just about anybody who wants a concealed-handgun permit have one; in seventeen states, you don’t even have to be a resident. Nobody knows exactly how many Americans carry guns, because not all states release their numbers, and even if they did, not all permit holders carry all the time. But it’s safe to assume that as many as 6 million Americans are walking around with firearms under their clothes.”

Subscribe Today