As crazy as this sounds, if I were in charge, I would not ban semi-automatic rifles or high-capacity magazines. Assuming I had the right to tell people what to do in order to make everyone safer, it is not at all clear that prohibiting “assault” rifles would be a good idea.
According to John Lott, author of More Guns, Less Crime, and The Bias Against Guns, right-to-carry laws reduce crime. Take a look at the National Academy of Sciences inconclusive study of Lott’s research (note: they did not find that RTC laws increased crime), and be sure to read the dissenting opinion: “In sum, I find that the evidence presented by Lott and his supporters suggests that RTC laws do in fact help drive down the murder rate, though their effect on other crimes is ambiguous.”
This principle logically extends to so-called “assault” rifles, which are necessary for defending against attacks by large groups of well-armed assailants. But when would such defense ever be neccesary? I can think of two general cases. First, end-of-the-world-as-we-know-it, solar flare-induced, power grid failure scenarios may seem highly unlikely–even funny, to some, on par with a zombie apocalypse. Yet solar flares and power grid failures are a very real threat (along with supervolcano eruptions or asteroid impacts). And when The Road becomes reality, even a little bit, everyone will be impacted… and everyone will need to defend themselves against criminals, including roving bands.
Seemingly even more far-fetched are “Red Dawn” scenarios involving military invasions, or (dare I say it) scenarios in which we need to defend our lives against our own tyrannical government. Unfortunately, history abounds with such scenarios. In fact, death by government is much more likely than death by mass shooting. Let’s assume 11 billion people have been born since 1900. Of those, as many as 262 million civilians may have been killed by governments.
How does this compare with the number of people killed by mass murderers? According to my own quick analysis of the data at the Rampage Killers entry at Wikipedia, about 6200 people have been killed worldwide in the last century by mass murderers, less than half (47%) of which used firearms.
According to the rough estimates above, historically speaking, you have a 2.4% chance of being killed by a tyrannical government, but only a 0.00006% (6 in 10,000,000) chance of being killed by a mass murderer, and a 0.00003% chance of being killed by a mass murderer with a gun. By this line of reasoning, it makes sense to own a firearm, even a semi-automatic rifle. The risk of someone stealing it and using it to kill me or others is slim compared with the risk of me needing it to defend myself from criminals or tyrannical government.
I understand this is not Nazi Germany, or the USSR, Khmer Cambodia, or China. But neither was Germany before the Nazis, or Russia before Stalin, or Cambodia before Pol Pot, or China before Mao. The odds are fairly high it will happen again. Or have we somehow magically become immune to such things in the last 50 years?
So if I were in charge and had to decide whether people could own semi-automatic rifles, and if I really had the best interests of the people in mind, I would allow it. Of course, this assumes I have their best interests in mind. Otherwise, I would disarm them, as all good tyrants do.
Of course, different people will weigh the risks and benefits of firearms differently–it is a subjective, personal decision. Some will ignore the threat of catastrophic societal collapse or democide and focus on the threat of random violence. Others will weigh the risks as I have done above. But no one really has the right tell others if they can or can’t own a firearm, even a semi-automatic “assault” rifle, to begin with. To assume this right is to assume ownership of another person or persons and deny their right of self-defense, which is not only repugnant, but impossible.
UPDATE: Chuck Woolery has made a similar case here.