Jacob Sullum
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About two-thirds of the respondents described "assault weapons" as guns that fire rapidly, guns that can fire a large number of rounds without reloading, guns with a lot of "power" or guns used by the military. More than a quarter described them as "machine guns," "automatics," or the equivalent (e.g., "multiple rounds with just one pull of the trigger").

Overall support for banning "assault weapons" was only 44 percent -- considerably lower than the 60 percent or so in recent Gallup and ABC News polls. But there was majority support -- 53 percent and 59 percent, respectively -- among people whose descriptions of "assault weapons" emphasized rate of fire (including those who mistakenly described them as machine guns) or ammunition capacity.

One respondent said an "assault weapon" is a "weapon that is similar to the one that caused the tragedy in Newtown," referring to last month's massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School. That horrifying event, of course, was the pretext for Feinstein's bill, although the Bushmaster rifle Adam Lanza used to murder 20 children and six adults was not covered by the old federal "assault weapon" ban or by a similar law in Connecticut.

Feinstein has addressed that omission by adding Lanza's rifle to her list of prohibited weapons, which may seem emotionally satisfying. But since would-be mass murderers have plenty of equally effective alternatives, it is logically equivalent to banning the car Lanza drove to the school.

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Jacob Sullum

Jacob Sullum is a senior editor at Reason magazine and a contributing columnist on Townhall.com.
 
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