Matt Vespa

It’s a well-known axiom that liberals know nothing about guns. Earlier this week, it was painfully obvious that CNN’s Don Lemon didn’t know the difference between an automatic and semi-automatic firearm. When pressed about this by conservative radio host Ben Ferguson, Lemon became visibly frustrated that someone explicitly showed that he didn’t know what he was talking about (via TPM) [emphasis mine]:

BEN FERGUSON: Don, what is your definition of an automatic weapon? What is your definition of an automatic weapon?

DON LEMON: Well, for me, an automatic weapon is something that you can shoot off a number of rounds, a number of rounds very quickly. I was able to buy an AR-15 within 20 minutes.

FERGUSON: Don, in all due respect, you don't know what you're talking about. An automatic weapon is when you pull the trigger one time and it continually shoots off, one after another after another after another.

Lemon said Ferguson was bogging down the conversation in semantics; that’s outrageous. Lemon obviously didn’t know what the difference was and tried to trivialize this; “regardless of what you want to call it” in his words. So, let’s get some things straight. 

First, a semi-automatic firearm simply means the weapon system fires once per trigger pull. It self-reloads after each shot. As described in the video below, functionally, a semi-automatic weapon is no different from your standard hunting rifle, which also fires once per trigger pull.

A fully automatic firearm discharges multiple rounds per trigger pull; it’s a machine gun.

Civilians can own semi-automatic firearms; all they have to do is pass a background check with their local firearms dealer. All dealers with a Federal Firearms License are required by law to conduct a background check on all gun purchases.

In Virginia, you go through two background checks for gun purchases. One is with the federal government via a 4473 form with the ATF. The second is with the Virginia State Police. If you fail a background check in Virginia, it depends on the dealer, but most likely he or she has already called the police on you, which would lead to an arrest.

Citizens are barred from owning automatic firearms or any weapon cited in the 1934 National Firearms Act (NFA) without permission from the ATF. It’s a long, arduous process that could anywhere from 7-11 months. Adams Arms provides a nice summary of the process.

The NFA was passed in 1934, but the impetus to pass laws regulating the sale and possession of machine guns dates back to 1929 in the aftermath of the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre.

So, there you have it, Mr. Lemon. You can’t argue semantics when the government passes different laws to regulate different types of firearms. Specificity was in mind when the NFA was passed and how it’s enforced today.

Lastly, stop saying how easy–or how much time–it took for you to purchase an AR-15 rifle. The anti-gun left proves nothing when they cite examples of law-abiding citizens purchasing firearms. They’re just providing anecdotes about a tradition that’s indelibly American.

Charles Cooke at National Review took Lemon’s comments to task saying:

One wonders in which other areas Lemon intends to subordinate engineering to linguistic expedience. After all, if “for me” is sufficient, we can start turning water into wine all over the place. “For me,” we might say, “that propeller is a jet engine.” “For me, that bicycle is an SUV.” “For me, that landline is a cell phone.” “For me, this manual car is an auto.”

Lemon doubled-down saying that this debate was a “distraction.” In an email to Talking Points Memo, he said:

I mis-spoke in our discussion of guns with Ben Ferguson ... I do know the difference between a semi and automatic weapon. And it doesn't change the point I was making - that sales are through the roof and we as a nation should decide if that's a good thing or not.

Again, that’s an easy one. It’s a good thing. If Lemon knows gun sales “are through the roof,” he should know that gun-related homicides are down 39 percent, according to the Department of Justice. In fact, the left-leaning Washington Post broke down the numbers last year:

The report, by the department’s Bureau of Justice Statistics, painted an encouraging picture of long-term trends at a time of divisive political debate over guns and legislation to regulate them. Firearms-related homicides declined 39 percent between 1993 and 2011, the report said, while nonfatal firearms crimes fell 69 percent during that period.

Overall, the Justice Department report said, firearm-related homicides dropped from 18,253 homicides in 1993 to 11,101 in 2011, while nonfatal firearm crimes declined from 1.5 million in 1993 to 467,300 in 2011. The drop extended to schools: Homicides at schools declined from an average of 29 per year in the 1990s to an average of 20 per year in the 2000s.

Over at Pew Research, they find that 56 percent of the American public doesn’t know gun violence has precipitously declined, which is shocking since they found gun homicides dropped 49 percent between 1993-2010:

Compared with 1993, the peak of U.S. gun homicides, the firearm homicide rate was 49% lower in 2010, and there were fewer deaths, even though the nation’s population grew. The victimization rate for other violent crimes with a firearm—assaults, robberies and sex crimes—was 75% lower in 2011 than in 1993. Violent non-fatal crime victimization overall (with or without a firearm) also is down markedly (72%) over two decades.

So, if gun sales are up, that’s great. If gun-related crime is down, that’s great. If rising gun sales coincides with a massive drop in gun-related violence, that’s absolutely fantastic.

Last note: On August 19, Jimmy Fallon and Pierce Brosnan played GoldenEye. Fallon killed Brosnan with a semi-automatic handgun. Even video games from the 1990s are able to distinguish between automatic and semi-automatic weapons.  There you have it. Now, I'm off to the gun range. Happy Saturday, everyone! 

Editor's note: This post has been updated.


Matt Vespa

Matt Vespa is the Web Editor and Community Manager at Townhall.com. He previously worked for CNS News and was the recipient of Americans for Prosperity Foundation's 2013 Andrew Breitbart Award for Excellence in Online Activism and Investigative Reporting.