Our Opinion: Defining an ‘assault’ on the Constitution

What is an “assault weapon?” What’s the maximum number of bullets in a “large-capacity magazine?”

Defining terms is a critical component of understanding, which is necessary to arriving at an informed opinion.

Our opinion is proposed legislation by state Rep. Rory Ellinger, D-University City, to prohibit assault weapons and large-capacity magazines is unconstitutional.

Ellinger’s bill is one of more than 15 firearms-related proposals filed in the House this session.

A massacre of students and adults at a school in Newtown, Conn., has intensified discussion and legislation not only at the state level, but at the national level.

The right to bear arms is included in the U.S. Constitution’s Second Amendment, and both Gov. Jay Nixon, a Democrat, and state Rep. Jay Barnes, a Jefferson City Republican, believe the issue is a federal matter.

So do we. In this forum Monday, we highlighted the economic development benefits of Missouri’s high ranking as a hunting and fishing destination. Inconsistencies among state laws could lead to chaos for hunters who visit other states.

For example, Ellinger’s legislation would prohibit “assault weapons” in five separate categories — some with as many as five subcategories.

The common phrase among the five categories is “semi-automatic,” with references to rifles, pistols and shotguns.

A call to Ellinger’s Capitol office to ask if the intent was to ban all semi-automatic weapons was not returned.

To determine the potential scope of the prohibition, we turned to Chris Bogg, owner of Jefferson Armory at House of Bargains in Apache Flats.

“Semi-automatic pretty much includes every rifle or handgun,” Bogg explained. “The exceptions would be bolt-action rifles, pump shotguns or revolvers.”

Semi-automatic means the weapon automatically loads a bullet into the chamber, but the trigger must be pulled each time to fire the weapon.

Bogg said the term, “assault rifle,” generally refers to what commonly are called “black guns,” which also is a non-specific term. According to the website www.shootersforum.com, a “black gun” typically refers to the black finish on AR (assault rifle) styles, including the AR-15.

Ellinger’s proposal defines large-capacity magazine as “any ammunition feeding device with a capacity to accept more than ten rounds.”

Large-capacity magazines are a convenience at a firing range, Bogg said, but Missouri hunting laws limit firing capacities. Deer hunters, for example, are limited to five-round magazines for rifles and three-round magazines for shotguns.

With regard to Ellinger’s bill, Barnes believes it was filed “to make a statement.” He added: “Confiscation of legally obtained firearms is wrong, and the bill is going nowhere.”

Ellinger’s statement has generated much discussion, but lawmakers who have sworn to uphold the Constitution must prohibit action on this bill.

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