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Old November 17, 2011, 06:01 PM   #1
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Question: Fully Automatic Weapons in Self-Defense

For my Philosophy in Action Webcast on Sunday, I'll be answering a question on whether fully automatic weapons should be legal for civilians to own. My basic answer is "Yes," and I'll give my reasons for that in the discussion.

However, I'm since I'm a gun enthusiast but not an expert, I'm hoping that some of you might be able to help me a bit. I'd like to find a good story or two of people using such weapons for self-defense. I've heard that Ronald Regan's Secret Service team defended him with automatic weapons when he was shot. And I recall stories about store owners defending their shops with automatic weapons during the LA riots. However, I don't have any particulars or sources. If you do, please post them! (You can also e-mail me at [email protected].)

BTW, here's the full question:

"Should it be legal for civilians to own fully automatic weapons? Should a law-abiding citizen be able to own a fully-automatic rifle? Or is that something that only members of the police and military should possess? As a law-abiding civilian, am I somehow violating someone else's rights by owning an M-16 fully automatic rifle – as opposed to the virtually identical (and currently legal) semi-automatic AR-15 rifle? "

And... if you want to hear my answer live, just go to on Sunday, Nov 20th at 8 am PT / 9 am MT / 10 am CT / 11 am ET. (The other questions that I'll be answering are here.) If you miss the live webcast, you'll be able to find the audio recording (and likely a video) in the archives afterwards.

Thanks in advance for any good sources that you can pass along!
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Old November 17, 2011, 06:49 PM   #2
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There was a sales rep for one of the gun company who was travelling with samples including full auto guns. There was a robbery attempt and the sales rep used the full auto guns to defend himself. He was completely legal in every respect but had many problems afterward !!
I see no reason for a civilian [with very rare exception] to use a full auto gun to defend himself .Even in military operations it often just means wasting ammo.If there are innocents nearby they become collateral damage too easily !!
And Watson , bring your revolver !
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Old November 17, 2011, 07:14 PM   #3
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Yeah, i see no reasonable use of a fully auto for self defense. BUT, that doesn't mean I feel we average joe schmo shouldn't be allowed to own them.

The way I read it, any law preventing any citizen from owning any gun is a violation of the second amendment. But I'm no constitutional law scholar, just a zealous gun owner.
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Old November 17, 2011, 07:26 PM   #4
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Yeah, i see no reasonable use of a fully auto for self defense.
Exactly, but would be nice to have the option
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Old November 17, 2011, 07:26 PM   #5
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Should full auto be legal to own? Yes.
I don't believe it would be appropriate in most self defense situations. Unless you're in an action movie, there are probably better tools for the job. Not to say it would never be a good tool in a rare instance. Assuming you can actually shoot it well. But in the typical suburban environment it's probably more risk than benefit. A shotgun or a semi-auto carbine would probably be a better option if you're lacking in firepower.
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Old November 17, 2011, 08:00 PM   #6
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Yes full auto should be legal to own, possess and use.

They are fun to shoot.

Here is were I split hairs. For self defense I believe a select fire three round burst system is a good call.

Except in the hands of an experienced and well trained marksman full auto is dangerous. Most shooters, myself included can't control the weapon and hit the target.

My father, WW II Infantry Vetran, and I discussed this issue. He said of the German submachine gunners, If they missed you with the first three shots you did not get hit and his M-1 semi auto carbine finished the encounter.
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Old November 17, 2011, 08:40 PM   #7
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Uh, automatic weapons are legal for civilians to own.
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Old November 17, 2011, 11:32 PM   #8
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In my view a full auto would be useless for self defense. In fact I think it would be a liability. Personally I am satisfied with the current laws regarding their ownership.
Ecclesiastes 12:13  ¶Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man.
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Old November 18, 2011, 01:25 AM   #9
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I'd suggest you look up "The Beckwith Incident" (see link below). It sets out how a Florida man repelled a robbery attempt with the use of automatic weaponry. It was an extremely dangerous situation in a rural county at night with a lone citizen against a crew of robbers. The severity of the situation is likely why the use of automatic weaponry and vast number of rounds expended did not lead to a prosecution.

I believe "Mete" may be referring to the Gary Fadden incident. The article below provides a good account of the legal ramifications that Fadden faced in the wake of his lawful use of an automatic rifle in self defence.;col1

Last edited by JoshM75; November 18, 2011 at 02:15 AM.
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Old November 18, 2011, 03:34 AM   #10
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The law abiding public should have access to everything that the government does outside of weapons of mass destruction. If for no other reason then to insure the balance of power.

Laws should be made to punish criminals and protect the innocent it seems more and more that its the other way around.
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Old November 18, 2011, 09:09 AM   #11
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I do not remember seeing, or reading about, automatic weapons used during the LA Riots. I do believe the press called semi-automatic weapons by the name automatics.

I do not know if they did this through malice, ignorance or for sensationalism. I don't think you'll find very many stories of fully automatic weapons being used. My thinking is based on the reasoning that not many people have them and the ones who do have them usually have a semi-automatic to protect them.

While in the military, when we traveled with M-16 rifles, someone was always designated to carry a sidearm to "protect" the rifles in case there was an attempt to steal them.

Good luck on the podcast.
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Old November 18, 2011, 09:24 AM   #12
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"Should it be legal for civilians to own fully automatic weapons?

They are legal to own but the weapon has to have been produced from a certain (1986???) time period or prior. The NFA was simply a guns rights grab and a tax emplaced by politicians. It has never been overturned even though it prohibits the owning of an automatic weapon through increasing the price of automatics above and beyond the means of many americans,

But congress has never been against doing anything clearly unconstitutional in the name of taxes and rights restriction.

Should I be able to go to the local gun shop and buy a fully automatic weapon? My answer is a definitive yes.

Are such weapons necessary for self-defense? Yes and no...... In the typical self-defense situation they are not probably necessary however part of the intent of the founding fathers was to ensure that the people were not enslaved by the government. In order to do so the thought at the time seems to have been that any weapon suitable for military use was suitable for you to own and use as a private individual. And yes their was a custom multi shot musket (ie automatic) that packed one round behind another prior to the writing of the constitution.

Im not promoting that we should allow individuals to own nukes but certainly as I see and understand the constitution we have a right to own automatics and maybe even a duty to do so but those rights have been placed out of reach of the average American for political expedience hidden under the name of a tax.
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Last edited by BGutzman; November 18, 2011 at 01:00 PM.
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Old November 18, 2011, 09:37 AM   #13
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I'm in violent agreement with those who say that a full-auto weapon is not, generally speaking a good choice for self-defense. In terms of self-defense, a "high capacity" semi-automatic is probably a better choice.

The semi-auto with a 20, 30 round or larger magazine will permit the defender the use of controlled and sustained rapid fire. Against two or three antagonists, this is daunting since it prevents them from rushing their target and/or taking effective aim.¹

The full-auto weapon, contrary to Hollywood screen lore, tends to empty a magazine very fast. The M-16 rifle's cyclic rate of fire averages around 800 rounds/min. That means a 20 round magazine runs dry in 1.5 seconds and a 30 round magazine in 2.25 seconds. In untrained hands, it's difficult to keep the muzzle on (or near) the target. Even in trained hands, using manual short-bursts, a magazine is likely to run dry in 5-7 seconds or so in a desperate situation.

Best of all worlds would be to allow civilian ownership of select-fire (full auto) rifles with a 3-round burst trigger as ltc444 mentioned. This allows short bursts of "automatic" fire without wasting ammo or running the magazine dry with minimal effect. The Military found that a 3-round burst was the best compromise between aimed semi-auto fire and "directed" automatic fire.

Military doctrine teaches that full-auto fire is for suppression of enemy fire and engaging attacks of massed soldiers advancing towards you. These occur very rarely (and should!) in civilian life.

Where full-auto weapons are desirable is in the formation, training and use by the legitimate civilian militia². Whether called upon to thwart riot, rebellion, insurrection or even some invasion, having the capability of full-auto fire is useful in dealing with larger numbers.

Within urban and suburban areas, the risk of collateral damage from the use of full-auto fire is much too high. Most building construction in the U.S. offers poor bulletproofing. Especially against .30 caliber and larger weapons. F/A fire in an apartment or condo building seriously increases the risk of injury to innocents.

Current laws prevent sales of new F/A arms to civilians, although ownership remains legal in many states. The laws should be changed at the very least to permit sales of weapons capable of up to 4-round bursts to be sold to civilians and magazine capacity restrictions lifted.³

After it has become apparent that the BATFE aided Mexican drug cartels in the acquisition of weapons, the government has failed to protect the lives of innocents. These cartels have access to black market full-auto weapons and explosives and the boldness to use them. With our government limiting and actively discouraging civilian sales, ownership and use of firearms, it will only be a matter of time before cartels see "armed America" as a myth. Then we will see them terrorizing civilians and police with automatic weapons as they do in Mexico.

¹ Most thugs want to strike fast and get away, calling as little attention to their crimes as possible. Sustained rapid gunfire thwarts both these efforts by drawing out their engagement and increasing the risks of others reporting "shots fired". Few criminals are so motivated that they'll risk severe injury from an armed defender to complete a crime.
² Legitimate civilian militia as opposed to "activist-radical" groups claiming to be a militia. Sadly, Congress and the States ignore their duties to support a legitimate civilian militia.
³ Ideally full-auto should be legal, however it may be easier to convince politicians that a "limited fire" automatic rifle is viable in civilian hands.
Fortunately Texas and Arizona with their well armed populations stand as a major obstacle. California may be "ripe" for their first test.
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Old November 18, 2011, 09:56 AM   #14
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My use of machine guns has been limited to M14s, M60s and M2A1s. We didn't have any M16s on my ship back in the late 80s and early 90s.

We had two select fire and two semi-auto M14s. The three round bursts from the M14s were controllable, but in full-auto, it was almost impossible to keep the gun even remotely on target. Of course, it's also a 7.62mm round, not a .223.

Because of its lack of accuracy, it would be a horrible civilian self defense weapon because it wasn't designed for self defense. I think that the same could be said for any other automatic weapon.

But self defense isn't the only reason that we own guns. So that's why I support the legal ownership of them by civilians.
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Old November 18, 2011, 11:01 AM   #15
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Here is a link to a story that has already been mentioned: an HK sales rep takes down a drugged-up biker with a full auto Ruger:
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Old November 18, 2011, 11:18 AM   #16
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What BGutzman said.
Send lawyers, guns, and money...
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Old November 18, 2011, 11:41 AM   #17
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In most states, it is legal for civilians to own, you just have to jump through a few hoops and shell out the cash for the gun, and for the stamp. Which, if you've got the dough for a FA, then you probably have an extra $200 lying around for the stamp...

Misinformation is misleading and irresponsible. Do a little research and try to know what you're talking about, or else you just wind up being another ignorant video blogger on the internet spewing sewage.
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Old November 18, 2011, 11:44 AM   #18
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"Should it be legal for civilians to own fully automatic weapons? Should a law-abiding citizen be able to own a fully-automatic rifle? Or is that something that only members of the police and military should possess? As a law-abiding civilian, am I somehow violating someone else's rights by owning an M-16 fully automatic rifle – as opposed to the virtually identical (and currently legal) semi-automatic AR-15 rifle? "
The framing of your question presupposes the answer. There is no question about "should it be legal", it is legal. It is restricted, heavily since 1934, but it IS legal, except in certain states that have their own laws prohibiting ownership.

"Should a law abding citizen....." Why not? There is absolutely no issue with law abding citizens, about anything. The problem is when citizens (and non citizens) break the laws.

are you violating somone else's rights by owning a full auto? How could you be? Mere legal ownership, and lawful use violates nothing, neither laws nor rights. Unlawful USE can violate rights (I think I have a right not to be shot, but then, that applies to any gun, not just full autos), but simple ownership and use in a responsible manner? I don't think so.

I'm a bit of a dinosaur on this subject, believing that one should be allowed to own any firearm without restriction from the government. But, if you shoot someone for fun or profit, then you should be removed from society, permanently.

We have had laws since laws began saying you must not kill or injure others for fun or profit. Other than making life more difficult and irritating, what possible use are laws saying what you may or may not own? If ye harm no one, do as ye will.
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Old November 18, 2011, 01:51 PM   #19
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If waxing Philosophical, the angle is not that of self-defense, as you've mentioned above.

It is a want, not a need. Wants are important....

The Supreme Court has allowed their use, spelling out explicitly in Miller, as referenced in Heller:
Originally Posted by Heller
United States v. Miller, 307 U. S. 174, does not
limit the right to keep and bear arms to militia purposes, but rather
limits the type of weapon to which the right applies to those used by
the militia, i.e., those in common use for lawful purposes. Pp. 47–54.
Common Use is the legal test. Since full-auto is still used to this day by the Military & Police, since it is still manufactured by numerous manufacturers, full-auto still passes the Common Use test.

The 1986 Hughes Amendment, passed in very shady circumstances created the current shortage and 25 years later is still a thorn in the sides of many.
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Last edited by krucam; November 18, 2011 at 03:48 PM.
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Old November 18, 2011, 03:31 PM   #20
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Its not so much the tax itself that is the barrier to ownership, its the rareness of full autos that meet the requirements of the law... Try to buy a fully automatic weapon that should cost no more than $1200 (for a basic full auto) and you will find that they are tens of thousands of dollars in a lot of cases.

The law led to a shortage and thus is a effective ban to ownership, the law effectivley negates the right.
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Old November 18, 2011, 04:26 PM   #21
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Has there ever been a viable challenge to the constitutionality of the Hughes Amendment?
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Old November 18, 2011, 05:09 PM   #22
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Has there ever been a viable challenge to the constitutionality of the Hughes Amendment?
There has not, as far as I can tell. Farmer v. Higgins is the closest thing, but the 11th Circuit evaded the Constitutional question and focused solely on the legislative intent. The Supreme Court declined to hear the appeal.

While it would be a good case to try, I think, it seems like one of those issues that would be better served once a solid judicial and legal foundation is established. That's what is going on now, I'd say, with the previous Chicago and DC cases, as well as with the current Chicago case and what will no doubt be a future California case.

I, too, believe that the Hughes Amendment was a pretty shady deal.
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Old November 19, 2011, 08:29 AM   #23
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Select-fire and auto weapons might not be the best choice for self-defense, but as evidenced above, it's quite possible such a weapon might be the only one available in a time of need. It certainly shouldn't be a crime to find oneself in those circumstances.
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Old November 19, 2011, 02:44 PM   #24
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Automatic weapons were restricted because they were used by criminals in the 1930s.

As others have pointed out it is legal to own a fully automatic weapon. It's just more expensive than most people care for.

A better question might be, should we change how we restrict the ownership of NFA guns.

On edit: Is there a difference in self defense laws regarding what type of weapon one uses? I haven't heard of one.
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Old November 19, 2011, 08:39 PM   #25
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My limited experience with full auto weapons is in the military context, infantry.

It is possible a citizen could find themselves significantly outnumbered and make use of some types of auto weapons. Much as I love Ma Deuce and lesser belt-fed weapons, I suspect it would take an enormous breakdown of society to make such weapons sensible.

Living in CA, I want larger magazines than 10 rounds. A three-round burst setting on a Thompson replica or similar firearm would be my first choice in many defensive situations..Particularly with a .223, which would be very controllable. However, the .223 goes a long way, where .45 ACP doesn't but gains quite a bit from a longer barrel, becoming sensible (on paper) for many urban situations orbeing on the run. Practicing "controlled pairs" (nice words for "double tap") is my substitute for a burst setting.

The AWB here is a joke. The bad guys have autos if they want them. The police have them. Citizens can't be trusted, however, so we are denied very effective alternatives and take what we can get.

And in the last CA riots, semiauto rifles and various shotguns were used by citizens to protect their property. Auto weapons were not used or required as there were enough people on roofs and elsewhere, of very clear determination to use their weapons in self-defense, compared to the rioters, who really rely on mob presence to get what they want. A credible offer to shoot some of them with effective arms causes a change of heart, and they go find someone who relies on their kindness and good intent to burn and steal from.

Black rioters mostly burned shops/businesses owned by blacks, as it happened, who thought themselves immune or would not defend their property. Others suffered, either because they were unarmed (truck driver Reginald Denny, for example) or otherwise took the recent advice of London Police (regarding the recent violence there) and got out of the way so "the professionals" could handle deal with the thuggery.

When I can move out of CA, I will.
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