The filmmaker-playwright David Mamet, of whose hot-and-bothered political conversion I’m decidedly not a fan, recently penned a column about gun control for The Daily Beast. The first half of the piece features a lot of wind about Marxism, the State, the Left, the Government, Human Nature, and Politicians. Having already dragged myself through The Secret Knowledge, Mamet’s political manifesto, I decided to skim over this portentous preamble.

I did, however, fasten onto this:

An assault weapon is that which used to be called a “submachine gun.” That is, a handheld long gun that will fire continuously as long as the trigger is held down.

These have been illegal in private hands (barring those collectors who have passed the stringent scrutiny of the Federal Government) since 1934. Outside these few legal possessors, there are none in private hands. They may be found in the hands of criminals. But criminals, let us reflect, by definition, are those who will not abide by the laws. What purpose will passing more laws serve?

Intrigued, I did some digging around the interwebs in search of data: how often are illegally possessed machine guns used in crimes? The pro-gun rights website GunCite.com had some oldish figures (but applicable to a period of high crime rates in the U.S.):

[I]n Targeting Guns, [Gary] Kleck writes, four police officers were killed in the line of duty by machine guns from 1983 to 1992. (713 law enforcement officers were killed during that period, 651 with guns.)

In 1980, when Miami’s homicide rate was at an all-time high, less than 1% of all homicides involved machine guns. (Miami was supposedly a “machine gun Mecca” and drug trafficking capital of the U.S.) Although there are no national figures to compare to, machine gun deaths were probably lower elsewhere. Kleck cites several examples:

  • Of 2,200 guns recovered by Minneapolis police (1987-1989), not one was fully automatic.
  • A total of 420 weapons, including 375 guns, were seized during drug warrant executions and arrests by the Metropolitan Area Narcotics Squad (Will and Grundie counties in the Chicago metropolitan area, 1980-1989). None of the guns was a machine gun.
  • 16 of 2,359 (0.7%) of the guns seized in the Detroit area (1991-1992) in connection with “the investigation of narcotics trafficking operations” were machine guns.

More recently, a 2009 report by California’s Bureau of Forensic Services found that of all firearms used in the commission of crimes in the Golden State that year, machine guns accounted for just two percent (handguns, meanwhile: 82 percent).

How interesting, I thought: the kind of weapons that are the most difficult to obtain are the least often used.

Pressed for time, I couldn’t finish the rest of Mamet’s column—but I assume he must have reached the same conclusion. Reality-based, anti-utopian conservative that he is, I’m certain he said that, yeah, America could try to transform itself into Japan, where access to guns is severely limited, and gun violence is extraordinarily rare. But such a transformation, if it could even be carried off, would do violence (of a different sort) to America’s constitutional inheritance. I’m certain that Mamet conceded that, like the American experience with machine guns inversely proves, easy accessibility to guns correlates with higher rates of homicide in other developed countries, too.

Knowing Mamet, he probably said something like, We make this choice because we choose to be free.

Read the column for yourself and let me know in the comment box if I’m mistaken.