It may be a good thing to just forbid automatic guns, it's easier to stop a shooter if his gun is not a submachine gun.
The above is the problem with this topic, and the way the media sensationalizes it. Automatics are, for all intents and purposes, banned. The firearms under discussion are *semi-automatic* versions of automatics.
That's what makes the effort in the late '80s and early '90s such a monumental waste of time. After everything was done, a handful of cosmetic characteristics were altered. The guns never were different than any other semi-automatic. It was just the appearance. Yet, during that period, pro-control groups openly stated
"The semi-automatic weapons’ menacing looks, coupled with the public’s confusion over fully automatic machine guns versus semi-automatic assault weapons—anything that looks like a machine gun is assumed to be a machine gun—can only increase the chance of public support for restrictions on these weapons"
-- Josh Sugarman, Coalition to Ban Handguns, 1988 (Quoted in Dowlut, 18 Stanford Law and Policy Review
, 1997, P.5, fn.5
That's the kind of disingenuous, intentional misinformation which causes gun owners to reflexively reject any mention of control. They don't believe the topic is conducted in a sincere manner.
This is why I believe the pro-control movement owns a significant share of responsibility for the lack of progress made to sensibly control firearm ownership. They generally don't do anything until there's a tragedy. Then they go on a symbolic crusade. They don't ask gun owners for input. They depict gun owners as part of the problem. When 99.9% of gun owners never misuse their firearms, that's a massive political miscalculation.
The country paid a huge
price for the '80s and '90s. It was largely credited with the huge takeover of Congress in 1994 (the so-called Republican Revolution). Democrats didn't regain control of even one chamber until 2006. Until this event, Democrats have been afraid to touch the topic of gun control.
That was a lot of time wasted. And, it diminished Democratic opposition to many other Republican agendas such as deregulation (the inability to regulate over-the-counter financial derivatives in 1997 after the CFTC chairwoman warned
that they were a time bomb which could bring down our financial system.).
All so we could be safe from bayonet lugs, flash suppressors and pistol grips. Unbelievable.
(In fairness, that ban also limited magazines to 10 rounds. That may be useful. 10 rounds doesn't significantly impede anyone's ability to defend themselves. It can interrupt a shooter, giving bystanders an opportunity to use physical force -- which is what happened during the Giffords shooting a couple years ago in Tucson.).
Anyway, regarding full-auto machine guns, they have been extremely regulated since 1934 (during an era of gangsters using "Tommy guns"). The federal government didn't believe it could ban those firearms because the legal opinion of the 2nd Amendment was that it protected the right of individuals to possess weapons which could be useful as a member of a militia. (The militia was largely unused after passage of the 1901 Dick Act, establishing the National Guard.). Congress's power was limited to interstate regulation, and the power to tax. So, they required a "tax stamp" to own a full auto.
At that time, it was unclear if Congress could require this of even a weapon which never crossed state lines. But, the court system never heard a challenge because there were so few individuals interested in owning such a weapon. Over the following 70 years, most states banned ownership of full autos (regardless of compliance with federal tax).
In 1996(?) Congress capped the number of tax stamps which could be issued. Essentially, the number of full autos in circulation was capped. At that point, they became something of a collector's item. Their value has gone *way* up, making the unrealistic to the average person who happens to live in one of the few states where they remain legal.
Public attitudes about the role of federalism have changed since 1934. A challenge of that "control by tax" might have been successful then. But, today, nobody thinks about it. Most gun owners own firearms for self defense and hunting. They don't feel they're denied anything significant.
A relative handful of the population continues to talk up the militia angle of the founding believe in Civic Republicanism. They tend to be the ones who oppose a ban on semi-auto weapons with military appearance (so-called "assault weapons."). They also support legalization of full autos. But, they recognize they're don't have the political support for that. It's a fringe view.
(Owning a so-called "assault weapon" is somewhat fringe as well. However, functionally, there's nothing different between it and the average semi-auto. That's where gun control targeting these weapons becomes a symbolic crusade, and defenders have a morally superior position. That's why so much political damage was done between '85-'95. A tiny, fringe group of people were attacked using disingenuous tactics to whip the public into a frenzy. Ds lost control of congress for another 10-12 years. All due to what was essentially a fringe group with no significant political power. It was all about the *wrongfulness* of scapegoating a weapon or a fringe group.).