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Joe Biden promotes shotguns for self-defense. Is he off base? (+video)

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(Read caption) Biden: Shotgun will scare off intruders
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Joe Biden is getting a lot of attention today for suggesting that homeowners interested in protecting themselves with firearms buy a shotgun instead of a semi-automatic assault rifle. Was his comment off base?

Gun-control advocates aren’t happy that the vice president of the US – who’s supposed to be pushing the administration’s gun plan – wandered off the reservation and appeared to back ammo-based home defense. Gun-rights people charge that Mr. Biden is offering an uninformed choice that smacks of government intervention.

“Nice of Joe to take it upon himself to decide what others do and don’t to protect himself,” wrote conservative commentator Michelle Malkin today on her eponymous website.

How did this all start? During an online Facebook town-hall forum hosted by Parents Magazine, VP Biden fielded a question from “Kate” to the effect that if assault weapons and high-capacity magazines are banned, will “law abiding citizens ... then become more of a target to criminals?”

Biden was already off-put, since the previous question had focused on drug legalization. Perhaps the forum administrators weren’t filtering reader submissions in quite the manner he’d expected?

“Is this Parents Magazine?... I have Parents Magazine in my home, I’ve never heard anybody in Parents Magazine ask these kinds of questions, but I’m delighted to answer them,” said the VP, according to a transcript of the event.

Then he launched into his shotgun spiel. “Kate, if you want to protect yourself, get a double-barreled shotgun,” he said.

Then Biden added that he and his wife, Jill, live in a wooded area, and he’s told her that if there’s ever a problem to walk outside, put their double-barreled shotgun on the balcony, and fire off two blasts.

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“I promise you: Whoever’s coming in is not going to – you don’t need an AR-15 [assault rifle]. It’s harder to aim, it’s harder to use, and in fact you don’t need 30 rounds to protect yourself. Buy a shotgun. Buy a shotgun.”

Look, Biden has previously talked about his gun ownership – he’s got a double-barreled shotgun and a Beretta handgun, he says. What he’s trying to do here is make the obvious point that you don’t have to a military-style assault rifle with a 30-shot magazine to defend yourself, if that’s what you want. Other firearms would be just as effective.

Somebody once said that the sound of a pump shotgun being loaded is one of the scariest things a criminal can hear. Of course, Biden didn’t mention pump action – a double-barrel is a different kind of weapon. But gun discussion forums are full of talk about shotguns and their effective use in home defense. In that sense Biden’s comment perhaps wasn’t too far off-base.

And even some conservatives felt that the shotgun answer at least blunted the conspiracy theory that the Obama administration is intent on rounding up the nation’s private firearms.

“As goofy as it is, I think this is actually kinda sorta effective at blunting the ‘gun-grabbing’ critique liberals naturally face whenever they get itchy about ‘assault weapons’, writes the commentator Allahpundit at the conservative Hot Air website.

But others on the right leaped on Biden’s comments. Are shotguns easier to use than assault weapons? Not necessarily, as the physical characteristics of both sorts of weapons can vary tremendously. Plus, has Biden really schooled his wife with shotgun tips? His house in D.C. is indeed in a wooded area – the grounds of the US Naval Observatory – but it’s also surrounded by high-level security fences and other devices and guarded by lots of Secret Service personnel who presumably have access to actual fully automatic assault rifles. He’s got a house in Delaware that’s not US government property, but at the moment that’s surrounded by Secret Service, too.

And what’s with Biden’s advice to his wife to “fire two blasts outside the house” if bad guys appear? As many critics noted, you fire a double-barrel shotgun twice, and it’s ... empty.

“If [criminals] did keep coming, his wife would be left with either an empty gun or fumbling for two more shells,” writes the Washington Examiner’s Paul Bedard.

“Typically, homeowners buy pump shotguns that hold at least three shells and can hold more. Double-barreled shotguns are usually far more expensive and are used in fancy bird hunts,” adds Mr. Bedard.

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