The gun rights advocates are certainly right about how poorly gun control laws work and how criminals don't pay any attention to such laws anyway. But it's still hard to justify assault weapons.
No one uses an AR-15 during deer season. And for purposes of defending your home, shotguns, which nobody is talking about banning, are far more effective. (AR-15s are certainly a lot more fun to shoot though, and they look more badass.)
So there's no legitimate need for an AR-15.
On the other hand, very few murders are committed with them. Over 98% of firearm murders are committed with handguns. So if we're seriously interested in "saving the children," as so many gun control advocates put it, maybe we should allow AR-15's but ban handguns.
You hear a lot these days about how the Second Amendment was created so that the populace could defend itself against a tyrannical government. Our government is far more corrupt than tyrannical. But either way, whenever I hear someone quote that as a reason to allow assault weapons, I always wonder how a few Michigan Militia types with their AR-15's think they're going to stave off the US Army.
To fight the government, you'd obviously need much more firepower. Yet no one complains about the fact that hand grenades, bazookas, and shoulder-fired missiles (like the Stinger, which can take down a commercial jet) are illegal.
Or for that matter, atomic bombs.
This is of course ridiculous, but the point is, drawing a line between any two deadly weapon seems a little arbitrary. Assault weapons are scarier, but they tend to be toys for law-abiding citizens, whereas the more easily concealed handguns are almost always the weapon of choice for criminals.
So, where does that leave us?
Everyone seems to agree that more stringent background checks are in order. To that we should probably add more training in the use of firearms, along the lines of driver's ed courses.
But beyond that?
One solution would be to severely restrict carry permits, but allow everyone to keep a gun -- of any type they want -- in their home. That would take away the Wild West atmosphere so many decry, yet allow people to protect their families at home. Then again, that would make law-abiding citizens easier prey for criminals, by multiplying the "gun free zone" effect. (Declaring a place is a gun free zone is tantamount to announcing, "Victims inside!")
Another solution would be to increase the age at which one is allowed to purchase a firearm to 30. Violent criminals do tend to be younger, and robbery victims older. And by age 30, it's clear whether someone is going to develop schizoid tendencies or not. But it does seem unfair to ask soldiers -- most of whom are younger than 30 -- to risk their lives in war, then take away their right to defend themselves at home.
Another solution would be to simply stiffen the penalties for illegal gun possession, and increase stop and frisks. That would get guns out of the hands of criminals, who are the real problem to start with. This upsets the civil libertarians, who object if minorities are disproportionately frisked, even if minorities commit a disproportionate number of murders.
Some combination of the second and third solutions would probably be most effective, but there's certainly no easy answer.