Opinion

Why The 1994 Assault Weapons Ban Didn’t Work

   DailyWire.com
GREELEY, PENNSYLVANIA - OCTOBER 12: AR-15 rifles and other weapons are displayed on a table at a shooting range during the “Rod of Iron Freedom Festival” on October 12, 2019 in Greeley, Pennsylvania. The two-day event, which is organized by Kahr Arms/Tommy Gun Warehouse and Rod of Iron Ministries, has billed itself as a “second amendment rally and celebration of freedom, faith and family.” Numerous speakers, vendors and displays celebrated guns and gun culture in America.
Spencer Platt/Getty Images

In the aftermath of the mass shooting events in Atlanta, Georgia and Boulder, Colorado, the Biden administration has urged Congress to implement a ban on so-called “assault weapons.”

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki told reporters on Tuesday that President Biden is “considering a range of levers, including working through legislation, including executive action” for new gun control measures.

Also on Tuesday, Biden delivered remarks on the need to ban “assault weapons” and “high capacity magazines.”

“I got that done as a Senator. It brought down mass shootings, we can do it again,” Biden remarked. “We can ban assault weapons and high-capacity magazines in this country once again.”

President Biden was referring to his role in passing the Public Safety and Recreational Firearms Use Protection Act — a portion of the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994 — which halted the manufacture of many semi-automatic firearms for civilian purposes. The Bush administration permitted the bill to expire in 2004.

Biden touted his role in passing the 1994 legislation throughout the 2020 election season, and the Biden-Harris campaign platform applauded his “passage of 10-year bans on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines.”

Far preceding the recent presidential race, Biden has consistently invoked the assault weapons ban as a resounding success and a key legislative accomplishment of his four-decade career in Congress. For instance, after President Obama tapped then-Vice President Biden to lead the administration’s gun violence task force following the 2012 Newtown shooting, Biden told the public that “the crime bill worked too well because what happened was violent crime diminished significantly.”

Later analyses which note that assault weapons have an inconsequential role in gun crimes broadly and mass shootings specifically beg to differ.

“Assault weapons” apply to small percentage of crimes

The 1994 assault weapons ban was ineffective in curbing firearm deaths fundamentally because it applied to a very small number of crimes.

In July 2004, Christopher Koper a former University of Pennsylvania researcher and current George Mason University criminology professor carried out a federally-funded assessment of the assault weapons ban for the Department of Justice. To this day, the report is among the most often cited analyses of the 1994 legislation. 

Koper acknowledged that assault weapons “were used in only a small fraction of gun crimes prior to the ban: about 2% according to most studies and no more than 8%.” Most of these weapons were “assault pistols rather than assault rifles.”

Accordingly, he was skeptical of the continued success of the regulations.

“Should it be renewed, the ban’s effects on gun violence are likely to be small at best and perhaps too small for reliable measurement,” Koper said, again emphasizing that assault weapons “were rarely used in gun crimes even before the ban.”

Fifteen years after the 1994 legislation expired, Amy Swearer a Senior Legal Policy Analyst for the Heritage Foundation emphasized similar findings during testimony to the House Judiciary Committee.

“Banning the civilian possession of certain commonly owned semi-automatic rifles is an unnecessary and ineffective means of combating gun-related violence, in large part because these rifles are simply not used in the overwhelming majority of firearm-related deaths in the United States,” she stated. “They play such a minimal role in gun-related violence that, even if prohibition were 100% successful and no substitution for other firearms occurred, such a law would fail to have a meaningful impact on overall rates of gun violence.”

Swearer also cited a 2017 FBI report showing that “far from being the weapon of choice for would-be criminals, semi-automatic rifles are statistically the type of firearm least likely to be used for unlawful purposes, particularly compared to handguns.”

“Assault weapons” aren’t always a “major factor” for mass shootings

Though proponents of banning assault weapons claim that such policies would limit deaths from mass shootings, the data point to different conclusions. 

In his assessment, Koper wrote that mass shootings are “very rare.” He concluded that any drops in violent crime involving assault weapons were “likely to have been outweighed by steady or rising use of non- banned semiautomatics” with large capacity magazines, “which are used in crime much more frequently” than assault weapons.

Swearer similarly testified that assault weapons aren’t the central necessary component for those hoping to inflict massive casualties. She observed that “gun control advocates, politicians, and the media routinely characterize semi-automatic rifles, specifically the AR-15, as the ‘weapon of choice’ for mass public shooters,” although such conclusions are “objectively incorrect.”

“The reality is that, even if all would-be mass public shooters were successfully diverted to the use of ‘non-assault weapons,’ it would likely have no meaningful impact on their ability to kill large numbers of unarmed civilians,” she added in reference to data from Mother Jones’ mass shooting database. “With only a few notable exceptions, such as the Las Vegas shooting in 2018, the type of firearm was simply not a major factor in the ability of mass shooters to cause significant casualties, particularly compared to other important factors such as the time the shooter remained unconfronted by an armed response.”

The views expressed in this piece are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent those of The Daily Wire.

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