Did The 1994 Assault Weapons Ban Reduce Crime Essay

On the anniversary of the 1999 Columbine High School massacre, it's worth asking whether the assault weapons ban, which was in effect during the time, actually worked. Analysis of 108 shootings with five or more deaths showed that the ban was more successful than in years where there wasn't a ban, and such mass shootings have dramatically increased since the ban expired.

The Columbine shooting by a pair of students which killed 13 at the Colorado school, has been held up by assault weapons ban opponents as a reason why the ban didn't work, listing each case of a shooting (whether they involved assault weapons or not). But focusing on cases from a decade doesn't tell us much about all of the shootings over years before and after the ban, to see if the ban actually reduced such mass killings.

To analyze the issue, I look at all rampage killings, school shootings, workplace shootings, family massacres and mass killings over religion, race and politics, from 1973 to the present. Each case analyzed had five or more deaths, with many wounded.

In this study of 108 mass shootings, 92 of them occurred before the assault weapons ban, and after it as well, with only 16 mass shootings in the ten years in which we had an assault weapons ban. If you divide those by the number of years (34 for non-ban years and 10 for ban years), you find that we had 2.71 shootings per year in non-ban years, and 1.6 shootings per ban year. That means we had 1.69 times as many mass shootings in non-ban years.

Let's break it down by the timing of the shooting. Before the assault weapons ban, there were 2.04 mass shootings per year (1973-1994). So the ban did reduce the number of mass shootings.

What's even more frightening is what happened in the 11 years after the assault weapons ban was allowed by the GOP Congress to expire. We had 46 mass shootings per year from 2005 to 2015, or 4.18 mass shootings per year. That's more than 2.61 times as many mass shootings as when we had the assault weapons ban.

Critics are likely to claim that other means of killings were frequently employed during the years of the assault weapons ban. That isn't supported either by the evidence. There were four cases of vehicular killings with three or more dead and 10 or more injured between 1973 and the present. None happened during the assault weapons ban. The same can be said of causing deadly fires and plane crashes (four cases, none during the ban). There was the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal building by a domestic terrorist, of course.

Those who support gun control have hyped each shooting. But it hasn't translated into support for restricting firearms. Instead, it's had the opposite effect, making people more willing to support gun rights, or go out and buy a firearm. Gun control advocates need to show how laws like assault weapons ban worked, in America, Europe, Australia, etc.

Yes, there were tragedies during the ban, like Columbine. Perhaps more draconian punishments and civil suits against those who helped provide the weapons for the killers might deter future straw purchases. But even with the horrible event of 1999, the data shows that the assault weapons ban reduced mass shootings in America, and letting the ban expire dramatically increased the number of mass shootings in the United States.

John A. Tures is a professor of political science at LaGrange College in LaGrange, Ga. He can be reached at jtures@lagrange.edu.

The death of the law hasn't brought a rise in crime -- just the opposite.

June 28, 2005|John R. Lott Jr. | John R. Lott Jr., a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, is the author of "More Guns, Less Crime" (University of Chicago, 2000) and "The Bias Against Guns: Why Almost Everything You've Heard About Gun Control Is Wrong" (Regnery, 2003).

And the drop was not just limited to murder. Overall, violent crime also declined last year, according to the FBI, and the complete statistics carry another surprise for gun control advocates. Guns are used in murder and robbery more frequently then in rapes and aggravated assaults, but after the assault weapons ban ended, the number of murders and robberies fell more than the number of rapes and aggravated assaults.

It's instructive to remember just how passionately the media hyped the dangers of "sunsetting" the ban. Associated Press headlines warned "Gun shops and police officers brace for end of assault weapons ban." It was even part of the presidential campaign: "Kerry blasts lapse of assault weapons ban." An Internet search turned up more than 560 news stories in the first two weeks of September that expressed fear about ending the ban. Yet the news that murder and other violent crime declined last year produced just one very brief paragraph in an insider political newsletter, the Hotline.

The fact that the end of the assault weapons ban didn't create a crime wave should not have surprised anyone. After all, there is not a single published academic study showing that these bans have reduced any type of violent crime.

Research funded by the Justice Department under the Clinton administration concluded only that the effect of the assault weapons ban on gun violence "has been uncertain." The authors of that report released their updated findings last August, looking at crime data from 1982 through 2000 (which covered the first six years of the federal law). The latest version stated: "We cannot clearly credit the ban with any of the nation's recent drop in gun violence."

Such a finding was only logical. Though the words "assault weapons" conjure up rapid-fire military machine guns, in fact the weapons outlawed by the ban function the same as any semiautomatic -- and legal -- hunting rifle. They fire the same bullets at the same speed and produce the same damage. They are simply regular deer rifles that look on the outside like AK-47s.

For gun control advocates, even a meaningless ban counts. These are the same folks who have never been bashful about scare tactics, predicting doom and gloom when they don't get what they want. They hysterically claimed that blood would flow in the streets after states passed right-to-carry laws letting citizens carry concealed handguns, but that never occurred. Thirty-seven states now have right-to-carry laws -- and no one is seriously talking about rescinding them or citing statistics about the laws causing crime.

Gun controllers' fears that the end of the assault weapons ban would mean the sky would fall were simply not true. How much longer can the media take such hysteria seriously when it is so at odds with the facts?

This wasn't supposed to happen. When the federal assault weapons ban ended on Sept. 13, 2004, gun crimes and police killings were predicted to surge. Instead, they have declined.

For a decade, the ban was a cornerstone of the gun control movement. Sarah Brady, one of the nation's leading gun control advocates, warned that "our streets are going to be filled with AK-47s and Uzis." Life without the ban would mean rampant murder and bloodshed.

Well, more than nine months have passed and the first crime numbers are in. Last week, the FBI announced that the number of murders nationwide fell by 3.6% last year, the first drop since 1999. The trend was consistent; murders kept on declining after the assault weapons ban ended.

Even more interesting, the seven states that have their own assault weapons bans saw a smaller drop in murders than the 43 states without such laws, suggesting that doing away with the ban actually reduced crime. (States with bans averaged a 2.4% decline in murders; in three states with bans, the number of murders rose. States without bans saw murders fall by more than 4%.)

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