DOJ Study Fails to Show 1994 Assault Weapons Ban Worked

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After the tragic shooting in an Aurora, Colorado movie theater, there have been a number of calls for more controls on firearms, particularly another ban on so-called assault weapons. Michael Bloomberg was one of the first to use this tragedy to encourage more legal controls on firearms ownership.

To understand if reinstating the “assault weapons” ban would be effective, we should look at what an assault weapon is and the effects of the decade-long ban that was in place from 1994 to 2004.

Prior to the adoption of the assault weapons ban (AWB) in the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act, there wasn’t a specific definition of an assault weapon. The closest thing to an assault weapon would be an assault rifle, which is a short-barrel (under 16 inches) which can shoot in semi-automatic (one bullet with each pull of the trigger), select-fire (usually 3 bullets with each pull of the trigger), or fully-automatic (multiple bullets with each pull of the trigger).

Sale, ownership, and possession of firearms that can use select-fire or are fully-automatic is controlled through the National Firearms Act (NFA) of 1968. The AWB covered a different set of firearms from those covered by the NFA of 1968. A small part of the 1994 Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act, the ban prohibited the sale and manufacture of:

(B) a semiautomatic rifle that has an ability to accept a detachable magazine and has at least 2 of–
(i) a folding or telescoping stock;
(ii) a pistol grip that protrudes conspicuously beneath the action of the weapon;
(iii) a bayonet mount;
(iv) a flash suppressor or threaded barrel designed to accommodate a flash suppressor; and
(v) a grenade launcher;

(C) a semiautomatic pistol that has an ability to accept a detachable magazine and has at least 2 of–
(i) an ammunition magazine that attaches to the pistol outside of the pistol grip;
(ii) a threaded barrel capable of accepting a barrel extender, flash suppressor, forward handgrip, or silencer;
(iii) a shroud that is attached to, or partially or completely encircles, the barrel and that permits the shooter to hold the firearm with the nontrigger hand without being burned;
(iv) a manufactured weight of 50 ounces or more when the pistol is unloaded; and
(v) a semiautomatic version of an automatic firearm; and

(D) a semiautomatic shotgun that has at least 2 of–
(i) a folding or telescoping stock;
(ii) a pistol grip that protrudes conspicuously beneath the action of the weapon;
(iii) a fixed magazine capacity in excess of 5 rounds; and
(iv) an ability to accept a detachable magazine.

The most popular of the so-called assault weapons sold in the US are the AR-15-style models (Despite allegations to the contrary, the AR refers to Armalite, the original manufacturer, not “assault rifle.”) Undoubtedly there are some that purchase them because they are “military style,” but much of the popularity comes from the versatility. The design of the rifles is modular, making customizing and changing configuration very easy. Because most of the parts for the AR-style models are standardized, there are a plethora of accessories available.

Though reputed to be “high-power,” the AR-15 ammunition isn’t. The development of the ammunition, and hence, the rifle, came from the need for the military to carry lighter ammunition than the .308 caliber used in the M-1 rifle the AR-15 replaced. If we look at ammunition power, the .223 caliber that the AR uses is actually fairly low, as is the diameter of the bullet itself. Ammunition power is measured in foot-pounds (ft/lbs). A review of some of the energy data from Hornady, a major manufacturer of ammunition shows that the AR-15 .223 caliber is not particularly high powered. For comparison, .308 (the caliber of the M-1 the AR replaced) and 30-06, a traditional hunting caliber are listed:

.223 – 1,282 ft/lbs

.308 – 2,446 ft/lbs

30-06 – 3,178 ft/lbs

One distinct advantage we have to decide whether reinstating the AWB would be effective is the benefit of empirical evidence. Part of the law enabling the AWB also required the Department of Justice to look at the effect of the ban on crime before and after the decade that it was in place. The study failed to show a significant impact on “assault weapon” use or support the allegation that large capacity magazines lead to more murders.

Mass murders are tragic and, fortunately, rare. There is no data to support the notion that reinstating an AWB will prevent further tragedies. In fact, two of the largest mass murders in US history, the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center towers and Pentagon, and the Oklahoma City  Federal Building bombing did not even involve firearms.

Sadly, there is precious little we can do to prevent these types of attacks.

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  1. Zonder " One distinct advantage we have to decide whether reinstating the AWB would be effective is the benefit of empirical evidence. Part of the law enabling the AWB also required the Department of Justice to look at the effect of the ban on crime before and after the decade that it was in place. The https://www.ncjrs.gov/pdffiles1/173405.pdf failed to show a significant impact on “assault weapon” use or support the allegation that large capacity magazines lead to more murders." Did you people miss that part or what ?
  2. John Drunk drivers and vehicular homicides kill more people each year than all gun homicides combined. Why is there not a public outcry to ban alcohol or cars? People feel "assault rifles" (btw, exactly what are the characteristics that define an "assault rifle"?) can kill more people as they can "shoot faster" or have a high round capacity. By that same logic, we should be banning vehicles that can go faster than the federally mandated speed limit of 65 MPH or have gas tanks that carry more than 10 gallons of gas! Wake up! Until we deal with mental illness in this country, this will continue to happen – whether we have guns, knives, sticks or rocks. BTW, the tragedy at Columbine happened during the assault weapons ban of 1994 - 2004. Explain to me again how banning certain weapons over others save lives?
  3. Casper LB John, there was a public outcry over drunk driving. And then we banned it. We've also banned cars that exceed certain speeds that are deemed dangerous. Your comparison argues *in favor* of banning assault weapons. To answer your question regarding Columbine, you should be reminded that gun regulation isn't expected to stop all gun deaths. It is expected to reduce those deaths. The DoJ report in this article demonstrates exactly that.
  4. Casper LB Huh? The third key finding in the report is: "Evidence suggests that the ban may have contributed to a reduction in the gun murder rate and murders of police officers by criminals armed with assault weapons." I don't see how this report could have been read without concluding that the ban likely had a positive effect when it comes to reducing gun violence.
  5. Mary The DOJ study (1996) you link to says they couldn't conclude anything "because the short period since the enabling legislation’s passage created methodological difficulties for researchers." They add that the DOJ was supposed to have another one out in 2000. Why didn't you dig that one up instead? Surely if you read the 1996 one, then you knew there was going to be a more recent one.
  6. Craig D. Schlesinger There's one thing you'll never get rid of: DEMAND. Placing that demand in the black market only ensures more criminals than law abiding citizens possess these kinds of firearms.
  7. Brad R. Schlesinger These sorts of bans fail to work because assault weapons and extended magazines are already circulating society. If someone really wants to get their hands on an assault weapon or extended magazine, ban or no ban, they'll likely find a way.
  8. Dan Richards One of the best ways we can deal with the problem of these types of "mass murders", is to take the PC gloves off. To many times people back away from saying something about a person because of fears of getting sewed or because it is not the "Politically correct" thing to do. When a teacher, employer or who ever is around a person long enough to actually see something is not right with them, and a possible threat, then they should have a way to report this. To many times at school or work someone has been seen that many people around them wanted separated from that person because there was a danger within that person. Controlling guns just means that criminals will deal strictly with the Black market, but will offer no more help than that. Countries that have these bans often have higher gun crimes than we do. Australia has been thinking of removing their gun ban, because of the drug trade coming in from Asia is bringing in so many armed criminals, that the people need to be able to defend themselves. Gun ban there has done nothing to protect the citizens there. And similar in the UK, criminals are still getting guns, and the people cannot defend themselves. If at least one person in that theater had a gun besides the murderer, then the killer would likely have been a statistic carted out in a body bag, and less people dead and wounded.
  9. Lauren Moore All I can do is look to the EU. Germany's citizens have the right to own guns- hand guns of hunting guns, which have to be kept in a locker at a shooting range or a hunting lodge. You don't need to protect yourself if there isn't crime.... There were 158 gun homicides in germany this year....
  10. troy germanys murder percent per total population is around 0.001 the u.s. is around 0.005 most established countries are around 0.005 you cant compare germanys GUN murder rate with the u.s. one reason being that the u.s. has more than triple the population.
14 comments
Zonder
Zonder

" One distinct advantage we have to decide whether reinstating the AWB would be effective is the benefit of empirical evidence. Part of the law enabling the AWB also required the Department of Justice to look at the effect of the ban on crime before and after the decade that it was in place. The study failed to show a significant impact on “assault weapon” use or support the allegation that large capacity magazines lead to more murders."

Did you people miss that part or what ?

John
John

Drunk drivers and vehicular homicides kill more people each year than all gun homicides combined. Why is there not a public outcry to ban alcohol or cars? People feel "assault rifles" (btw, exactly what are the characteristics that define an "assault rifle"?) can kill more people as they can "shoot faster" or have a high round capacity. By that same logic, we should be banning vehicles that can go faster than the federally mandated speed limit of 65 MPH or have gas tanks that carry more than 10 gallons of gas! Wake up! Until we deal with mental illness in this country, this will continue to happen – whether we have guns, knives, sticks or rocks.

BTW, the tragedy at Columbine happened during the assault weapons ban of 1994 - 2004. Explain to me again how banning certain weapons over others save lives?

Casper LB
Casper LB

Huh? The third key finding in the report is:

"Evidence suggests that the ban may have contributed to a reduction in the gun murder rate and murders of police officers by criminals armed with assault weapons."

I don't see how this report could have been read without concluding that the ban likely had a positive effect when it comes to reducing gun violence.

Mary
Mary

The DOJ study (1996) you link to says they couldn't conclude anything "because the short period since the enabling legislation’s passage created methodological difficulties for researchers." They add that the DOJ was supposed to have another one out in 2000. Why didn't you dig that one up instead? Surely if you read the 1996 one, then you knew there was going to be a more recent one.

Craig D. Schlesinger
Craig D. Schlesinger

There's one thing you'll never get rid of: DEMAND. Placing that demand in the black market only ensures more criminals than law abiding citizens possess these kinds of firearms.

Brad R. Schlesinger
Brad R. Schlesinger

These sorts of bans fail to work because assault weapons and extended magazines are already circulating society. If someone really wants to get their hands on an assault weapon or extended magazine, ban or no ban, they'll likely find a way.

Dan Richards
Dan Richards

One of the best ways we can deal with the problem of these types of "mass murders", is to take the PC gloves off. To many times people back away from saying something about a person because of fears of getting sewed or because it is not the "Politically correct" thing to do. When a teacher, employer or who ever is around a person long enough to actually see something is not right with them, and a possible threat, then they should have a way to report this. To many times at school or work someone has been seen that many people around them wanted separated from that person because there was a danger within that person.

Controlling guns just means that criminals will deal strictly with the Black market, but will offer no more help than that. Countries that have these bans often have higher gun crimes than we do. Australia has been thinking of removing their gun ban, because of the drug trade coming in from Asia is bringing in so many armed criminals, that the people need to be able to defend themselves. Gun ban there has done nothing to protect the citizens there. And similar in the UK, criminals are still getting guns, and the people cannot defend themselves.

If at least one person in that theater had a gun besides the murderer, then the killer would likely have been a statistic carted out in a body bag, and less people dead and wounded.

Lauren Moore
Lauren Moore

All I can do is look to the EU. Germany's citizens have the right to own guns- hand guns of hunting guns, which have to be kept in a locker at a shooting range or a hunting lodge. You don't need to protect yourself if there isn't crime.... There were 158 gun homicides in germany this year....

Brad R. Schlesinger
Brad R. Schlesinger

I think Michael makes the key point in regards to debates over gun control. Those individuals hell bent on committing attoricities like the movie theatre shooitng in Colorado will find ways to obtain the weapons necessary to carry out their horrific plans. All strict gun-control laws do is move gun sales onto the black market where it becomes easier for criminals and unsavory types to buy guns. This has the effect of creating an environment where criminals have the vast majority of the guns in area, while those who are law-abiding and would-be responsible gun owners lack the ability to protect themselves because of strict restrictions on the purchase of firearms. Defensive gun use in America is real and saves lives. See links below.

http://www.cato.org/pubs/wtpapers/WP-Tough-Targets.pdf

http://www.cato.org/guns-and-self-defense/

http://www.americanrifleman.org/BlogList.aspx?cid=25&id=21

AD-RtR/OS!
AD-RtR/OS!

Correction: The Armalite weapon system (AR15/M16) did not replace the M-1, but the M-14.

The M-14 was chambered in .308 (aka 7.62-51mm, or 7.62NATO);

The M-1 was chambered in .30-'06.

Michael Higham
Michael Higham

I feel as if the ban helps reduce the amount of damage a criminal can inflict, but if they're carefully planning and motivated they're going to find a way to get their hands on weapons. I worked at Big 5 Sporting Goods and we sell ammunition to anyone of age. We've had police find receipts from our store when they investigated crime scenes involving shootings. It's going to be impossible to distinguish a potential criminal from anyone else. All we need to do is a background check for firearms, and more often than not, the shooters of these tragedies don't have anything in their background that'll prevent them for purchasing a firearm.

Casper LB
Casper LB

John, there was a public outcry over drunk driving. And then we banned it. We've also banned cars that exceed certain speeds that are deemed dangerous. Your comparison argues *in favor* of banning assault weapons.

To answer your question regarding Columbine, you should be reminded that gun regulation isn't expected to stop all gun deaths. It is expected to reduce those deaths. The DoJ report in this article demonstrates exactly that.

troy
troy

germanys murder percent per total population is around 0.001

the u.s. is around 0.005

most established countries are around 0.005

you cant compare germanys GUN murder rate with the u.s. one reason being that the u.s. has more than triple the population.

John Hawkins
John Hawkins

As to selfdefense, of all the military personel and x-military personel present in the theater, if one or more were armed no more than one or two would have been killed. I don't mean to downplay the death of one or two, but it sure beats 12 deaths and 50 wonded.