By Emily Miller
President Joe Biden and congressional Democrats are trying to reinstate the federal assault weapon ban that was in effect for 10 years because—they claim—it reduced gun crime. The bill, which just passed the House, will soon get a vote in the Senate.
In the effort to get it passed, Biden and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) made some grand claims, which they called “facts,” about the previous ban on rifles leading to decreasing crime. But those facts don’t appear to be backed up by evidence.
“Supporters of the bans are calling their assertions ‘facts,’ in an effort to mislead the public,” Lawrence Keane, senior vice president and general counsel of the National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF) told The Epoch Times. “Many of the Democratic Members of Congress were purposefully misleading in their assertions that the 1994 Assault Weapons Ban reduced crime. This level of willful ignorance would be comical if the effects of what they are trying to do wasn’t so blatantly unconstitutional.”
The ban was in effect from 1994 to 2004.
During that time, “we witnessed gun crime with assault weapons drop by up to 40 percent,” Pelosi said on the House floor during the recent debate.
“The number of murders with rifles actually increased slightly when the ban went into effect,” John R Lott Jr., the president of Crime Research, told The Epoch Times, referring to data from the FBI’s annual release of reports from law enforcement agencies on homicides by weapon type. Lott also pointed out that no one collects data on all crimes committed with so-called assault weapons.
The term “assault weapon” is a political phrase referring to semi-automatic rifles with various cosmetic features. The House bill calls an “assault weapon” a rifle that has one feature such as a pistol grip, folding stock, or grenade launcher.
While Pelosi makes it sound like there’s a grave risk of being killed by a rifle, it’s actually a rare crime. Lott has reported that the percentage of firearm murders with any type of rifles was 4.8 percent prior to the ban starting in September 1994. During the 10-year ban, homicide by rifle was 4.9 percent of all murders. Then rifle homicides dropped to 3.6 percent after the ban expired in 2004.
The speaker did not cite the source of her statistics. She could be referring to how all violent crime went down since the spike in the 1980s, which would include the small number of murders by rifles.
You can see this in this graphic of the FBI data. The decrease was dramatic.
There were 15,463 homicides by gun in 1994 when the ban went into effect and 724 were by rifles. When the ban expired in 2004, there were 9,385 homicides and 403 of them were by rifle.
“The falling crime rates are more likely due to many other factors than firearm ownership, including a concerted effort and focus on prosecuting criminals,” explained Keane.
Pelosi’s press office did not respond to a request for information on the source of her data.
Furthermore, there is no study that has proven that the gun control law had a direct effect on crime reduction. Quite the opposite, Rand’s “Study of Gun Policy” in 2018 (pdf) looked at various studies on the impact of the law on violent crime and concluded that “available evidence is inconclusive for the effect of assault weapon bans on total homicides and firearm homicides.”
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) also published a report in 2003 on evaluating the effectiveness of firearms laws and studied the assault weapon ban. It said that studies were “inconsistent” and thus concluded that, “evidence was insufficient to determine the effectiveness” of the law.
Ownership of these so-called assault weapons increased during the ban. Keane, the powerful gun lobbyist, pointed out that during the ban, what his organization calls Modern Sporting Rifles continued to be legally manufactured and sold if they did not have two of the cosmetic features necessary for the rifle to be banned.
Biden has been pushing incessantly for it to be reinstated since he took office on the basis that it decreased mass shootings. He said in July: “Assault weapons need to be banned. They were banned. I led the fight in 1994. And then, under pressure from the NRA and the gun manufacturers and others, that ban was lifted in 2004.”
NRA stands for National Rifle Association.
Biden also said on June 2, “In the 10 years it was law, mass shootings went down. But after Republicans let the law expire in 2004 and those weapons were allowed to be sold again, mass shootings tripled. Those are the facts.”
But an Epoch Times investigation into mass shootings showed that they are extremely rare and went up and down during the time period in question. As you can see in this graphic, there was no pattern of mass shootings in that 10-year period.
The White House press office did not respond to a request for the source of the president’s data.
Pelosi echoed Biden with her own statistic, saying in a speech that “since the ban expired, the number of mass shooting deaths has grown by nearly 500 percent.”
That’s not true.
“Mass public shootings with assault weapons in the ten years after the ban sunset increased to six compared to the four that occurred in the ten years during the ban,” Lott reported in his analysis. He also reports that total mass public shootings increased between those two ten-year periods, almost doubling, but the increase occurred with non-assault weapons.
“If Pelosi’s claim is correct, we should see a drop in the percent of attacks with assault weapons during the federal ban period and then an increase in the post-ban period, but the exact opposite is true,” said Lott, the author of the new book Gun Control Myths.
Furthermore, the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service studied the impact of the 1994 assault weapon ban and concluded: “Significantly while tragic and shocking, public mass shootings account for few of the murders or non-negligent homicides related to firearms that occur annually in the United States.”
Why are top Democrats focusing public attention on legislation from so long ago that had no impact on violence?
“They are living in a 1994 mindset because we have an anti-gun political class that is still using the same old talking points when it comes to assault weapons,” said an insider at a group that aims to protect Second Amendment rights. “They are highlighting the most emotionally compelling crimes [mass shootings] that are extremely rare—less than 1 percent of all gun deaths—to confuse and scare the public, but it’s not working anymore.”
Keane echoed this, saying, “These are the same politicians that manufacture terms to scare the American public with the term ‘assault weapon’ to purposefully mislead the American public and confuse Modern Sporting Rifles with the military’s automatic rifles.”
While these kinds of scare tactics on “assault weapons” worked back in the days of the first ban, modern-style rifles have become much more popular and are in common use. The NSSF, reported this month that there are now 24.4 million Modern Sporting Rifles in circulation in America. The trade association for gun manufacturers noted that means there are more of the AR-15 and AK-style rifles “in circulation today than there are Ford F-Series trucks on the road.”
This is a large part of the reason that the polls now work against the old talking points that Pelosi and Biden are using. Quinnipiac reported in June (pdf) that support for a nationwide ban on the sale of assault weapons—50 percent—was the lowest level of support among registered voters since the poll question was first asked in February 2013.
Now that so many Americans own or know friends and family who own AR-style rifles, they don’t seem as scary. So when this bill gets voted on in the Senate, the public should be aware that banning these commonly owned rifles will not do anything about the serious crime problem in America.
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