In the wake of the Newtown, Conn., shooting, President Obama has called upon Congress to enact a ban on so-called ???assault weapons.??? Such a ban, we are told, will ???save and protect lives, while reducing crime.???
The United States tried this once before. After 10 years as the law of the land, the effects of the 1994 ban on ???assault weapons??? were so indeterminate that a 2004 study funded by the Justice Department concluded: ???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.??? Congress permitted the ban to expire in 2004.
Those who want to reintroduce the ban point out that the number of people killed by firearms during the ban declined an average of 3.93 percent per year. But firearms murders were already declining before the ban was enacted, and in fact had declined at an even greater rate???4.17 percent???the year before it went into effect.
Moreover, the ban occurred during a general decline in crime. While firearms murders decreased, other murders decreased even more: for example, while annual murders by gun declined by 3.93 percent, the annual decline in murders by fire (arson) was 3.98 percent; strangulation, 4.56 percent; explosives, 9 percent. None of these were covered by the ban.
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Since the ban expired, the FBI has released six years of post-ban crime data. Surprisingly, these data show that the number of murders by firearms has been even lower since the ban expired than it was during the ban.
Comparing gun crime during the ban with the period since the ban shows that since the ban expired, there has been an average of 435 fewer gun murders per year than during the ban. Taking into account increasing population, the annual firearms murder rate has fallen from an average 3.8 gun murders per 100,000 population per year during the ban to 2.6 gun murders per 100,000 population in 2011??? a decline of more than 30 percent.
This decline in gun murders occurred even as the numbers of guns increased. In particular, the number of Bushmaster AR-15s???singled out as ???assault weapons??? in Sen. Dianne Feinstein???s (D-Calif.) proposed ban???increased dramatically, according to the ATF???s Annual Firearms Manufacturers And Exports, even as the murder rate by firearms fell.
In 1994, proponents of the ???assault weapons??? ban claimed that it would accelerate the rate of decline in gun murders, and cause gun murders to decrease more than other murders. By 2004, Congress could see that it had done neither, and so allowed the ban to expire. When Congress permitted the ban to expire in 2004, the gun-control lobby predicted that the ban???s expiration would cause gun murders to increase. Today, we can see that it did not.
Since the ???assault weapons??? ban didn???t cause gun murders to fall more than they had been falling before its enactment; since it didn???t cause gun murders to fall more than other kinds of murders; and since its expiration didn???t cause gun murders to rise, it had no positive effect to justify infringing Second Amendment rights.
Given the lack of data in 1994, we can???t be too hard on Congress for enacting the original ???assault weapons??? ban. Now, we know better. There can be no justification for enacting a second ???assault weapons??? ban today. Those who persist in pushing a second ???assault weapons??? ban can only be ignorant of the data, or else have ulterior motives for disarming law-abiding citizens.