Why Congress Refused to Renew the Federal “Assault Weapon” Ban
A study of the ban mandated by Congress concluded, “the banned guns were never used in more than a modest fraction of all gun murders” before the ban, and the ban’s 10-round limit on new magazines wasn’t a factor in multiple-victim or multiple-wound crimes.40 A follow-up study found “gunshot injury incidents involving pistols [many of which use magazines that hold more than 10 rounds] were less likely to produce a death than those involving revolvers [which typically hold five or six rounds]” and “the average number of wounds for pistol victims was actually lower than that for revolver victims.”41 Crime reports and felon surveys showed that “assault weapons” were used in only 1-2 percent of violent crimes before the ban; 42 crime victim surveys indicated the figure was 0.25 percent.43 In the 10 years before the ban, murders committed without guns outnumbered those with “assault weapons” by about 37-to-1.44 Also, most crimes committed with such guns could be committed with other guns, and some could be committed without guns.45
Moreover, violent crime, which began decreasing three years before the ban, continued decreasing as the number of firearms, including “assault weapons” and other semi-automatics, increased. This is true whether based upon the Violence Policy Center’s proposition that virtually every semi-automatic rifle and shotgun should be considered an “assault weapon,”46 or its fall-back position, that “assault weapon” should be redefined to include not only multiple-attachment guns banned in 1994, but one-attachment guns made to comply with the ban.47
Between 1991-2006, U.S. total violent crime and murder rates decreased 38 percent and 42 percent, respectively and preliminary reports from the FBI indicate that rates dropped further in 2007.48 Meanwhile, the number of privately-owned firearms has risen by more than 75 million, about one-third of them being semi-automatics, and about 15 percent of semi-automatics being “assault weapons.”49 The number of ammunition magazines that hold more than 10 rounds rose by 50 million during the years of the ban alone, according to the ban’s House sponsor.50
Also, the ban’s 10-round limit on new ammunition magazines infringed the right of self-defense. Police officers carry multiple standard-size magazines for good reason—their protection. Other citizens have the same right to protect themselves, and the arbitrary magazine limit potentially put them at a disadvantage against criminals. The limit had other flaws too. Criminals who fire guns fire only three shots on average,51 and those that fire a greater number could defeat a magazine limit by carrying multiple magazines or multiple guns. There was no evidence to justify a limit on magazine size, let alone the arbitrary number of 10 rounds.
One can hope that Congress also objected to the truly un-American tone of the rhetorical question that the Brady Campaign repeated ad nauseum during the ban, believing that it alone shouted down any possible opposition to gun prohibition. The question, “who needs an assault weapon,?”52 was, of course, illegitimate. In America, the burden of proof is not upon those who wish to exercise rights, it is upon those who wish to restrict rights, and there is no evidence that an “assault weapon” ban reduces crime. An irrational bias against guns, mixed with an assumed sense of intellectual, social or cultural superiority to gun owners, may seem to gun control supporters like sufficient grounds to ban firearms, but such notions are insufficient in a democracy.
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