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Tuesday, November 29, 2022

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Did the Previous Federal ‘Assault Weapons’ Ban Actually Work?

This week, President Joe Biden claimed during remarks that ruptured the audience’s eardrums that the previous nationwide ban on so-called “assault weapons” was successful in the mid-1990s and helped to reduce mass shootings for 10 consecutive years until its expiration a decade later. So, did the federal ban actually work?

CLAIM: “I’m determined to ban assault weapons in this country,” Biden declared in a Tuesday speech as he campaigned in the battleground state of Pennsylvania ahead of November’s midterm elections. “Determined,” he repeated. “I did it once before, and we will do it again…It’s not about taking away anybody’s guns,” he insisted.

Later on at the Wilkes-Barre rally, Biden proclaimed from the podium: “That’s why, back in 1994, I took on the NRA [National Rifle Association of America] and passed the assault weapons ban. For 10 years, mass shootings were down, 10 years in a row since I passed that legislation in 1994 as a chair—as a senator. But in 2004, Republicans let that ban expire. And what happened? Mass shootings in America tripled. Tripled.”

Biden urged, “It’s time to ban these. It’s time to ban these weapons. We did it before, and we can do it again.”

FACTS: Congress passed a 10-year ban on “assault weapons” under the Violent Crime Control and Law enforcement Act in 1994 back when Biden was a U.S. senator. As a compromise to secure enough votes, the law contained a sunset provision calling for the ban’s repeal after 10 years, and it was not renewed in 2004.

A plethora of research was conducted on the ban’s effectiveness and “consistently found no statistically significant impact on mass public shootings or any other type of crime,” according to a 2018 analysis by the Crime Prevention Research Center. The findings hold true for research funded by the Clinton administration, per think tank Urban Institute’s conclusions in a 1997 final report for the National Institute of Justice: “The evidence is not strong enough for us to conclude that there was any meaningful effect (i.e., that the effect was different from zero).” The same criminologists published a follow-up NIJ study in 2004 where the researchers found: “We cannot clearly credit the ban with any of the nation’s recent drop in gun violence. And, indeed, there has been no discernible reduction in the lethality and injuriousness of gun violence.” The assessment added, “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,” mentioning that “[assault weapons] were rarely used in gun crimes even before the ban.”

The first congressionally mandated study also mentioned that the banned guns “were never used in more than a modest fraction of all gun murders” beforehand while the subsequent 2004 report found that “assault weapons” and large-capacity magazines were “used in only a minority of gun crimes prior to the 1994 federal ban.”

Even the left-leaning ProPublica fact-checked Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) for claiming in a 2014 press release honoring the ban’s 20th anniversary that “the ban worked.” The non-profit’s fact-check cited Duke University public policy experts on gun violence who concluded, “There is no compelling evidence that it saved lives.”

Feinstein had introduced an updated version of the assault weapons ban the year before in the wake of the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School. (The measure failed 40-to-60.) Feinstein sourced a key statistic from the 1997 federal-funded report to claim that the ban “was responsible for a 6.7% decrease in total gun murders, holding all other factors equal.” But the figure was rejected by the study’s researchers a decade prior. One of the authors of that study, George Mason University criminology professor Dr. Christopher Koper, told ProPublica that number was just a “tentative conclusion.” Koper was also the principal investigator on the 2004 study that “kind of overruled, based on new evidence, what the preliminary report had been in 1997.”

A spokesman for Feinstein contested the notion that the 2004 study invalidated the 1997 statistic but Koper said the team of researchers had not re-done the analysis that resulted in the 6.7 percent estimate because the calculation had been based on an assumption that turned out to be false. Koper said the researchers had falsely assumed that the ban had decreased the use of large-capacity magazines. What the research team later found was that despite the ban, the use of large-capacity magazines in crime had stayed steady or risen. “The weight of evidence that was gathered and analyzed across the two reports suggested that initial drop in the gun murder rate must have been due to other factors besides the assault weapons ban,” Koper stated.

As for Biden continuing to maintain that the ban reduced mass shooting deaths, 2019 research led by New York University epidemiologist Charles DiMaggio raises eyebrows. DiMaggio focused on shootings that killed at least four victims—the parameters used by the FBI—and employed a trio of open-source databases on mass shootings maintained by Mother Jones, the Los Angeles Times, and researchers at Stanford University.

The study examined not the number of mass shootings, as Biden underscores, but the number of mass shooting deaths as a share of all firearm homicides. The difference in total fatalities during the period when the ban was in effect amounted to 15 fewer deaths over a decade, a 1.5-per-year average, including mass shootings that did not involve weapons covered by the ban. Aside from the fact that the comparison was made between a pre-ban period that was two years longer than the ban period, “[t]he drop of 15 mass shooting deaths from before the ban to during it is a slender difference on which to base firm conclusions,” even PolitiFact observed.

DiMaggio’s comparative study found that “no observational epidemiologic study can answer the question whether the 1994 US federal assault ban was causally related to preventing mass-shooting homicides.” DiMaggio also told PolitiFact it’s not definitive that the rate of mass shooting deaths per 100,000 Americans fell during the ban’s timeline. “There is some evidence they actually declined—or at least didn’t continue to increase during the period of the ban,” DiMaggio said. PolitiFact commented in its 2019 fact-check’s ruling that the 10-year decline of 15 mass shooting deaths is “too small to allow strong conclusions.” RAND economist Rosanna Stewart likewise assessed in a 2018 article that in terms of statistical methods alone, the results of earlier studies on the impact of federal and state-level “assault weapons” ban on mass shootings were “inconclusive.

Back then, the banned “semi-automatic assault weapons” included 19 prohibited firearms, along with “copies” of the models, as well as semi-automatic rifles, pistols, and shotguns that have certain named features, according to the Department of Justice’s questions-and-answers page on the ban. Text from a Justice Department fact sheet specifies that the now-defunct ban covered “the manufacture of 19 military-style assault weapons, assault weapons with specific combat features, ‘copy-cat’ models, and certain high-capacity ammunition magazines of more than ten rounds.” (Now the definition of “assault weapons” varies among jurisdictions.)

We should address the controversial term “assault weapons” most often used by gun control advocates. The phrase defines various types of firearms that fire a high volume of ammunition in a controlled way or possess specified design features such as a folding or telescoping stock, a pistol grip, a bayonet mount, a grenade launcher, and a “flash suppressor or threaded barrel designed to accommodate a flash suppressor.” The presence of any two of the aforementioned transformed a legal rifle into a forbidden “assault weapon.”

The characteristics used to differentiate banned firearms from non-banned ones are cosmetic in nature and do not make the weapons more lethal than similar makes. Before he was elected president, Biden even conceded in a 2019 New York Times op-ed that the “1994 Biden Crime Bill” he wants to revive had no impact on firearm lethality, admitting that gun manufacturers could’ve “circumvented” the law by “making minor modifications to their products” that left the firearms “just as deadly.” Thus the ban which Biden credits with reducing the frequency of mass shootings and related deaths drew distinctions that had no practical significance as the compliant models still fired the same ammunition at the same rate with the same muzzle velocity.

A 2004 publication by the Violence Policy Center lamented that there were six Illinois gunmakers that still manufactured “assault weapons” during the ban, noting that in the immediate aftermath of the law’s enactment, the gun industry was swift to make slight, domestic design alterations, “a tactic” dubbed “sporterization.”

Rep. Thomas Massie (R-KY) stated that after a couple of cosmetic changes, sales spiked during the ban. “Clearly those who have been duped were never in a gun store in the late 1990’s/early 2000’s,” he tweeted.

RATING: Biden’s claim that the 1994 “assault weapons” ban he negotiated was an overall success is FALSE.

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