Issue Report: Assault weapons ban in the United States

Should citizens in the United States be banned from possessing assault weapons?

Assault weapons were banned in the United States in 1994, but the ban was left to expire in 2004 during the Bush Administration. Since then, many ban bills have been introduced in Congress, but none have passed, even in the wake of multiple mass shootings involving assault weapons.  The original ban was directed at semiautomatic firearms having features that appear useful in military and criminal applications but unnecessary in shooting sports or self-defense (examples include flash hiders, folding rifle stocks, and threaded barrels for attaching silencers). The law banned 18 models and variations by name, as well as revolving cylinder shotguns. It also has a “features test” provision banning other semiautomatics having two or more military-style features. In sum, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) had identified 118 models and variations that were prohibited by the law. A number of the banned guns were foreign semiautomatic rifles that had been banned from importation into the U.S. since 1989. The ban also prohibited most ammunition feeding devices holding more than 10 rounds of ammunition (referred to as large capacity magazines, or LCMs). An LCM is arguably the most functionally important feature of most AWs, many of which have magazines holding 30 or more rounds. Approximately 18% of civilian-owned firearms and 21% of civilian-owned handguns were equipped with LCMs. The assault weapons ban expired in 2004, and was not renewed by Congress. The fact that it was not renewed was highly contentious among the general American public and in the halls of Congress. Many continue to call for the renewal of the ban or a fresh assault weapons ban, which some hope would solve problems with the first legislation. Gun rights advocates continue to oppose any ban, and the debate continues.

Crime: Does an assault weapons ban reduce crime and save lives?

Assault weapons empower the deranged to kill many people

While the phrase “guns don’t kill people, people kill people” is used widely, what it misses is the extent to which assault weapons enable deranged individuals to kill massively.

The 1994 US assault weapons ban significantly decreased use

The use of assault weapons was down 17% from 1994 levels in 2004, according to one report.

There are fewer assault weapons at crime scenes since the ban

“Since enactment of the law, the number of assault weapons traced to crime scenes has dropped 45%, according to Crime Gun Solutions LLC, a consulting firm.” [1]

Since the ban, there have been fewer gun fatalities

“Deaths caused by guns dropped from 38,505 in 1994 to 29,573 in 2001, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. While crime experts say the drop resulted from several factors, such as fewer gang shootings involving crack cocaine, they cite the assault weapons ban and other gun controls passed in 1993 and 1994 as among the causes”[2]

Assault weapons are used to kill a greater number of people

Assault weapons can hold and fire more rounds. This is directly proportional to how many people can be killed.

Law enforcement agents are put at a greater risk due to assault weapons

Assault weapons are responsible for 1 in 5 deaths of law enforcement agents.

Police support a ban on assault weapons

Police, those that have the most experience dealing with crime, are strongly in favor of gun control laws. Why is this? First, many cops have been killed by assault weapons, and these brave law enforcement officers must consistently deal with the fear that criminals they encounter will be packing assault weapons. Second, they recognize that assault weapons are used by some criminals and madmen to inflict maximum casualties. Finally, they see first hand instances in which assault weapons can be used offensively and defensively, and it is notable that they conclude, ultimately, that assault weapons should not be available to the public.

Statistics gathered during the last federal weapons ban do not include "copy-cat" weapons

These types of assault weapons are not counted in the number of deaths due to assault weapons. Therefore, for at least the weapons that were banned, a drop in violence can be appropriately attributed.

An assault weapons ban decreases supply and increases prices, beneficially

While it may be impossible to get rid of all assault weapons, what is possible is to decrease the supply of assault weapons. This makes them more difficult to obtain and drives up their price on the market, which makes them less attractive to prospective buyers. This all generally decreases the presence of assault weapons on the street and in crime.

The 1994 assault weapons ban did not decrease crime

The obvious intent of the 1994 assault weapons ban was to decrease criminal acts in which assault weapons were used. But, the assault weapons ban has not done this.

The assault weapons ban is unnecessary; criminals prefer concealable hand guns

While criminals wanted to carry powerful automatic weapons in the 90s, they now prefer hand guns, as they are concealable and yet still have the necessary deadly force for them to commit crimes.

Assault weapons banned in 1994 were not uniquely lethal

Many guns that remained publicly available after the 1994 assault weapons ban were effectively as lethal as the weapons that were banned under the legislation. This is largely because simple adjustments to assault weapons allowed exemptions from the ban. And, it is clear that many of the weapons used in the most deadly massacres, such as the Columbine or Virginia Tech massacres in the United States, were not banned by the assault weapons law.

Decline in assault weapons due to decline in assault pistols

According to a 2004 report to the National Institute of Justice,

“The decline in the use of AWs has been due primarily to a reduction in the use of assault pistols (APs), which are used in crime more commonly than assault rifles (ARs). There has not been a clear decline in the use of ARs, though assessments are complicated by the rarity of crimes with these weapons and by substitution of post-ban rifles that are very similar to the banned AR models.”

The 1994 assault weapons ban was ineffectual

The sale of assault weapons continued beyond the 1994 ban, but with very slight modifications, such as the sawing off of muzzles, to exploit the loopholes of the ban. Therefore, there was never exactly a ban on assault weapons, but simply a shift in how the manufacturers produced them. And, despite the fact that assault weapons were still being produced and sold, there were still drops in crime and the use of assault weapons on the streets. This suggests that assault weapons were not actually the issue.

Knives are more deadly than assault weapons

Because knives are a more common weapon of choice for criminals, particularly because they are concealable, they have led to more deaths than assault weapons. Yet, Knives aren’t banned. It’s important to keep the relatively low societal risks in mind.

An assault weapons ban encourages organized crime

An assault weapons ban will be subverted by blackmarkets

Expiration of the assault weapons ban could enable better gun control laws

Some gun control advocates actually welcome the expiration of the 1994 assault weapons ban as a means to producing better gun control laws in the future.

Most automatic weapons were already illegal under the National Firearms Act of 1934

An assault weapons ban would not prevent another Columbine massacre

Self-defense: Are assault weapons unnecessary for self-defense?

There are adequate alternatives to assault weapons for self-defense.

A shotgun, pistol, or rifle are all adequate means of self-defense. These are powerful weapons with heavy destructive force. They can easily kill multiple assailants in rapid succession when used properly. If there is any concern about the ability of a gun owner to wield a shotgun or pistol properly such that they can kill multiple assailants, than they should seek enhanced training instead of an assault weapon.

Assault weapons are military caliber weapons not suited for home protection purposes

More home-owners are killed by gun-ownership than are saved

While a right to self defense exists, it is important to note that more people are accidentally killed by their own guns than are saved by them. On this account, is the possession of guns, assault weapon or other, really “self-defense”? Furthermore, assuming that gun ownership involves risks, the ownership of more deadly assault weapons may increase the risk of accidental death or mutilation.

Assault weapons have no place in society, except to kill en masse

Fabiola Santiago, "Only political drunks arm teachers and deny the need for an assault weapons ban," Miami Herald, Feb 27, 2018

“Assault weapons have no place in society. Beyond the military and law enforcement — the militia armed to defend us in the 21st century — they aren’t needed for anything, except killing innocents en masse.”

Assault weapons are superior for self defense

Revolver pistols typically hold 6 rounds. It is significant possibility that a person defending themselves from robbers or assailants would need more than 6 rounds, particularly if there are two or three of them. Yet, re-loading a revolver is time consuming and not a good situation to be in the face of attackers.

Banning semi-automatic weapons would harm small businesses.

A ban on semi-automatic weapons would damage the revenue of small business.

Semi-automatic assault weapons are often misrepresented

Semi-automatic assault weapons are weapons in which one pull of the trigger shoots one bullet. These weapons are commonly used at shooting ranges and in hunting. Yet, they are often misrepresented as “machine guns” with heavy destructive force.

1993 ban: Was the 1993 ban effective?

When 1993 ban expired, mass shooting and death rate skyrocketed

Research from the University of Massachusetts, cited by ThinkProgress, found that, from 1994-2004, there were only 12 incidents due to assault weapons, totaling some 89 deaths. In the decade following, after the ban expired, both numbers spiked and from 2004-2014, there were 34 incidents involving assault weapons – and over 300 deaths.

1993 ban achieved goal of reducing lethality, frequency of mass shootings

Louis Klarevas, a University of Massachusetts researcher who wrote a book on mass-shooting violence published in 2016, said: “The original intent of the assault-weapons ban was to reduce the carnage of mass shootings [not to reduce overall crime]. And on that front the data indicate that it worked.”

Expiry of 1993 ban did not result in increased mass shootings

A few sources dispute whether the expiry of the 1993 ban in 2004 resulted in an increase in the rate of mass shootings. One writer in the Los Angeles Times, for example, disputes the Klarevas University of Massachusetts study, arguing that it was statistically flawed in finding that the rate of mass shootings had increased in the years since the ban expired.

2nd Amendment: Is a ban consistent with the 2nd amendment of the US constitution?

The Second Amendment applies to militia's, not private ownership

Since the Second Amendment right ‘to keep and bear arms’ applies only to the right of the state to maintain a militia, and not to the individual’s right to bear arms, there can be no serious claim to any express constitutional right of an individual to possess a firearm,” (Stevens v. United States).

A ban on assault weapons is not a slippery slope to an all gun ban

Most individuals seeking a ban on assault weapons just want assault weapons to be banned.

The US 2nd Amendment does not merely protect a right to arms in militias

An assault weapons ban violates the presumption of innocence

An assault weapon ban violates the second amendment

An assault weapons ban leads to a slippery slope of gun seizures

The Supreme Court has affirmed the individual right to bear arms.

The Supreme Court has affirmed that the 2nd Amendment confers an individual right to bear arms. (Heller vs. District of Columbia) Delivered in 2008.

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