Argument: Assault weapons are used to kill a greater number of people

Crime gun traces performed by ATF showed that between 1986 and 1992, assault weapons were traced to 1,578 murders, 940 assaults, 224 robberies, and more than 4,500 narcotics arrests.6 Because only a fraction of the guns used in crime are traced by the ATF, these figures understate the criminal use of these guns. The real number of crimes committed with assault weapons may be up to ten times higher.7 Moreover, before the federal ban, assault weapons were used in some of the worst mass murders ever committed in the United States. For example:

  • The McDonald’s shooting – On July 18, 1984, James Huberty killed 21 people and wounded 19 others in a San Ysidro, California, McDonald’s using an UZI assault pistol and a shotgun.
  • The Stockton schoolyard massacre – On January 17, 1989, Patrick Purdy killed 5 small children and wounded 29 others and a teacher at the Cleveland Elementary School in Stockton, California, using a semiautomatic AK-47 assault rifle imported from China. That weapon had been purchased from a gun dealer in Oregon and was equipped with a 75-round “drum” magazine. Purdy shot 106 rounds in less than 2 minutes.9
  • The Louisville, Kentucky, workplace massacre – On September 14, 1989, Joseph Wesbecker killed 7 people and wounded 13 others at his former place of work in Louisville, Kentucky, before taking his own life. Mr. Wesbecker was armed with an AK-47 rifle, two MAC-11 assault pistols, and a duffle-bag full of ammunition.10
  • The CIA headquarters shootings – On January 25, 1993, Pakistani national Mir Aimal Kasi killed 2 CIA employees and wounded 3 others outside the entrance to CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia. Kasi used a Chinese-made semiautomatic AK-47 assault rifle equipped with a 30-round magazine purchased from a Northern Virginia gun store.11
  • The Branch-Davidian standoff in Waco, Texas – On February 28, 1993, while attempting to serve federal search and arrest warrants at the Branch-Davidian compound in Waco, Texas, four ATF special agents were killed and 16 others were wounded with an arsenal of assault weapons. According to a federal affidavit, the cult had accumulated at least the following assault weapons: 123 AR-15s, 44 AK-47s, 2 Barrett .50 calibers, 2 Street Sweepers, an unknown number of MAC-10 and MAC-11s, 20 100-round drum magazines, and 260 large-capacity banana clips. The weapons were bought legally from gun dealers and at gun shows.12
  • The San Francisco Pettit & Martin shootings – On July 1, 1993, Gian Luigi Ferri killed 8 people and wounded 6 others at the San Francisco law offices of Pettit & Martin and other offices at 101 California Street. Ferri used two TEC-DC9 assault pistols with 50-round magazines. These weapons had been purchased from a pawnshop and a gun show in Nevada.13
  • The firepower of assault weapons makes them especially desired by violent criminals and especially lethal in their hands. Prior to the Act, although assault weapons constituted less than 1% of the guns in circulation,14 they were a far higher percentage of the guns used in crime. ATF’s analysis of guns traced to crime showed that assault weapons “are preferred by criminals over law abiding citizens eight to one. … Access to them shifts the balance of power to the lawless.”15

The NRA and its supporters have cited Justice Department studies based on surveys of state and federal prisoners to claim that assault weapons are used in only 2% of crimes nationally. These studies, however, actually confirm the disproportionate use of assault weapons in crime. More than 80% of these prisoners used no firearm in the commission of their crimes. Within the category of inmates who used guns to commit crimes, semiautomatic assault weapons were actually used in 6.8% of state prosecutions and 9.3% of federal prosecutions.16 Both percentages are much higher than the estimated 1% of guns in circulation that are assault weapons.17 They are also far higher than the misleading 2% figure cited continually by the NRA.