I had a request to reblog this post from back in 2013. Keep in mind, I wrote this three years ago.
Before we get in to this topic I request that any comments made be civil and rational. I cited my sources the best I could. It has been a long while since I wrote anything like this.
When the news popped up about Sandyhook I was just as shocked and saddened as everyone else. While I have no children of my own I have been around a lot of kids, I worked at a kindergarten through 5th grade daycare for five years, I have a wonderful girlfriend with two beautiful daughters, (2 and almost 4), friends with children, nieces, and a nephew. All I could think of was those kids, the hell the families and first responders were going through, and then the potential political and cultural ramifications started hitting me.
Sure enough, I was right. Almost immediately gun control and gun abolitionists came out of the wood work. Rightly so really, we should have discourse and debate about issues in the United States, especially big and tragic issues. What made me irritated is the lack of information; many of these people were making uninformed comments and accusations. Many have never been around or shot a firearm, but were still talking about the functionality of them. For instance as I was bouncing between CNN, FOX, and MSNBC I repeatedly heard news casters on all stations talk about how you could unload of clip of ammo in seconds using a semi auto assault rifle, or that a semi auto assault rifle could fire five rounds a second. This is simply not true, and I will tell you why.
First, there is a difference between semiautomatic and fully automatic firearms. In plain English a semi-automatic weapon is one that fires a round (bullet) with each pull of the trigger, versus an automatic weapon which continues to shoot until the trigger is released or the ammunition supply is exhausted.
Again, a fully automatic weapon (a machine gun) is one that fires a succession of bullets so long as the trigger is depressed or until the ammunition supply is exhausted. Any weapon that shoots, is designed to shoot, or can be readily restored to shoot automatically, more than one shot at a time by a single trigger pull, is legally considered to be a machine gun, at least by the ATF machine gun definition.
A machine gun can normally fire between 400 and 1,000 rounds per minute, or between 7 and 17 rounds per second.
Machine guns have been illegal to purchase since 1934 (The National Firearms Act) for civilians to own machine guns without special permission from the U.S. Treasury Department. Machine guns are subject to a $200 tax every time their ownership changes from one federally registered owner to another, and each new weapon is subject to a manufacturing tax when it is made, and it must be registered with the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms and Explosives (ATF) in its National Firearms Registry.
To become a registered owner, a complete FBI background investigation is conducted, checking for any criminal history or tendencies toward violence, and an application must be submitted to the ATF including two sets of fingerprints, a recent photo, a sworn affidavit that transfer of the NFA firearm is of “reasonable necessity,” and that sale to and possession of the weapon by the applicant “would be consistent with public safety.” The application form also requires the signature of a chief law enforcement officer with jurisdiction in the applicant’s residence.
Since the Firearms Owners’ Protection Act of May 19, 1986, ownership of newly manufactured machine guns has been prohibited to civilians. Machine guns which were manufactured prior to the Act’s passage are regulated under the National Firearms Act, but those manufactured after the ban cannot ordinarily be sold to or owned by civilians. Many states have placed further restrictions on these weapons.
As I stated earlier, a semiautomatic firearm is one that fires a round (bullet) with each pull of the trigger. How fast can you pull a trigger on a gun? Trained competition shooters can fire a gun amazingly fast, and they spend hours a day for years honing this ability. The average person does not have the time or inclination to do this. It is these types of firearms that have been labeled “Assault Weapons.”
The ” Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994,” Public Law 103-322 defined assault weapons, and though it is expired, is the definition that is still used. The law gave a list of specific weapons that it designated as assault weapons and stated the following:
A semiautomatic rifle is an “assault weapon” if it can accept a detachable magazine and has two or more of the following:
- A folding or telescoping stock
- A pistol grip
- A bayonet mount
- A flash suppressor, or threads to attach one
- A grenade launcher.
A semiautomatic shotgun is an “assault weapon” if it has two or more of the following:
- A folding or telescoping stock
- A pistol grip
- A magazine capacity of over 5 rounds
- A detachable magazine.
A semiautomatic pistol is an “assault weapon” if it can accept a detachable magazine and has two or more of the following:
- A magazine outside of the grip
- A threaded barrel to accept a flash suppressor, silencer, etc.
- A barrel shroud
- A weight of 50 oz or more, unloaded
- “A semiautomatic version of an automatic firearm.”
I work on a Navy installation, and I spoke with the local armorer. He stated that while it is not codified, the military uses this definition for an assault weapon: A hand-held, selective fire weapon, which means it’s capable of firing in either an automatic or a semiautomatic mode depending on the position of a selector switch. Again, these kinds of weapons are heavily regulated by the National Firearms Act of 1934.
Now that the definitions of Automatic, Semiautomatic, and Assault Weapon have been established, let us take a look at crimes with these weapons.
The Brady Campaign website states “In the five-year period (1990-1994) before enactment of the ban, assault weapons named in the Act constituted 4.82% of the crime gun traces ATF conducted nationwide. In the post-ban period after 1995, these assault weapons made up only 1.61% of the guns ATF has traced to crime – a drop of 66% from the pre-ban rate.”
They further state “In the absence of a ban on assault weapons, police across America report that semi-automatic assault weapons become the “weapon of choice” for drug traffickers, gangs and paramilitary extremist groups. It happened in the 1980s, before the federal assault weapons ban, and it appears to be happening again now that the law is gone.”
However, multiple sources refute this evidence. David B. Kopel’s paper : Rational Basis Analysis of “Assault Weapon” Prohibition gives the following citations:
- California. In 1990, “assault weapons” comprised thirty-six of the 963 firearms involved
- in homicide or aggravated assault and analyzed by police crime laboratories, according to a report prepared by the California Department of Justice, and based on data from police firearms laboratories throughout the state. The report concluded that “assault weapons play a very small role in assault and homicide firearm cases.” Of the 1,979 guns seized from California narcotics dealers in 1990, fifty-eight were “assault weapons.”
- Chicago. From 1985 through 1989, only one homicide was perpetrated with a military caliber rifle. Of the 17,144 guns seized by the Chicago police in 1989, 175 were “military style weapons.”
- Florida. Florida Department of Law Enforcement Uniform Crime Reports for 1989 indicate that rifles of all types accounted for 2.6% of the weapons used in Florida homicides. The Florida Assault Weapons Commission found that “assault weapons” were used in 17 of 7,500 gun crimes for the years 1986-1989.
- Los Angeles. Of the more than 4,000 guns seized by police during one year, only about 3% were “assault weapons.”
- Maryland. In 1989-90, there was only one death involving a “semiautomatic assault rifle” in all twenty-four counties of the State of Maryland.
- Massachusetts. Of 161 fatal shootings in Massachusetts in 1988, three involved “semiautomatic assault rifles.” From 1985 to 1991, the guns were involved in 0.7% of all shootings.
- Miami. The Miami police seized 18,702 firearms from January 1, 1989 to December 31, 1993. Of these, 3.13% were “assault weapons.”
- New Jersey. According to the Deputy Chief Joseph Constance of the Trenton New Jersey Police Department, in 1989, there was not a single murder involving any rifle, much less a “semiautomatic assault rifle,” in the State of New Jersey. No person in New Jersey was killed with an “assault weapon” in 1988. Nevertheless, in 1990 the New Jersey legislature enacted an “assault weapon” ban that included low-power .22 rifles, and even BB guns. Based on the legislature’s broad definition of “assault weapons,” in 1991, such guns were used in five of 410 murders in New Jersey; in forty-seven of 22,728 armed robberies; and in twenty-three of 23,720 aggravated assaults committed in New Jersey.
- New York City. Of 12,138 crime guns seized by New York City police in 1988, eighty were “assault-type” firearms.
- New York State. Semiautomatic “assault rifles” were used in twenty of the 2,394 murders in New York State in 1992.
- San Diego. Of the 3,000 firearms seized by the San Diego police in 1988-90, nine were “assault weapons” under the California definition.
- San Francisco. Only 2.2% of the firearms confiscated in 1988 were military-style semiautomatics.
- Virginia. Of the 1,171 weapons analyzed in state forensics laboratories in 1992, 3.3% were “assault weapons.”
- National statistics. Less than four percent of all homicides in the United States involve any type of rifle. No more than .8% of homicides are perpetrated with rifles using military calibers. (And not all rifles using such calibers are usually considered “assault weapons.”) Overall, the number of persons killed with rifles of any type in 1990 was lower than the number in any year in the 1980s.
Additionally the Bureau of Justice Statistics, Guns Used in Crime, July 1995, p. 5, states that “From 1982 to 1993, of the 687 officers who were killed by firearms other than their own guns, more were killed by .38 caliber revolvers than by any other firearm.”
A Washington Post editorial (September 15, 1994) stated, “No one should have any illusions about what was accomplished (by the ban). Assault weapons play a part in only a small percentage of crime. The provision is mainly symbolic; its virtue will be if it turns out to be, as hoped, a stepping stone to broader gun control.”
How effective was the 1994 Assault Weapons Ban overall? The USCDC “found insufficient evidence to determine the effectiveness of any of the firearms laws or combinations of laws reviewed on violent outcomes.”Additionally a study of the ban was mandated by Congress. It 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 was not a factor in multiple-victim or multiple-wound crimes. 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.”
Now what about recent statistics? Again, the Brady Campaign website states: “The Brady Center report, Assault Weapons: Mass Produced Mayhem, documents the concerns of police chiefs from around the country on the increasing problem of assault weapons since 2004 (Brady Center, p. 3). For example, during the last year of ban (2004), Miami police reported that 4 percent of homicides were committed with assault weapons. In 2007, 20 percent were committed with assault weapons (Miami Herald, 2007).”
However, the National Institute of Justice, and the Bureau of Justice Statistics both show that the firearm of choice for murderers is handguns, not assault weapons as defined by the law. Furthermore, the Attorney General of the California DOJ submitted a report in 2010 showing (among many interesting facts) that full auto firearms accounted for .6% of all gun crime, and rifles of all sorts (excluding the previously mentioned fully auto firearms) were only 6.9%. In strict homicide numbers, there are no records of fully auto firearms being used, and rifles account for only 8% of homicides with firearms.
In general all violent crime has been on the decline in the United States. According to the FBI, murder in the United States has been on the decline for at least five years, including the number of people killed by guns. The FBI statistics show there were 1,642 fewer people murdered with a gun last year than in 2006, a 16 percent drop.
According to the FBI Uniform Crime Reports Website:
- In 2011, an estimated 1,203,564 violent crimes occurred nationwide, a decrease of 3.8 percent from the 2010 estimate.
- When considering 5- and 10-year trends, the 2011 estimated violent crime total was 15.4 percent below the 2007 level and 15.5 percent below the 2002 level.
- There were an estimated 386.3 violent crimes per 100,000 inhabitants in 2011.
- Aggravated assaults accounted for the highest number of violent crimes reported to law enforcement at 62.4 percent. Robbery comprised 29.4 percent of violent crimes, forcible rape accounted for 6.9 percent, and murder accounted for 1.2 percent of estimated violent crimes in 2011.
- Information collected regarding type of weapon showed that firearms were used in 67.7 percent of the nation’s murders, 41.3 percent of robberies, and 21.2 percent of aggravated assaults.
By looking at this data one is tempted to say that if we banned firearms, or restricted them greatly, then 67.7% of murders would go down. However if you look at states with restrictive gun laws you see that they actually have higher murder rates than those states that do not. While it is not a state, I will use Washington DC as an example. Washington DC enacted a total gun ban in 1976, in the 25 year period following the gun ban the murder rate in DC increased 51% while the rest of the US decreased by 36%. The murder rates for Washington, D.C. and the nation were 26.8 and 8.8 respectively in 1976. Their respective murder rates 25 years later were 40.6 and 5.6. These murder rates are based on the population per 100,000 people. From the Gun owners of America Website, citing the FBI, “Crime in the United States,” Uniform Crime Reports (1977 and 2002).
Another example of this is Chicago. Chicago has some of the most restrictive gun laws in the United States, and they have over 500 homicides this year.
Furthermore, John R. Lott, Jr found in his studies “More Guns, Less Violent Crime,” The Wall Street Journal (28 August 1996). “Crime, Deterrence, and Right-to-Carry Concealed Handguns,” University of Chicago (15 August 1996), and “More Guns, Less Crime” (1998, 2000), states that have enacted concealed carry laws reduced their murder rate by 8.5%, rapes by 5%, aggravated assaults by 7% and robbery by 3% (Also as cited on the Gun owners of America Website).
Finally, all one has to do is look at the news and see that firearm sales have been increasing dramatically over the last few years. According to the Washington Times gun ownership is way up, crime is decreasing, and 41 States either allow carrying a concealed weapon without a permit or have “shall issue” laws that make it easy a noncriminal to get a permit. This is compared to 25 years ago when violent crime was at its peak, and only a handful of states allowed concealed carry weapons.