WOULD AN ASSAULT BAN END GUN VIOLENCE? LET'S LOOK AT THE FACTS
First off, we favor common sense gun control. The move to establish mandatory background checks for private sales is a smart one, since the gun show loophole is a way in which guns can fall into the wrong hands.
However, banning guns, or banning specific types of guns is not always effective.
Let's address the push for an assault weapons ban. Military style assault weapons already are illegal.
Despite that fact, there are many different opinions about what an assault weapon actually is, and whether they should or should not be legal. While the term is sometimes conflated with "assault rifle," a legal assault weapon is a semi-automatic firearm with a detachable magazine and pistol grip. It is not an automatic weapon (like what is used in the military). It does not refer to machine guns. A semi-automatic firearm fires one bullet from the chamber at a time (just like with a handgun).
There are many law abiding citizens who are members of the military who own semi-automatic weapons and they would be opposed to an assault weapons ban.
But the fact of the matter is that the hyper focus on mass shootings by the news and the media has brought the issue of assault weapons to the public consciousness. In reaction to these horrible scenes captured in the media, many people are now calling for an assault weapons ban. They believe that this would stop violent crime.
Yet would banning assault weapons really result in less crime? Let's look at what happened in the past. Between 1994 and 2004, the assault weapons ban did little to change the statistics on gun violence. In fact, before the ban was activated, rifles with military style features were only responsible for two percent of gun crimes nationwide (New York Times). During the ban, the number of assault weapons recovered by local police lowered to one percent, from the previous two percent. So really, there wasn't much of a difference being made.
Also, would the assault weapons "ban" be much of a ban? There would still be tens of millions of guns and magazines on American streets. Nobody knows the real number for sure. But rifle sales have skyrocketed. Counting rifles made and distributed in the U.S. only (in other words, not counting imports), the number has increased from 1.6 million in 2007 to 4.2 million in 2016. During that time, the AR-15 has been among the most popular rifles sold in the U.S. (National Review). In other words, even if the ban were enacted, a person who wanted to find an AR-15 illegally could do so, along with a large-capacity magazine. Some argue a weapons ban would prevent access to assault weapons and large-capacity magazines to law-abiding citizens, while criminals would still continue to buy these things with impunity.
Semi-automatic weapons don't kill the majority of the Americans being killed with guns each year. According to the latest data from pewresearch, a majority of the 45,222 gun deaths in 2020 were suicides. To be specific, 54% of these deaths were suicides, 43% were murders and 3% were unintentional deaths. Yes, there was a substantial increase in gun violence between 2019 and 2020, a jump by about 14%. In 2020, a majority of the gun murders (59%) were committed by handguns. Rifles were responsible for 3% of the gun murders. Shotguns were responsible for 1% of the gun murders. 36% Of the murders were commited with firearms classified as "type not stated."
What about mass shootings? It is true that the incidents of mass shootings have unfortunately become more common in the United States in recent years. These are heart breaking events and the tragedy of mass shootings at schools cannot be minimized. Certainly there is room for debate about gun control and smarter laws on guns, as we mentioned at the beginning of this article. However, the results achieved by banning rifles with military features and high capacity magazines may be limited.
According to the Gun Violence Archive, the number of people killed in mass shooter incidents has nearly doubled in the last decade. However, it is difficult to discuss the statistics on mass shootings because there is no single agreed upon definition of the term "mass shooting." Definitions can vary depending on a variety of factors. The FBI collects data on "active shooter incidents," which involves one or more individuals actively engaged in killing or attempting to kill people in populated areas. According to the FBI's data, 38 people died in active shooter incidents in 2020. According to the Gun Violence Archive, 513 people died in active shooter incidents in 2020. The Gun Violence Archive also has data for gun deaths in 2022 so far. As of May 2022, mass shootings have accounted for about 1% of all the total gun deaths. And according to Statista, handguns were used in most of these active shooter incidents. Also, as mentioned above, it would be entirely possible for these shooters to obtain their weapons illegally (given the mass amount of semi-automatic weapons on American streets). Given that rifles are used in a fractional amount of these mass shootings, one could make the argument that banning high capacity magazines would have a fractional impact overall.
The under discussed cause of gun violence: Poverty
David M. Kennedy (the director of the Center for Crime Prevention and Control at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice) has made the argument that poverty is a major cause of gun violence. He also says, a closer look at the social networks of neighborhoods most afflicted, often show that only a small number of men drive most of the violence. Identify these men, change their behavior, and it’s possible to have an immediate impact (New York Times).
Another issue is that of the deinstitutionalization of the mentally ill, and the over prescribing of pharmaceutical drugs. In 2012, at least 35 school shootings or school related acts of violence were committed by those taking or withdrawing from a psychiatric drug. (Aljazeera).
In the fight against gun violence, a good place to start would be taking measures to fight poverty, and to bring opportunities for education and employment into impoverished areas. Another measure would be to take a good look at the mental health industry, and to see if America truly is doing what it can to treat the mentally ill. That would be a start.
GUN LEGISLATION IN VIRGINIA
Va. Senate committee strikes 'assault weapons' bill, advances other proposed gun laws (WHSV, 1-13-20)
THE DATA ON GUN DEATHS
What the data says about gun deaths in the U.S. (Pew Research Center, 2-3-22)
Gun Violence Archive 2022
Weapon types used in mass shootings in the United States between 1982 and May 2022, by number of weapons and incidents (Statista, 2022)
Five Facts About Crime in the U.S. (Pew Research Center, 10-17-19)
What the data says about gun deaths in the U.S. (Pew Research Center, 8-16-19)
FBI Table on murder by weapon in 2017 (FBI, 2017)
It’s Time for Real Talk about the Assault-Weapons ‘Ban' (National Review, 2-27-18)
The Assault Weapons Myth, (New York Times - 9-12-14)
Assault Weapons Report, (Center for American Progress)
Death Statistics for 2013, (CDC)
MASS SHOOTERS AND PILLS
Guns, Mental Illness and Newtown (The Wall Street Journal, 12-18-12)
The Connecticut massacre and America's estrangement from reality (Aljazeera, 12-17-12)
Another School Shooting, Another Psychiatric Drug? Federal Investigation Long Overdue (Citizens Commission On Human Rights International, 7-20-12)