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by Blaine Smith,
Associate Editor

A chorus of calls to reinstate the Clinton “assault weapons” ban would do nothing to stop violent crime, but everything to trample the rights of law-abiding gun owners.

Know this: The January killing of six and wounding of 13 in Tucson didn’t spark some sudden fervor in renewing the “assault weapons” ban that expired in 2004. The horrendous acts perpetrated that day by a madman didn’t suddenly reveal a gaping hole in our nation’s gun laws that could be effortlessly mended by a return to the days of Clinton, Gore and Reno. Rather, it was just the latest incident that anti-gun politicians and media decided to glom on to in yet another of their perennial attempts to ratchet up controls on individual gun rights.

Just weeks before the Tucson shooting, it was the cross-border killings by Mexican drug cartels that had media and politicians demanding the ban be renewed—and before that any tragedy they could co-opt for their purposes, and that the Clinton ban would have done nothing to prevent.

Why would it do nothing? Because the ban itself was an utter failure—a remedy in search of a problem.

Before the ban went into effect in 1994, violent crime had been dropping precipitously, while at the same time firearm ownership continued to grow. Further, the number of crimes committed with the types of firearms the ban sought to outlaw accounted for less than 2 percent—some surveys put the number at less than .25 percent—of all violent crimes.

During the ban, certain firearms were outlawed while others that were nearly identical—save for certain features that had nothing to do with the functionality of the firearm—were permitted. The ban also outlawed magazines holding more than 10 rounds, which affected a large swath of handguns not defined by the government as “assault weapons.” That affected the ability of many law-abiding gun owners who didn’t even own the banned firearms to effectively protect themselves.

In fact, a study that Congress commissioned on the efficacy of the Clinton ban reveals why it allowed the law to sunset in 2004—and why the ban shouldn’t be resurrected today. The study failed to find any correlation between the ban and a reduction in overall violent crime rates.

Further, no correlation was found between the ban and a reduction in the types of crime that the ban was supposed to quash, and which causes the ban to be promoted today—multiple-victim, multiple-gunshot attacks. Said the congressional study’s authors, “We were unable to detect any reduction to date in two types of gun murders that are thought to be closely associated with assault weapons, those with multiple victims in a single incident and those producing multiple bullet wounds per victim.”

Pushing A Ban Proven Inept
My stepfather laughs at a particular law in the town where I was raised—a law mandating that all dogs not in one’s home or yard must be wearing a leash. One individual in particular flouted the leash law daily when he walked his four dogs and allowed them to run freely, until the local police demanded each dog wear a leash. The next time my stepdad saw the man walking his dogs, several still ran ahead or behind the man, though each one dragged a leash, just as the law specified.

In essence, the Clinton ban had the same effect on violent crime: It was poorly defined and impotent in achieving its stated goals. Yet the ban affected the rights of millions of law-abiding gun owners.

But this matters little to anti-gun politicians. Efforts to curtail the rights of honest American citizens to purchase or transfer semi-automatic firearms or ammunition magazines that hold more bullets than the pols find comfortable (though, in reality, many won’t be comfortable until there’s no ammunition, and no guns to hold them) were underway just days after the Tucson shootings.

Rep. Carolyn McCarthy and Sen. Frank Lautenberg introduced legislation to re-impose the magazine-ban portion of the 1994 law (see “Tragedy in Tucson,” April 2011, p. 32) that would outlaw magazines holding more than 10 rounds.

And Sen. Dianne Feinstein attempted to circumvent Congress when in the first week of February she sent a letter to President Barack Obama asking that the BATFE narrow its view of the “sporting purposes” test used to determine if firearms are suitable for importation. Using anti-gun buzzwords like “military-style assault firearms” and claiming that limiting access to semi-automatic firearms owned by millions of Americans would somehow curb drug violence in Mexico, the fact that her letter came so soon after the Tucson shootings is telling.

These politicians know the 10-year ban on certain semi-automatic firearms, and certain types of magazines, had no effect on tragedies like Tucson; the studies they requested bear this out, and the fact that the ban was allowed to go quietly into that good night, with a decline in violence since, should squelch calls for its reinstatement. But anti-gunners continue to rage against our rights.

The Media Persists
This point raises another interesting fact: While the effect the Clinton ban had on instances of multiple victim shootings was imperceptible, actual instances of multiple victim shootings—while tragic and jarring to the nation’s psyche—are so rare as to be imperceptible in the larger constellation of total violent crime numbers.

As economist John Lott has noted in these pages, large multiple-victim public shootings are extremely rare events, but they understandably garner widespread media attention.

And when the media saturates a particular subject with its incessant spotlight, reporting of the facts soon turns to missives on what can be done in the future to prevent such attacks. The fact that mentally ill individuals are, in the overwhelming majority of instances, the perpetrators of such attacks, the media will once again dredge up the old standby of gun control. And in recent years, more specifically the editorialists have called for reinstatement of the “assault weapons” ban.

Just as they did in the days following the Tucson murders.

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