The article below was written by Thomas Gabor, LWVF member and author of the just-released book, Confronting Gun Violence in America. His book has been endorsed by leading academics, women’s groups, law enforcement officials, interfaith groups, and journalists. It has been Amazon.com’s #1 new release in Criminology and Sociology.
The Need for a Ban on Assault Weapons and High-Capacity Magazines
Assault weapons like the AR-15 and Sig Sauer MCX have little value other than to kill people. They have been the weapons of choice in some of America’s most horrific mass shootings, including those at the Orlando Pulse nightclub, Virginia Tech, Aurora Century Theater, and Sandy Hook Elementary School. One analysis has found that an average of 8 more people are shot and nearly 3 more people are killed in mass shootings in which they are used. This fact also shows that the nature and lethality of a weapon makes a difference; hence, the emptiness of the slogan: “Guns don’t kill, people do.”
An analysis conducted for my book Confronting Gun Violence in America shows that the rise in public mass shootings coincides with the growing number of military-style weapons in the civilian market. The gun industry introduced these weapons into the civilian market in the 1980s in response to the saturation of their core market (white, rural males) with conventional firearms.
With more of these weapons in the hands of civilians, the number of public mass killings by firearm more than doubled from the 1980s to the 1990s and 2000s. Between 2010 and 2015, the annual number of incidents has again increased sharply, at over four times the frequency observed in the 1980s. Fifteen (50%) of the 30 deadliest mass shootings since 1949 have occurred since 2007. The average number of deaths per year resulting from mass public shootings also has increased and, since 2010, was almost four times that of the 1980s.
Assault weapons are usually defined by some of the following features:
- detachable ammunition magazines that may hold up to 100 rounds;
- Pistol and forward grips on rifles, allowing a firearm’s use in different positions and enabling spray-firing;
- Threaded barrels for attaching silencers;
- Folding rifle stocks for concealment and portability; and
- Flash suppressors to avoid imperiling the shooter’s vision and to keep
the shooter’s position from being identified in the dark.
The federal assault weapons ban that was in force between 1994 and 2004 defined a firearm as an assault weapon if it contained two or more of these forms of military-type features.
While there are mixed findings as to whether the assault weapons ban of 1994 had an effect on violent crime, one positive sign was that, once the ban was in place, assault weapons made up a small percentage of firearms that were recovered by police in relation to crimes. In six major cities—Baltimore, Boston, Miami, St. Louis, Anchorage, and Milwaukee—the share of gun crimes committed with assault weapons during the ban declined by between 17 % and 72 %. Nationally, traces of guns used in crimes involving assault weapons conducted by the ATF dropped by 70% during the ban.
The reduction in crime by assault weapons was, in part, offset by the substitution of assault-type firearms that technically did not qualify as assault weapons. Also, during the ban, a study of four cities—Baltimore, Anchorage, Milwaukee, Louisville—indicated that guns with high-capacity magazines actually rose as semiautomatics were being equipped with them. This increase offset the declining number of assault weapons in crime. The lack of success in reducing the use of high-capacity magazines was likely due to the enormous stock of pre-ban magazines that were exempted from the ban.
The grandfathering provisions of the assault weapon ban, which allowed weapons and high-capacity magazines already manufactured to continue to be bought and sold, undercut the effectiveness of the ban. Approximately 25 million of these magazines remained in the country
and millions more were available for import from other countries.
Following expiration of the ban in 2004, mortality statistics and criminal prosecutions showed that total homicides, gun-related homicides, and gun crimes increased in Mexican towns located closer to Texas and Arizona ports of entry relative to towns near California ports of entry. California maintains a statewide ban on assault weapons. One research team estimated that the US policy change was responsible for at least 158 additional deaths each year in towns near the border after the ban had expired. The study findings suggest that the policy change (expiration of the ban) in the US with respect to assault weapons increased the supply of assault weapons and thereby contributed to increasing lethal violence in Mexico.
The two-feature definition and the inclusion of some features that were purely cosmetic in nature created a loophole that allowed manufacturers to successfully circumvent the law by making minor modifications to the weapons they already produced. The law also did not prohibit the continued transfer or possession of assault weapons manufactured before the law’s effective date. Manufacturers took advantage of this loophole by boosting production of assault weapons in the months leading up to the ban, creating a legal stockpile of these items.
A strong majority of Americans, including gun owners, consistently support laws prohibiting assault weapons. For example, a poll conducted in December 2012 found that 62% of Americans favored banning military-style assault weapons. In another survey, 67% of Field & Stream readers polled did not consider assault weapons to be legitimate sporting guns. At this time, seven states and the District of Columbia have enacted laws banning assault weapons.
I would recommend that:
- A new national assault weapons ban should be enacted and that Florida adopt its own ban until a federal ban is in place.
- Rather than grandfathering weapons already manufactured or in the hands of civilians, firearms prohibited by the ban should be bought back by the federal or state government. A special tax on firearms would be one way to help offset the costs of a gun buyback.
- Legislation should be designed to make it difficult for manufacturers to circumvent the ban through minor modifications in the design of a firearm. Semiautomatic firearms exempted from the ban should be narrowly defined guns used for sporting and other legitimate purposes.
- High-capacity magazines that can hold more than ten rounds of ammunition should be banned. Individuals owning these magazines should be compensated for turning them in.