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Assault-weapons ban was not, in fact, a “failure”

with 4 comments

Although that’s the talking point the NRA advances. Alex Seitz-Wald writes in Salon:

There’s plenty to digest from today’s Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on guns, but it’s worth setting the record straight about a key study that “proved,” as two Republican witnesses claimed, that the 1994 Assault Weapons Ban was a failure. The study did no such thing.

The study in question was the Department of Justice’s official assessment of the ban, which was completed when it expired in 2004. Congress mandated that the executive branch conduct the study, which was carried out on behalf of the DoJ by researchers at the University of Pennsylvania, led by criminologists Christopher Koper.

If you listened to the testimony today of Wayne LaPierre, the executive vice president of the NRA, or David Kopel, a law professor and researcher at the libertarian Cato Institute, the study’s findings were unequivocal.

“Independent studies, including a study from the Clinton Justice Department, proved that ban had no impact on lowering crime,” LaPierre said. A footnote in his prepared testimony indicated he was referring to the Koper study.

Cato’s Kopel dwelled on the study at length, spending several minutes discussing its history and findings. “We do not have to speculate about whether ‘assault weapon’ bans do any good. A Department of Justice study commissioned by the Clinton administration found that they do not,” he explained. “The study found the [Sen. Dianne] Feinstein ban to be a complete failure.”

So is that what the study said? No, according to the author of the study himself. I emailed Koper, now at George Mason University, after the hearing to note that I had a fairly different reading of his paper from that of LaPierre and Koper, and asked if he could sort it out.

“I agree with your reading of our 2004 study,” Koper replied. You can read the full study for yourself here and see that while it was not a ringing endorsement of the assault weapons ban, as many gun control advocates had hoped, it hardly “proved” the law to be a failure, as LaPierre claims. To the contrary, it found some encouraging signs, like an average 40 percent drop in the number of assault weapons used in crimes (some cities saw a drop of over 70 percent) and some benefit from the ban on high-capacity magazines.

But mostly, the study was inconclusive. Not enough time had passed for the ban’s effect to be fully felt and there were too many loopholes to get a good read on its effect. For instance, the number of high-capacity magazines in the country actually increased during time of the ban because it was still legal to import magazines made in other countries before the law went into effect. Meanwhile, numerous other variables contributed to the drop in crime during that decade, including better policing and the end of the crack epidemic.

In his testimony, Cato’s Kopel zeroed in on this passage from the study: “We cannot clearly credit the ban with any of the nation’s recent drop in gun violence.”

By the same token, the study didn’t rule out the ban as a contributor to the drop in crime. Just because something can’t be proven does not mean that the opposite is automatically true.

Meanwhile, the very next sentence after Kopel’s reads: “However, the ban’s exemption of millions of pre-ban AWs and LCMs ensured that the effects of the law would occur only gradually. Those effects are still unfolding and may not be fully felt for several years into the future.”

For more, study author Koper pointed me to an Op-Ed he wrote in the Baltimore Sun in 2004. “So is the ban working?” he asked rhetorically in the essay. “It’s a work in progress,” he answered.

There’s a big difference between “a work in a progress” and a failure. And there’s a big difference between inconclusive results and proof that something was fruitless. But LaPierre and Kopel would rather pretend there is not.

Written by LeisureGuy

30 January 2013 at 12:52 pm

Posted in Government, Guns, Law

4 Responses

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  1. Very simple: When you define something as X (an “Assault weapon”) and someone manufactures Y (a non-“assault weapon” that still shoots bullets), and ban production of X, but not Y, the murder rate with X may decrease. Guess what? People still got shot.

    This is a change in nomenclature, not a change in actions. Much like very few people get run over by 1969 Mustangs anymore. This doesn’t mean less people get run over.

    Further, since all existing weapons still existed, it is unlikely there was any appreciable drop in their use. No law had any effect on existing weapons. Therefore, any change would only come from other factors.

    And “years”? I have functional guns from the 19th Century. And by making something collectible and desirable you increase its longevity. Add in modern materials, and most current rifles could easily see the year 2200.

    Which doesn’t address the fact that a “featureless” AR15 still shoots bullets, and is still legally available everywhere they are “banned.”

    Which doesn’t change the fact that only about 300 people a year are killed with rifles of ANY type.

    Then there’s this:

    Click to access 07-290.pdf

    “Some have made the argument, bordering on the frivolous, that only those arms in existence in the 18th century are protected by the Second Amendment. We do not interpret constitutional rights that way. Just as the First Amendment protects modern forms of communications, e.g., Reno v. American Civil Liberties Union, 521 U. S. 844, 849 (1997), and the Fourth Amendment applies to modern forms of search, e.g., Kyllo v. United States, 533 U. S. 27, 35–36 (2001), the Second Amendment extends, prima facie, to all instruments that constitute bearable arms, even those that were not in existence at the time of the founding.”.”

    Let me translate that for you: “DiFi can go fuck herself.”

    It would help, btw, if you actually knew what you were talking about (weapons and their nomenclature, functionality, law, history) before trying to sound clever.


    30 January 2013 at 6:34 pm

  2. If I were me, I would listen to Mr. Williamson, above.

    Scott Wilson

    30 January 2013 at 6:40 pm

  3. I didn’t see his proposal. What do you think he’s suggesting that we do? Just accept the daily shootings?

    I thought the report was fairly clear. I’m very interested, though, to hear proposals from those who criticize efforts to reduce violent deaths from guns—that is, proposals beyond arming every citizen.

    I don’t, BTW, see anything in the post that calls for “trying to be clever.” And somehow the argument

    “DiFi can go fuck herself.”

    shows the level of discourse we’re dealing with here, though I suppose that is Mr. Williamson trying to be clever. He didn’t quite make it.


    30 January 2013 at 8:13 pm

  4. What do you think of these proposals?


    7 February 2013 at 1:42 pm

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