Assault Weapons Ban No Ready-Made Solution to Gun Violence

Numbers shows assault weapon policy doesn't necessarily solve problems

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    NEWSLETTERS

    While talks have caught fire about bringing back an assault weapons ban, the numbers show the policy is certainly not the exclusive answer to a rash of deadly shootings, NBC Bay Area's Sam Brock reports. (Published Monday, Dec 17, 2012)

    The heinous massacre in Connecticut that ended in the deaths of more than two dozen school children, teachers, administrators and even the mother of the shooter, has done more than just tear at the heartstrings of a devastated nation.

    The tragedy in Newton has reignited talks of tightening the country’s gun laws and revisiting a now defunct assault weapons ban.

    Senator Diane Feinstein, D-California, promised Sunday to reintroduce a bill to ban assault weapons on the first day of the next Congressional session.

    “It will ban the sale, the transfer, the importation and the possession [of assault weapons],” said Feinstein, on NBC’s Meet the Press. “Not retroactively, but prospectively. And it will ban the same for big clips, drums or strips of more than 10 bullets.”

    Feinstein said her bill has been more than a year in the making, and will incorporate elements of the previous version in effect from 1994 to 2004, while addressing some of its shortcomings.

    But the question remains: Will crafting another assault weapons ban prevent the kind of violence and needless loss of life that has seemingly become a staple of our culture?

    As it concerns last week’s horrific events, there are several reasons to believe Feinstein’s legislation might have made a difference.

    The 30-bullet magazines Adam Lanza fired during the shooting rampage would have been outlawed under the old law. Variations of his semiautomatic rifle, a Bushmaster AR-15, would also have been outlawed.   

    Then there’s the matter of historical data during the weapons ban.

    Web site Mother Jones recently undertook a three-decade evaluation of all mass shootings since 1982. In this case, ‘mass shooting’ is defined according to the FBI’s criteria, which means the massacre took place largely in one public venue and claimed the lives of at least four people.

    From 1982 to 1994, prior to the advent of the ban, the U.S. averaged 1.5 such shootings a year, resulting in the death or injury of roughly 25 people.

    Once the assault weapons ban went into effect in 1994, the frequency of the mass shootings remained stable at 1.6, while the average number of casualties dropped to 21 a year.

    When the ban *expired, however, a substantial rise in violence and death ensued.

    From 2005 to the present day, there has been an average of 3.4 mass shootings a year, resulting in 56 deaths from those incidents.

    The deadliest year, and the year with the most occurrences, both took place in 2012.
    Thus far this year, we’ve experienced seven mass shootings and at least 138 deaths, depending upon how the final weeks unfold.

    So, does this mean the assault weapons ban worked?

    Perhaps there is some credence to that argument, but it’s hard to envision the legislation as
    any sort of panacea to gun violence.

    Of the 62 mass shootings that have occurred since 1982, the vast majority have been committed by individuals using semiautomatic handguns, and obtained through legal means.

    Moreover, the rate of violence in the years prior to the creation of the ban, looked an awful lot like the rate once the ban was implemented.

    What’s clear is the frequency, and the lethality, of violent episodes has spiked in recent years. Not as obvious, however, are the underlying reasons why.