Following the December 2012 mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, one of the chief legislative goals of the Obama administration, gun-control advocates and many lawmakers in Congress was to re-enact a federal ban on so-called “assault weapons” or as they arbitrarily defined them, any semi-automatic rifle with a detachable magazine that had one or more cosmetic features, i.e. barrel shroud, flash suppressor, bayonet mount, pistol grip, telescoping stock, among others.
But in April 2013, when California Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s Assault Weapons Ban (AWB) came up for a vote the Senate failed to pass it, voting 60-40 against the measure.
Feinstein, a rabid anti-gunner, was greatly dismayed by the defeat of her bill. And it’s clear that the wound still stings because last month, on the 20 year anniversary of the signing of the Clinton-era AWB, which expired in 2004 and was never renewed, Feinstein once again expressed her displeasure with the Senate’s failure to support a ban on these widely popular and commonly owned firearms.
“I deeply regret that Congress allowed the ban to expire in 2004. Since then, killings with assault weapons have steadily increased, with more than 500 people killed…I continue to believe we should reinstate the ban on assault weapons. I am encouraged that a number of states have taken action in recent years to keep assault weapons out of their communities,” Feinstein said in a statement.
From her perspective, the “ban worked,” and was responsible for a “6.7 percent decrease in total gun murders, holding all other factors equal.”
Given this evidence, why then have gun-control organizations, other lawmakers and the president pulled back on the push for banning “scary-looking” semi-automatic rifles?
One word: Facts.
See, to put it as diplomatically as one can, Feinstein is talking out her butt when she cites those statistics. Several government studies have shown that the Clinton-Era AWB had no material effect on gun-related crime. But don’t take the word of a pro-gunner, but rather the word of a journalist from Pro-Publica, an independent, non-profit newsroom. In a wonderful article called “Fact-Checking Feinstein on the Assault Weapons Ban,” Pro-Publica journalist Lois Beckett wrote:
“A definitive study of the 1994 law – which prohibited the manufacture and sale of semiautomatic guns with ‘military-style features’ such pistol grips or bayonet mounts as well as magazines holding more than ten rounds of ammunition – found no evidence that it had reduced overall gun crime or made shootings less lethal. ‘We cannot clearly credit the ban with any of the nation’s recent drop in gun violence,’ the Department of Justice-funded study concluded in 2004. ‘Should it be renewed, the ban’s effects on gun violence are likely to be small at best and perhaps too small for reliable measurement.'”
As for the 6.7 percent figure Feinstein quoted, one of the authors of the 1997 study, Dr. Christopher Koper, a criminologist from George Mason University, said that it was derived from a false assumption and that upon cross referencing with a more recent study done in 2004, it became apparent that it wasn’t accurate.
“The weight of evidence that was gathered and analyzed across the two reports suggested that initial drop in the gun murder rate must have been due to other factors besides the assault weapons ban,” Koper told Pro-Publica.
Yeah, so why is she still quoting an erroneous statistic from 1997 that was disproved in 2004?
She could be an agenda-driven ideologue who sees only what she wants to see.
“Obviously there’s no single solution, which is why I support a wide range of policy proposals to bring sense to our firearms laws,” said Feinstein in a statement. “I continue to believe that drying up the supply of military-style assault weapons is an important piece of the puzzle—and the data back this up.”
So, it appears that gun-control activists were left with two options, either they could follow Feinstein’s lead and support a policy measure that doesn’t make logical sense given it’s gross inefficacy or they could pivot away from the AWB and pursue more politically feasible alternatives.
Not surprisingly, many chose the later opting to de-emphasize the AWB while stressing the putative importance of universal background checks, laws regulating the storage of firearms and tougher penalties for straw purchasers and gun traffickers.
“We’ve very much changed our strategy to focus on public safety measures that will save the most lives,” Shannon Watts, the founder of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, told ProPublica.
Likewise, the Center for American Progress shifted away from advocating openly for an AWB.
“The answer is not that assault weapons aren’t dangerous and people having access to them is a good thing,” said Arkadi Gerney in an interview with The Wall Street Journal. “There are other things that we can do to lessen the risks of assault weapons short of banning them. … When you’re making policy, it’s always a mix of what’s going to have a biggest positive impact and what is practical and politically possible,” explained Gerney.
Yet just because gun-control organizations are not aggressively campaigning for a federal AWB does not mean they don’t want one enacted. In fact, many have supported AWBs at the state level, and currently seven states (CA, CT, HI, MA, MD, NJ, NY) and the District of Columbia ban so-called “assault weapons.”
So, at the end of the day the battle over the AWB is far from over. While it may have taken a back seat to other gun-control policies right now, it’s never going to go away for good despite how senseless and constitutionally dubious the ban is. For whatever reason, some people just don’t think you or I should be able to defend ourselves, our families and our property with a semiautomatic rifle that has a detachable magazine and a pistol grip or telescoping stock or barrel shroud, etc.