1994 FEDERAL "ASSAULT WEAPON" BAN:
IS IT WORKING?

(11/4/98)

RETURN TO HOME PAGE

On a page of the Handgun Control, Inc (HCI) web site, on October 19, 1997, there was a copy of an HCI press release headlined "ASSAULT WEAPONS BAN IS WORKING, ACCORDING TO STUDY FOR JUSTICE DEPT."  In the second paragraph, it said the HCI President said, that the Urban Institute report to the U.S. Dept of Justice (USDOJ) "provides important new evidence that the assault weapons ban is working as intended.  The findings suggest that in the coming years, as the ban remains in effect, we will continue to see a reduction in the use of assault weapons to commit crimes, fewer and fewer law enforcement officers being killed with these weapons of war, and a greater reduction in the total number of gun murders."

Note that the subject weapons are not used in warfare by any military.  See a separate page for information about the so-called "assault weapons."

GOVERNMENT COLLUSION WITH GUN CONTROL ADVOCATES

The HCI press release was embargoed for release until 5pm eastern time on Mar 25, 1997--the same as the USDOJ press release on the same report (available at their web site).  This means your country's government is coordinating with gun control organizations!  Collusion like this between the gun controllers and the U.S. government helps to convince America's 50 million gun owners that they can't trust their government and gun control organizations, and believe what they both say.

THE DOJ PRESS RELEASE

The DOJ's release said that, according to the actual report, "the ban may be linked to declines in the criminal use of assault weapons, violent crime and the number of enforcement officers killed by assault weapons."

The release also said "the report concluded that the ... review period was both too short and too close to the beginning of the assault weapons ban to adequately judge the ban's effect on street violence."  It would be ludicrous to consider such a report as "important new evidence that the assault weapons ban is working" when the report authors acknowledge that the study proved nothing.

And, according to the DOJ press release, the report didn't say that the "ban is working" as indicated by the HCI headline.  It said only that the ban might be linked to declines in criminal use of assault weapons, violent crime and the number of enforcement officers killed by assault weapons.  Notice that one of those things was not reduction in total gun murders as stated by HCI.

MORE ABOUT THE HCI RELEASE AND THE ACTUAL REPORT

The third paragraph on the HCI page referred to the observed reduction in requests for BATF traces of "assault weapons" as one of the "key findings in the report."  The last sentence of the paragraph concluded that the data suggested that there was "an 8-9 percent additional decrease due to substitution of other guns for the banned assault weapons in 1995 crimes" as though this were a positive effect of the ban.

What this actually means is that, because the trace requests dropped more than crime did by 8-9 percent, that percentage of the criminals must have simply changed over to using other weapons.  This switching is what criminologists call "substitution."  It is simply a reason why banning a particular weapon has essentially zero effect on crime.

The researchers searched for correlation with crime by examining reports on BATF trace requests.  Although the researchers pointed out that BATF trace data is a poor basis for measuring use of firearms in crime, the reason they stated is that only a fraction of firearm crimes are accompanied by a trace request.  They appear to be unaware that some traces have been requested even when there was no crime.

The Urban Institute did not determine what portion of the pre-ban or post-ban traces were submitted by police to verify that a firearm had not been reported as stolen (preparatory to someone, like a police officer or a friend of one, buying the firearm).  They did not determine the portion of traces requested for any of the unlimited number of possible reasons (since there has never been any control to ensure that trace requests are only associated with possible crimes).  And, of course, police request traces before they (or a court) know what someone is guilty of, if anything, and even before they know that there was a crime if they think there was a crime.  HCI too seems unaware that BATF traces are not a measure of crime.

The next paragraph of the HCI page, about the next of "the key findings in the report," stated some facts from the report about police killings with "assault weapons" dropping after the ban started.  What they don't say is that the report said that the numbers both before and after the ban were so low that the observed differences could easily have been just chance occurrence, and could easily have been caused by any number of things other than the ban.

The study actually did more than just examine statistics on police department requests for gun traces by the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (BATF).  The researchers were at a loss to actually measure the effectiveness of the law in reducing crime, so they measured various other things.

They examined prices of various firearms before and after the ban, knowing that making a gun more expensive will cause criminals to use that gun less and start using more economical weapons.  In examining data about "assault weapons," the researchers examined data about specific firearms rather than just whatever someone might want to include in the study and later call "assault weapons" (as done by gun control organizations and their politicians and the media).

The researchers seem to have tried to do an honest study that would be the best it could be in the absense of any real impact.  They even obtained input from an HCI officer and a representative of an organization of store- based firearms dealers (who naturally would like to eliminate other types of dealers).  But the researchers were hampered significantly in their ability to draw logical conclusions by lack of understanding of firearms, their uses, and their relationships to crime.

What did the study prove?  For one thing, the study found that so-called "assault weapons," possessed only by known people and criminals, had been used less in crime since the ban and had been used to kill fewer police, and found that these facts may have been in part due to the ban.  The researchers could not say what part, if any, of the reductions resulted from the ban since they did not account for other things that happened at the same time.

Our government payed to have someone search through data to conclude that when something is not available it may not be used as often, a fact that is both obvious and irrelevant.  It is irrelevant because reduced use of a particular weapon in crime in no way means that crime is reduced.  Criminals simply use whatever other weapons they can get, an effect called "substitution" by economists and criminologists.  A real measure of the effectiveness of a crime law must be the extent by which the law reduces crime, not just crime with a specific tool.

But this was only one of a number of conclusions and findings.  The researchers found that the annual numbers of murders that had occurred in the past using the banned guns and magazines was so small that even complete absense of such murders in a one year period could easily be just a chance occurrence, making it necessary to monitor for several years to acquire enough data to be relatively certain that the murders declined after the ban went into effect, whether as a result of the ban or of other things that happened at the same time.

The researchers tried, but were unable, to detect a significant reduction in the proportions of gun murder incidents that involved multiple victims or multiple wounds per victim to correlate with gun control advocates' claims that "assault weapons" result in more of such incidents.  They tried, but were unable, to detect significant evidence that banned weapons were stolen more after they were no longer legally available.  They tried, but were unable, to detect an overrepresentation of "assault weapons" in murders of more than three victims, which were the kind of crime used by gun control advocates to gain support for the gun ban.

The HCI page mentions as a third "key finding" that "our best estimate is that the ban contributed to a 6.7 percent decrease in total gun murders between 1994 and 1995, beyond what would have been expected in view of ongoing crime, demographic, and economic trends..."  This is actually a quote out of the report's Overview.

HCI chose not to quote the immediately preceeding statement out of the report: "At best, the assault weapons ban can have only a limited effect on total gun murders, because the banned weapons and magazines were never involved in more than a modest fraction of all gun murders."  They didn't mention that "substitution" would reduce the effect even more than implied just by the numbers of crimes with the "assault weapons" and, of course, the banned weapons had been used in even a smaller portion of total murders (as opposed to gun murders).

They also left out the immediately following statement: "However, with only one year of post-ban data, we cannot rule out the possibility that this decrease reflects chance year-to-year variation rather than a true effect of the ban.  Nor can we rule out effects of other features of the 1994 Crime Act or a host of state and local initiatives that took place simultaneously."  In other words, the "best guess" from the statistics is just not based on much but wishful thinking.

The HCI page cited as a fourth "key" finding, the fact that prices of the banned weapons peaked around the effective date of the ban.  Why would something that should be obvious be considered "key"?

What the study found is that the prices of banned weapons and similar weapons that might well have been banned increased up until the law passed, then dropped back down to near starting prices because manufacturers had increased production before the effective date (in expectation that the ban would only affect post-ban production), because some of the weapons ended up not being banned, and because manufacturers started producing legal substitute weapons that people valued as much as the weapons that ended up being banned.  None of this was a surprise to gun owners because they knew that the things being banned were nothing but irrelevant features, which manufacturers could easily eliminate with essentially zero effect.

SUMMARY

HCI lied and did their best to convince people that the Urban Institute study proved that the "assault weapon" ban was doing something worthwhile even though the Urban Institute report was inconclusive and said that it was impossible for the ban to have accomplished much since the banned weapons were never a significant problem.

RETURN TO TOP OF PAGE