Opinion

The House Judiciary Committee's Assault Weapons Ban Fallout

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Posted: Sep 30, 2019 12:01 AM
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The House Judiciary Committee's Assault Weapons Ban Fallout

Source: AP Photo/Michael Conroy

If you want to see how extreme the Democrats have gotten on gun control, you just had to listen to a House Judiciary Committee hearing last week.

It is one thing for Democrats such as Beto O'Rourke and Rep. Eric Swalwell (R-CA) to call for confiscating AR-15s and civilian versions of AK-47s. But in the committee hearing this past Wednesday, the loudest applause came when Democratic witnesses called for bans on all or at least the vast majority of guns.

"I believe that any weapon that can be used to hunt individuals should be banned," announced Charlottesville Police Chief RaShall M. Brackney in the hearing. Brackney and other witnesses showed just how far the Democratic Party has gone on gun control in only a few years.

Brackney was given a chance by Congressman Greg Steube (R-FL) to correct the record if she might have misspoken, but she only doubled down. Steube pointed out that any firearm could be used to hunt people down, and Brackney responded by repeating the point. She only clarified that police and the military would still be able to have guns.

Ten years ago, if a Democrat witness had suggested banning all guns, one can only imagine that Democratic congressmen would be desperate to disassociate themselves from those comments. But not now. Not one, single Democrat expressed any disapproval.

Kristen Rand of the Violence Policy Center claimed that detachable magazines are the "most important and deadly feature" of assault weapons. But a ban on detachable magazines would result in the ban of virtually all semi-automatic guns, the most commonly-owned type of firearm in the United States.

Again, none of the Democratic politicians raised any word of caution.

Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler (D-NY) claimed: "Assault weapons have become the favorite of many mass shooters." But only 13 percent of all mass public shootings since 1998 involved just a rifle. Fifty-six percent involved only a handgun. Eighty-three percent involved either just a handgun or a handgun plus some other type of firearm.

Many studies examined the federal assault weapons ban that was in effect from 1994 to 2004.  They consistently found no statistically significant impact on mass public shootings or any other type of crime.

Even research funded by the Clinton administration failed to find evidence that the ban lowered any type of crime rate. Criminology professors Chris Koper and Jeff Roth concluded in a 1997 report for the National Institute of Justice, "The evidence is not strong enough for us to conclude that there was any meaningful effect (i.e., that the effect was different from zero)."  Messrs. Koper and Roth suggested at the time that it might be possible to find a benefit after the ban had been in effect for more years. In 2004, they published a follow-up NIJ study with fellow criminologist Dan Woods. "We cannot clearly credit the ban with any of the nation's recent drop in gun violence,” they concluded. “And, indeed, there has been no discernible reduction in the lethality and injuriousness of gun violence."

Work by Louis Klarevas was cited multiple times during the hearing, but his non-peer-reviewed methodologies are highly-flawed. Klarevas looks only at total number of mass public shootings, whether they were committed with assault weapons or with other types of guns.

While the share of mass public shooting using assault weapons fell during the ban, they fell even more sharply in the 10 years after the ban ended in 2004. And any reduction that the ban caused in attacks with assault weapons may simply have meant more attacks with other types of guns.

Democratic witness after witness described the horrors of someone being wounded or killed by a gun. But no witnesses were brought in to tell stories of guns being used for lifesaving purposes. Those are no less emotional stories. But instead of appealing just to emotion on one side of the debate, we should be considering the net effect of legal gun ownership.

Assault weapons were singled out in the hearing because they have such features as accuracy and stopping power. But civilians value those same features for their own self-defense, especially if the attacker is bigger and stronger than they are.

Democrats are coming out for banning most or all guns, and virtually no one in their party even challenges such ideas anymore. But these views aren’t even shocking any longer, so it’s hardly surprising that the media didn’t view them as newsworthy.

Lott is the president of the Crime Prevention Research Center and the author most recent of “The War of Guns.”