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Tipsheet

Debunking the False Narrative About ‘Assault Rifles’ and Mass Shootings

AP Photo/Evan Vucci

Over the past week, President Joe Biden has repeatedly made the claim that mass shootings are a result of easy access to "assault rifles."

During a primetime address from the White House Thursday night, Biden called for a ban on "assault weapons" without clearly defining the term and claimed it was essential to stopping mass shootings in the future. 

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"We need to ban assault weapons and high capacity magazines. And if we can't ban assault weapons, then we should raise the age to purchase them from 18 to twenty one, strengthen background checks, enacted safe storage law and red flag laws. Repeal the immunity that protects gun manufacturers liability," Biden said. "These are rational, commonsense measures. And here's what it all means at all means this. We should reinstate the assault weapons ban, high capacity magazines that we passed in nineteen ninety four with bipartisan support in Congress and the support of law enforcement. Nine categories of semi-automatic weapons were included in that ban like AK 47, and they are 15s. And in the ten years it was law, mass shootings were down." 

But the data tells a different story. 

According to the National Institute of Justice, which sits under the jurisdiction of the Department of Justice, more than 70 percent of mass shootings have been carried out with handguns. 

"Notably, most individuals who engaged in mass shootings used handguns (77.2%), and 25.1% used assault rifles in the commission of their crimes. Of the known mass shooting cases (32.5% of cases could not be confirmed), 77% of those who engaged in mass shootings purchased at least some of their guns legally, while illegal purchases were made by 13% of those committing mass shootings. In cases involving K-12 school shootings, over 80% of individuals who engaged in shootings stole guns from family members," a report issued in February 2022 states. 

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Further, the ban on a number of semi-automatic rifles from 1994-2004 did not reduce mass shootings or violence. 

A 2004 Department of Justice funded study from the University of Pennsylvania Center of Criminology concluded the ban cannot be credited with a decrease in violence carried out with firearms. The report is titled "An Updated Assessment of the Federal Assault Weapons Ban: Impacts on Gun Markets and Gun Violence, 1994-2003."

"We cannot clearly credit the ban with any of the nation’s recent drop in gun violence. And, indeed, there has been no discernible reduction in the lethality and injuriousness of gun violence, based on indicators like the percentage of gun crimes resulting in death or the share of gunfire incidents resulting in injury," the summary of the report on the study's findings states. "The ban’s impact on gun violence is likely to be small at best, and perhaps too small for reliable measurement. AWs [assault weapons] were used in no more than 8% of gun crimes even before the ban."

FBI data shows more people are killed by criminals using fists, feet and hammers than any type of rifle. 

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