If it feels like gun violence has gotten worse since the expiration of the assault weapons ban, it has.
Predictably, there were opinions in support of and in opposition to the proposition that mass killings are up since the assault weapons ban was allowed to expire.
Is there a cause and effect as the meme clearly implies? I don’t know so let’s put that debate aside for the moment and just look at some facts and some data.
I love facts and data. They don’t lie and they have no agenda (except in the hands of those with one).
I don’t deny that I support some pretty significant changes to gun laws as a way to have an effect on gun violence. As for the data, here’s the most extensive analysis I’ve found so far. Most of it comes from Mother Jones. (Sources are listed below.)
FACT: The Assault Weapons ban was passed on September 13, 1994. It applied only to weapons manufactured *after* that date.
FACT: There were 15 mass shootings in the 10 years it was in place.
FACT: In 3 of the shootings (20%), an assault rifle was used. In 13 shootings (87%), semiautomatic handguns were among the weapons used.
Now contrast that with the last 8 ½ years.
FACT: There have been nearly twice as many mass shootings at 28 and counting since the assault weapons ban expired on September 13, 2004.
FACT: 27 of them occurred since 2005. Counting all 28 would be almost one-half of all 62 mass shootings dating back to 1982. (Clinton’s taking a politician’s liberty with the math, but he’s not that far off.)
FACT: In the mass shootings since the assault weapons ban expired on September 13, 2004, assault rifles and semiautomatic handguns were used in basically the same ratios as during the ban; assault rifles were used in 6 (21%) of those shootings, while semiautomatic handguns were used in 23 (82%), including 3 of the shootings where assault rifles were also used.
Cause and effect? It’s hard to say with certainty, but there’s no denying that there are more mass shootings overall and more mass shootings involving assault rifles after the ban than during the ban. In fact, there have been twice as many mass shootings in just 85% of the time. That ought to trouble all of us.
It ought to be obvious, too, that more guns in fewer hands has not made us safer. (See “Share of Homes With Guns Shows 4-Decade Decline“) The data seems to point to just the opposite.
Perhaps the real point to this meme is best captured by this passage at Mother Jones:
“More than half of the killers we studied in our investigation of 62 mass shootings over the last three decades possessed weapons that would be banned by Feinstein’s bill, including various semiautomatic rifles, guns with military features, and handguns using magazines with more than 10 rounds.”
Will a ban on assault weapons and high capacity magazines *stop* all mass shootings? No, nothing will do that. Sadly, disturbed individuals will find ways – legal and illegal - to kill people with and without guns. We’re a violent society that embraces violence in far too much of our culture. There are no simple solutions for changing that.
There is, however, data that points to a meaningful degree of change.
If Feinstein’s bill were enacted and the weapons used in half of the mass shootings of the last 30 years had a chance of being completely unavailable to Americans, wouldn’t that be worth it?
Even if all we banned were assault rifles, the data indicates we would seem to have some potential to eliminate about 1 in 5 mass shootings.
And even if bans on assault weapons and large magazines don’t eliminate every mass shooting, at least it would criminalize their possession. Future mass murders wouldn’t be able to legally obtain such lethal weaponry *and* they’d have a harder time killing so many people so quickly without reloading.
Somehow our democracy survived when automatic weapons like machine guns were made illegal. Unlike those who live in fear of tyranny or invasion, I believe that my country and my fellow citizens will endure without military-style assault weapons and magazines that hold more than 10 rounds.
I’m also completely confident that if it means even the chance that we’ll have fewer mass shootings our fellow citizens who are assault weapon aficionados will survive surrendering (yes, I said surrendering) those firearms and learning to live with shorter adrenaline rushes while they target shoot on weekends. They’ve managed to get along without Tommy Guns. They can get along without AR-15s and 30-round magazines.