Many gun violence experts believe it’s time to bring back the federal assault weapons ban — or at least something like it.
"You would see drastic reductions in what I call gun massacres" with the return of the 1994 federal assault weapons ban, said Louis Klarevas of the University of Massachusetts at Boston.
For his 2016 book Rampage Nation, Klarevas collected data on every gun massacre — which he defines as six or more people shot and killed — for the 50 years before 2016. His aim was to see whether there was any change in the number of gun massacres while the 10-year federal ban on assault weapons was in place.
He calls the results "staggering." Compared with the 10-year period before the ban, the number of gun massacres during the ban period fell by 37 percent, and the number of people dying from gun massacres fell by 43 percent. But after the ban lapsed in 2004, the numbers shot up again — an astonishing 183 percent increase in massacres and a 239 percent increase in massacre deaths.
A new Quinnipiac poll found that 67 percent of Americans, including 53 percent of gun owners, favor such a ban — the highest level of support seen on this question since Sandy Hook in 2012. In Florida, the poll found that 62 percent of voters support a ban on the sale of assault weapons. In a separate question with different wording, voters support — 53 percent to 42 percent — a nationwide ban on the sale of all "semiautomatic rifles."
Critics of bans on assault weapons, however, say they do little to save lives. The NRA correctly points out that assault weapons are used only in a tiny fraction of gun crimes. The gun rights group also notes that a federally funded study of the previous assault weapons ban, which was in place from 1994 to 2004, concluded that "the ban’s impact on gun violence is likely to be small at best, and perhaps too small for reliable measurement."
But the 1994 assault weapons ban was never intended to be a comprehensive fix for "gun violence" writ large. Its purpose, according to gun violence experts and the lawmakers who wrote the bill, was to reduce the frequency and lethality of mass shootings like the ones in Parkland, Sandy Hook and elsewhere. And on that front, the data shows it had a significant impact.
Klarevas says that the key provision of the assault weapons bill was a ban on high-capacity magazines capable of holding more than 10 rounds. "We have found that when large capacity mags are regulated, you get drastic drops in both the incidence of gun massacres and the fatality rate of gun massacres."
The opinion is shared among many researchers who study gun violence for a living. In 2016, for instance, the New York Times asked 32 gun policy experts to rate the effectiveness of a variety of policy changes to prevent mass shootings. The roster of experts included violence prevention researchers like Harvard’s David Hemenway, as well as more ideologically driven gun rights advocates like John Lott.
On a scale of effectiveness ranging from 1 (not) to 10 (highly), the expert panel gave an average score of 6.8 to both an assault weapons ban and a ban on high-capacity magazines, the highest ratings among the nearly 30 policies surveyed.
Christopher Ingraham writes about all things data.
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