The Feinstein Assault Weapon Ban

A stern editorial in the British Medical Journal was a clarion call for knife reform. The authors warned that long, pointy knives may be hazardous to our health. I was reminded of a label I once read on a package of razor blades: “Warning: Razors are sharp!” But wasn’t that the point?

The editorial was titled, “Reducing knife crime: We need to ban the sale of long, pointed kitchen knives,” because knives were being used to stab humans as well as roasts. Drs. Emma Hern, Will Glazebrook and Mike Beckett of the West Middlesex university hospital in London had called for laws requiring knife makers to make only knives with blunt rounded tips. The doctors noted a spate of recent stabbings and, in an unusual move for a scholarly journal, cited a headline from The Daily Express, a London tabloid: “Britain is in the grip of knives terror – third of murder victims are now stabbed to death.” In response, Wayne LaPierre, the executive vice president of the National Rifle Association, wondered aloud, “Are they going to have everybody using plastic knives and forks and spoons in their own homes, like they do in airplanes?” Good question. Can pointy-stick control be far behind? What about the menace of boards with nails in them?

The authors are of the opinion that pointed knives are a vestigial remnant from a long ago time before forks became popular and people speared their meat with the tip of their knife. Their opinion is not shared by Anthony Bourdain, the executive chef at Les Halles and the author of Kitchen Confidential who believes knives to be the beloved tools of his trade and not things to be redesigned by bureaucrats. His relationship with knives developed over decades he said, adding, “Its weight, its shape – these are all extensions of our arms, and in many ways, our personalities.” He compared this editorial to efforts to ban unpasteurized cheese. “Where there is no risk,” he said, “there is no pleasure.”

All of which brings us to that apex fretful busybody Senator Diane Feinstein (D., Calif.), who is the author of the 1994 Federal Assault Weapon Ban, which expired on September 13th, 2004. Ms. Feinstein never tired of telling us about the threat posed by “military weapons” and she was far from alone. Vermont governor and DNC chairman Howard Dean wanted to extend the assault weapon ban “because I never met a hunter who needed an AK-47 to shoot a deer.” Senator John Kerry declared that, “When I go out there and hunt, I’m going there with a 12-gauge shotgun, not an assault weapon.” Senator Carl Levin (D., Michigan) said that allowing the ban to expire “will inevitably lead to a rise in gun crimes.” Senator Charles Schumer, (D.,NY), always eager to ratchet up the fear factor, proclaimed that the ban is one of “the most effective measures against terrorism that we have.” His fellow New Yorker, Rep. Carolyn McCarthy (D., NY), chimed in with, “You want an assault weapon? Go join the Army.”

It was not by mere chance that all the hyperventilating supporters of the assault weapon ban were Democrats. Their umbrage was mostly cynical political theater and the rest was pure ignorance. For a decade the assault weapon ban was a cornerstone of the gun-control lobby and the fear-mongering Left. Sarah Brady, one of America’s most outspoken gun control advocates, spread the fear that “our streets are going to be filled with AK-47s and Uzis,” They all assured us that if the ban were allowed to lapse, the streets of America would run red with blood.

Then the ban expired on September 13, 2004 and violent crime declined. Nine months after the ban expired, the FBI announced that the number of murders nationwide had fallen by 3.6 percent from the preceding year, the first decline since 1999 and murders kept declining. Furthermore, it was the seven states that had their own versions of an assault weapon ban that experienced the least decline in their murder rates; the other 43 states that had no such bans experienced the greatest declines in their murder rates. Guns are used more frequently in murders and robberies than in rapes or aggravated assaults, and it was the rate of murders and robberies that declined the most.

The contrast between the dire predictions and the documented reality after the “sunsetting” of the assault weapon ban was striking. The left-leaning Associated Press made a cottage industry of such headlines as, “Gun shops and police officers brace for end of assault weapon ban.” In the first two weeks of September 2004 alone, the liberal media published more than 560 fear-mongering stories about life in America without the ban. These same liberal media were utterly silent about the good news that murders and other violent crimes had declined after the ban expired. When the truth will embarrass them, the liberal media just don’t report the truth.

It can be said with confidence that the dire warnings were nothing but wild speculation and politically calculated fear mongering because there did not exist even one academic study that supported the notion that gun bans such as this one have ever reduced any type of violent crime. Not even one. It is useful here to deconstruct the fact-challenged gun-centric mythology of liberals.

First of all, there is that carefully-chosen name: assault weapons ban. It was intended to conjure up dramatic images of peak-performance military weapons, such as the machine gun, which gained a fearsome reputation as a man killer during the First World War when it mowed down thousands of doughboys who had been stupidly ordered to charge into blizzards of massed machine-gun fire. Certainly, such weapons are not suitable for hunting deer. But the 1994 federal ban had nothing to do or say about machine guns, which were already outlawed for civilian purchase. None of the firearms included in the “assault weapons” ban are machine guns and none of them can be tweaked to make them machine guns. The firearms included in the ban all require one full pull of the trigger to fire a shot, which is exactly the same mode of operation of entire classes of contemporary sporting firearms.

Functionally, the banned semi-automatic firearms were identical to all lots of other non-banned firearms: they fired the same ammunition with the same rate of reload. The ban never did more than outlaw 19 different firearms based solely on either their scary names or their scary outward appearance. The ban was all about appearances, because appearance is everything to politicians – the illusion of reality is as good as reality for political purposes!

For example: Liberals took a disliking to the .223-caliber Bushmaster rifle which they fondly mislabeled a “sniper rifle” though it was neither a sniper rifle nor an assault weapon. They just hated it because it cosmetically resembles the M-16 assault rifle used in Vietnam, a war they also hated. In truth, the Bushmaster was so low-powered that it was banned in most states for use as a hunting firearm precisely because it so frequently wounded the target animal, rather than killing it. On the other hand, the .30-caliber AK-47 is perfectly suitable for deer hunting.

Banning these few firearms when so many functionally identical firearms were ignored guaranteed that the ban would have no effect on criminal activity. At most, a criminal might have to choose another weapon. In 1998, President Bill Clinton complained about how easily gun makers could sidestep the ban by simply changing the name of a firearm or by making a few cosmetic changes in its outward appearance.

In any case, the banned guns had seldom been used in crimes; they were selected for vilification because of their evocative and frightening names or appearances. The ban was all about striking a blow for urbane gentility; it was about striking a sophisticated political pose.

A 1995 Clinton administration study revealed that fewer than on percent of state and federal inmates ever totted a “military-type” semi-automatic when they committed their crimes in the early 1990s, before the ban was in effect. Another Clinton study that examined the gun ban after its first year concluded that the ban’s “impact on gun violence had been uncertain.” In other words, there was no discernible impact. A second study by John R. Lott Jr. came to the same conclusion, noting that overall violent crime actually increased by 1.5%. The authors of the Clinton study later released updated findings based on crime statistics from 1982 through 2000, which included the first six years of the federal gun ban. Their updated conclusion was crystal clear: “We cannot clearly credit the ban with any of the nation’s recent drop in gun violence.”

But the facts didn’t matter to the gun-hating obsessives who had predicted that America’s streets would be awash in a rising tide of blood if the “assault weapons” ban were allowed to lapse. These are the very same hysterical Cassandras who predicted that the morgues would be filled to bursting if legislatures passed right-to-carry laws allowing citizens to carry concealed handguns. Thirty-seven states now have such right-to-carry laws and there is no evidence of an increase in crime as a result.

But the facts mean nothing to gun-ban demagogues and their self-important foot soldiers. Among the most ardent liars and deniers is Senator Diane Feinstein, the author of the 1994 Federal Assault Weapon Ban. Ms. Feinstein outrageously misrepresented two studies by criminology professor Chris Koper and Jeff Roth for the National Institute of Justice to bolster her false claim that the ban she scripted had actually reduced crime. She declared that their first study in 1997 showed that her ban decreased “total gun murders.” In truth, the authors had written: “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.”)

Seven years later, in 2004, Koper and Roth published a follow-up study that concluded, “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.”

None of the guns banned by Ms. Feinstein’s fantasy were ever actual military weapons. The liberals ignorantly whine that thereis no reason for anyone to own such “military-style” weapons. Their argument has no substance because it is all about style. Merely being similar in appearance to a military weapon does not make it one, but many gun owners just like the style of a military weapon even though their firearm is just a junior-league lookalike. A lot of guys bought a Hummer because they entertained fantasies of owning a Humvee, but a Hummer is just a big fat lookalike with none of the essential features that make a Humvee a military-grade vehicle. The Hummer has a lookalike passenger compartment mounted on a Chevy Suburban chassis. Likewise, the .223 Bushmaster is just a Hummer version of the M-16 Humvee. No self-respecting military on Earth would issue Bushmasters to its troops. All of the firearms banned by Ms. Feinstein’s fantasy legislation were essentially deer rifles that cosmetically resembled military weapons. She is just too ignorant to discern the truth or she cynically believes that the American people are too ignorant to discern the truth.

Liberals also exploited the topic of “large-capacity ammunition magazines” to political advantage. They milked the false perception that so-called “assault weapons” can accept larger magazines than can hunting rifles. In truth, any firearm that will accept a magazine will accept a magazine of any capacity. It’s just a metal box with a spring at the bottom to push the ammo upward. They are easy to make and impossible to keep out of the hands of criminals. The 1994 legislation banning magazines holding more than 10 bullets had no effect on crime.

Ms. Feinstein’s next flight of fancy was legislation demanding universal gun registration, based on the premise that if a gun were found at a crime scene it could be traced to its owner. But guns are very rarely left at crime scenes. Those that are found are usually stolen or unregistered. Criminals are not so stupid as to leave guns registered in their names at crime scenes. In the rare cases where a registered gun has been found at a crime scene it was usually because the criminal had been severely injured or killed. These crimes were easily solved without gun registration.

Setting an example for America, Canada dumped its burdensome “long gun” registry for rifles because the Royal Canadian Mounted Police could not produce a single instance in which tracing a rifle through the registry was of importance in solving any gun murder.

That’s a fact that Ms. Feinstein won’t share with you. Since 1950, with a single exception, every public shooting in America in which more than three people were killed has occurred in a place where the citizens were prohibited from carrying firearms. Had one or more citizens been armed, the killer might have been stopped before the police eventually arrived at the scene. It took 20 minutes for the police to arrive at the scene of the Newtown elementary school massacre. As the saying goes: Call for a cop, an ambulance and a pizza and see which one arrives first.

Thomas Clough
Copyright 2016
December 21, 2016