The Invisible Benefits of the 'Assault Weapon' Ban

According to The Washington Times, a not-yet-published report commissioned by the National Institute of Justice concludes there's no solid evidence the federal "assault weapon" ban did anything to reduce gun violence or that failing to reauthorize the law, which expires September 13, would have a noticeable effect on crime. "We cannot clearly credit the ban with any of the nation's recent drop in gun violence," writes University of Pennsylvania criminologist Christopher Koper in the NIJ report. "Indeed, there has been no discernible reduction in the lethality and injuriousness of gun violence."

That conclusion is not terribly surprising, since the ban covers guns that were rarely used in crimes to begin with, based on criteria that have little to do with lethality. But it's significant coming from the NIJ, the Justice Department's research arm, which has a reputation for careful, dispassionate analysis.

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    Jim B,

    For the most part, high-capacity magazine prices never rose much due to the ban; indeed, with respect to FN-FAL and G-3 (HK-91) magazines, prices fell significantly with the ban in effect. I've seen FAL and G-3 20 round surplus mags for under $4! That's because the ban allowed importation of forign magazines that were military surplus, and much of the world is turning in their FALs and G-3s and assorted 7.62 NATO rifles in exchange for 5.56 NATO rifles such as the M-16.

    Magazines that are not forign surplus tend to be more expensive: M-14 magazines did rise in price, but the ban's end won't change the price in the short term because no one is tooled up to make USGI spec M-14 magazines, and Clinton cut us off from US military surplus items of all sorts.

    The Beta-C magazine looks to drop from the "ban" price of over $600 down to under $250 (close to the current LEO price).

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    I think M-16/AR-15 magazines will drop in price. The good ones (aluminum, made by Colt or O-Kay or similar) are running $30+ each. I remember when the mil surplus ones were going for ~$10 apiece. Once all those high-quality mags that were "LEO-only" are no longer under the ban, prices will drop. The prices on the crap steel magazines that were produced in mass quantities just prior to the ban's taking effect will drop to almost nothing. No one's going to want to let go of their current inventories (which they bought at premium prices) go for a song, but new production mags should be closer to the LEO-market price.

    Magazines for the various newer imported weapons will still be expensive, since, after all, H&K et al love to charge a premium for their products. The fact that high-cap mags for guns invented after '94 will be available will make a lot of shooting sports competitors happy.

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    "I can't imagine this report will have any effect at all on the politics of the ban. It was never about a reasoned attempt at a legitimate improvement in safey, it was about an emotional appeal for the sake of feeling like they were "doing something" (the most important function of government). Facts never change the opinions of those who make decisions based almost purely on emotion."

    Oh there's more to it for the ban supporters than just "feel good emotionalism". For the organized gun control groups, it's seen as a means to help pave the way for furthering their ultimate goal of a total ban on private firearms ownership of any type of gun.

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    RE: Democrats are hysterical about assault weapons. Republicans are hysterical about weapons of mass destruction.

    Assault weapons are rarely used in crimes because military ammunition (e.g. the .223 M-16/AR-15) is designed to wound people -- not kill people. Hunting ammunition (e.g. buck shot) are designed to quickly kill medium-sized land mammals.

    A single weapon of mass destruction (e.g. a sarin gas mortar round fired into Times Sq) could be used by a single terrorist cell to kill hundreds of people at once.

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    "Sure, assault weapons have not reduced gun violence, but if you remove the ban, the gun violence will SURELY INCREASE! Won't someone think of the children!!"

    ;)

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    Kevin, thanks for the tutorial.
    Are you saying it's okay to be hysterical about weapons of mass destruction because they are so massive?
    Do you lose any sleep thinking about Bush's finger being on the trigger of most of Earth's WMD's?

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    "Assault weapons are rarely used in crimes because military ammunition (e.g. the .223 M-16/AR-15) is designed to wound people -- not kill people."

    Military ammunition is designed to be as effective as possible. In the case of 5.56 (.223), the basic idea was that you could carry three times as much ammo as the older .30 M2 ball, with each shot being basically just as effective. And the designers thought that the high (over 3,000 fps) velocity would result in a high level of effectiveness.

    The current trend in 5.56 mm ammo is towards the heavier 77 gr bullets designed for target shooters, which has proven more effective than M193 ball (55 gr) and M855 ball (62 gr with steel insert). The military is also looking at the improved 6.8 mm round for increased effectivness.

    5.56 is actually a fairly effective round due to bullet fragmentation. This is in contrast to the lower velocity Russian 7.62 x 39 mm M43 cartridge (used in the SKS and AK series). The 7.62 x 39 mm has a lower muzzle velocity and heavier bullet jacket, so it doesn't fragment. Consequently, if often produces results more like a .30 pistol cartridge (depending upon what is hit). The Soviets didn't design the 7.62 x 39 mm round to wound, they designed it to meet their other specifications, and its terminal ballistics effects are a result of the design specs and the Russian efforts to meet these specs. Likewise, our 5.56 mm rounds (until lately with the 77 gr versions) were not designed with any solid understanding of terminal ballistics.

    Assault rifles are rarely used in crimes because they are large and heavy relatively speaking, as well as expensive and less common. If a gang member aquires an Uzi, he's going to keep it, not use it in a drive-by and ditch it. Consequently, cheap, common .22 rifles, .38 revolvers, and shotguns were more often used in drive-bys back "in the day" (early 90s leading up to the AWB).

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    The assault weapons ban is more of a statement about the sort of things we do and don't like culturally than anything else. We apparently don't want people to own tanks, sawed off shotguns, so-called assault weapons, etc., because we disfavor their ownership even IF owning one won't increase the level violence, etc.

    At least that's the best explanation I can come up with.

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    If Amendment 2 is, as the restrictionists claim, all about making sure a (select) militia is armed, and not about anything else like self-defense, than shouldn't they want to ban everything but infantry rifles and their accessories?

    Kevin

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    While all of you are busy eyeballing down the muzzle of your piece, inquiring whether there might be a fleck of dust, you have missed my point, namely that I feel quite at ease and unthreatened amongst you weirdos--even you, Don.
    The moral is we have the inalienable right to bear weapons of mass destruction!
    Better us than governments, eh?

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    Democrats are hysterical about assault weapons. Republicans are hysterical about weapons of mass destruction.
    Why is that?

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    paranoia resulting from the intersection of the ascent of reductive dogmatism post-ww1 and deep american middle-class insecurity?

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    There is no surprise here. DOJ stats showed that AW were infrequently used in crimes before the ban. Will anyone really be confused by this?

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    But ... but ... they're ALWAYS used in movies ...

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    I can't imagine this report will have any effect at all on the politics of the ban. It was never about a reasoned attempt at a legitimate improvement in safey, it was about an emotional appeal for the sake of feeling like they were "doing something" (the most important function of government). Facts never change the opinions of those who make decisions based almost purely on emotion.

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    The price of pre-ban magazines hasn't dropped noticeably leading up to the expiration of the ban. I guess the shooting public is betting that the ban will be renewed, against all odds.

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    They can have the assault weapons! But if they think I'm turning in my bazooka, they can forget it!

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    joe, why does it matter if people own weapons that can fire in fully automatic mode? What are people afraid of about these weapons?

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    While Joe is pondering the question about why a fully-automatic weapon is over the line, I would add the following question:

    What is the usefulness of a law that
    (1) bans some weapons that can be modified from semi-automatic to fully automatic,
    (2) fails to ban other weapons that can also be modified to fully automatic, and
    (3) bans other weapons and parts that have nothing to do with producing a fully automatic weapon (or at least a practical fully automatic weapon)
    while the United States government continues to allow fully functional automatic weapons to be manufactured and sold to citizens who are not in the military, members of law enforcement, or other agents of the Government?

    Federal law allows US citizens to purchase, sell, and manufacture fully automatic weapons. It requires more paperwork, but it is perfectly legal.

    It's also not a major problem. The last I heard there hasn't been a crime committed with a legally owned fully automatic weapon in this country in decades. Of course, many criminals buy them on the black market. You almost never see a big drug raid that doesn't feature at least one of these weapons on display.

    Don't these guys know it's against the law?

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    kevrob, militiamen are under the military authority of their commanders, regarding the bearing of their arms. While a militia, like a jury, consists of ordinary citizens called to duty, there is more involved than individual decision making.

    All of that is true, and I never said otherwise, though you may want to note that the term "well-regulated" in A2 does not refer to the chain of command, as usage of the day yields a meaning of properly trained and self-controlled. Consider the contemporary practice of militias electing their officers.

    In the founding period, a militiaman would be expected to answer a muster call with the weapons he would be using on the battlefield. These could range from obsolete long arms better fit for hunting squirrels than fighting Indians, Frenchmen or the British, all the way to the most sophisticated personal arms of the time - the Pennsylvania long rifle. It was certainly not the case that militiamen were discouraged from keeping military-style muskets or rifles at home.

    Heck, Lexington and Concord were fought because the King's troops wanted to confiscate powder stores and artillery pieces cached by Massachusetts towns in sympathy with their countrymen in Boston.

    2nd Amendment or not, I am convinced there is an individual right of self-defense, and preventing access to the tools one deems necessary for that purpose is a violation of that right.

    Kevin

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    "joe, why does it matter if people own weapons that can fire in fully automatic mode? What are people afraid of about these weapons?"

    They are particularly dangerous. A determined individual can do more damage to a McDonalds full of people with an automatic weapon than a semiautomatic one.

    kevrob, the point I was making is, if arguing from the militia pov, you are inherently accepting the authority of the militia chain of command, from the local police chief to the governor of your state, to "give orders" to the "toops" under his "command" about which types of arms they are to bear, or whether they should bear those arms at all.

    Although, IMHO, the War of 1812 demonstrated that a well regulated militia is completely useless for the defense of a free society.

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    Thomas Jefferson said "The 2nd Ammendment should never be construed as to give Congress the power to deprive law abiding citizens of their arms". He should know, he wrote it.

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    RE: Are you saying it's okay to be hysterical about weapons of mass destruction because they are so massive?
    Not hysterical, but certainly a WMD weapon in the hands of even a small terrorist cell can cause *REAL* hysteria.

    RE: Do you lose any sleep thinking about Bush's finger being on the trigger of most of Earth's WMD's?
    Not one bit. Neither Bush nor Kerry would misuse WMD. I don't trust them. After all, they are politicians. They aren't crazy, and the people won't obey insane commands.

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    RE: Military ammunition is designed to be as effective as possible.
    (Just got back to this topic.)
    The weight of the bullet has little to do with it. They could, for example, be designed to mushroom the way hunting rounds do or fragment. NATO does considerable ballistics test to ensure the bullets do not produce "superfluous injury or unnecessary suffering" as per the 1977 Protocol I Additional to the Geneva Conventions of August 12, 1949. (As I recall, NATO testing revealed an excessive fragmentation problem a couple of decades ago, and the specification for the bullet was changed.)

    RE: Effectiveness (battlefield economics)
    A wounded soldier is frequently no longer an effective fighter and frequently becomes a huge liability. His buddies often stop fighting to come to his aid. He must be evacuated from the scene while the battle is still raging, treated in field hospitals that are expensive to maintain, and often must go through expensive rehabilitation.

    A dead soldier is no longer an effective fighter, but he is no longer much of a liability, either. After the battle, his body will be removed using low-priority transportation.

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    "Oh there's more to it for the ban supporters than just "feel good emotionalism". For the organized gun control groups, it's seen as a means to help pave the way for furthering their ultimate goal of a total ban on private firearms ownership of any type of gun."

    I don't doubt that there are those who are so motivated, Gil, but it is a mistake to assume that all assault-weapons-ban-supporters are so motivated. Many people (including pre-H&R joe) understood the ban to apply to automatic weapons - the military version of the AK or Ar-15. Other people genuinely believe that these weapons are more likely to be used in violent crimes, mainly because of breathless media stories.

    I, for one, still believe in drawing a line based on the capabilities of weapons to be converted to automatic fire. Now, what this has to do with the shape of the grip or the presence of a bayonette holder eludes me.

    kevrob, militiamen are under the military authority of their commanders, regarding the bearing of their arms. While a militia, like a jury, consists of ordinary citizens called to duty, there is more involved than individual decision making.

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    Automatic weapons have had more of an impact commiting crime during the ban then they they ever did without it. Instead of putting a ban on automatic weapons, why not increase backround checks and cut down on private sales.

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