Gun control is again a hot topic after two devastating mass shootings in Texas and Ohio. Reviving the ineffective 1994 assault-rifle ban is at the top of the anti-gun policy wish list. Unfortunately, gun control advocates rely on misinformation campaigns to heavily distort the facts on assault rifles, general gun violence and mass shootings.
Assault rifles are ill-defined. Gun rights advocates generally only apply the term to rifles with fully automatic or burst-fire capability. Although these select fire weapons are commonly depicted on TV and in movies, guns capable of continuous fire by simply compressing and holding down the trigger have been effectively banned for decades. Still, gun control advocates have expanded the definition of an assault rifle to apply to various semi-automatic rifles. In this regard, the mechanics mean less and appearance means everything. Most state-level assault rifle bans restrict cosmetic accessories that have no effect on the rate of fire or the bullet velocity of the weapon. The lack of consensus on the definition of an assault rifle has created a patchwork of legislation that does not save lives but annoys the hell out of gun owners.
- Williams: Trump is not racist, not even kinda sorta
- Williams: Was Obama a Nazi? Border hypocrisy and indignation
Despite the media hype, rifles (of any kind) make up a very small fraction of gun deaths. The vast majority of American gun deaths are suicides in which handguns are the weapon of choice. Likewise, the vast majority of gun homicides are also the result of handguns. Moreover, according to the FBI, handguns are the gun of choice for active shooters, not assault rifles. A study in the Journal of the American College of Surgeons found handguns to be more lethal in mass shootings as well.
Despite popular beliefs, a new report from the National Center for Education Statistics shows school violence has been decreasing for decades. Similarly, research from Northeastern University shows school shootings have dramatically declined over the last 30 years. The well-publicized Sandy Hook and Parkland school shootings are seared into our memories. However, in America, bicycles and swimming pools kill far more children than school shooters do, regardless of what gun the latter choose.
An assault rifle ban will do nothing to address the major drivers of gun violence. Such a ban would have little to no effect on suicides, domestic violence or gang-related killings. When such a ban inevitably fails to materialize into fewer gun deaths due to non-compliance and the substitution effect (criminals switching to different guns), expect more radical proposals to proliferate.
Don’t be fooled, this will not stop with the abolishment of the much-maligned black rifles. The weapon-of-war tag applied to civilian semi-automatic rifles is fallacious and can be easily applied to almost any gun in common use. According to Pew Research, a little less than a third of Americans own guns. However, of those who do not own guns, more than half would consider gun ownership in the future. If you currently own a firearm or simply enjoy having the right to choose for yourself, reject silly talk of an unconstitutional assault rifle ban.
Williams is the policy director for the North Dakota Young Republicans. He’s an active economist who has worked for numerous liberty-based academic research centers and think-tanks. He earned a bachelor's degree in economics at Florida International University and his master's in financial economics from the University of Detroit Mercy. He is a co-host of The Policy radio show on 88.1 KPPP-FM and a regular contributor to The Forum's opinion pages.