During director of Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives nominee David Chipman’s May 26 Senate confirmation hearing, the paid anti-gun activist worked to obscure the woeful record of the 1994 Clinton “assault weapons” ban. That ban prohibited the sale of certain types of commonly-owned semiautomatic firearms, and magazines with a capacity greater than 10 rounds. Prompted by a question from Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), Chipman described the data regarding the ban’s efficacy as “mixed.” In truth, the Clinton semi-auto ban was a failure that even the federal government has acknowledged as ineffective.
The key to understanding why bans on commonly-owned semiautomatic firearms like the AR-15 rifle do not and cannot reduce violent crime is acknowledging the fact that these firearms are rarely used in violent crime.
Consider, according to the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting data, rifles were used in connection with 364 homicides in 2019. More than four times that number of murders involved a knife or other cutting instrument (1,476 such murders), and there were more murders using blunt objects (397) or personal weapons like hands, fists, or feet (600) than involved a rifle of any type.
Faced with the reality that so-called “assault weapons,” are rarely used to commit violent crime, a 1997 Department of Justice-funded study of the 1994 Clinton ban determined that “At best, the assault weapons ban can have only a limited effect on total gun murders, because the banned weapons and magazines were never involved in more than a modest fraction of all gun murders.”
The study also noted,
We were unable to detect any reduction to date in two types of gun murders that are thought to be closely associated with assault weapons, those with multiple victims in a single incident and those producing multiple bullet wounds per victim.
A 2004 follow-up Department of Justice-funded study came to a similar conclusion. The study determined that “AWs [assault weapons] and LCMs [large capacity magazines] were used in only a minority of gun crimes prior to the 1994 federal ban,” “relatively few attacks involve more than 10 shots fired,” and “the ban’s effects on gun violence are likely to be small at best and perhaps too small for reliable measurement.”
Presented with the overwhelming evidence that the ban was ineffective, Congress did not renew it.
In 2013, the Department of Justice’s National Institute of Justice surveyed the available research on a host of gun control measures for the Obama administration. Regarding a semiautomatic ban, the report determined “Assault weapons are not a major contributor to gun crime,” and that therefore, “a complete elimination of assault weapons would not have a large impact on gun homicides.”
In 2018, the RAND Corporation released a comprehensive study that surveyed the available research on several gun control policies. As part of the study, RAND researchers sought to determine “How Bans on the Sale of Assault Weapons and High-Capacity Magazines Affect Gun Use Outcomes.” The study stated, “We found no qualifying studies showing that bans on the sale of assault weapons and high-capacity magazines decreased any of the eight outcomes we investigated.” The “gun use outcomes” studied included “violent crime.”
The evidence is clear, banning commonly-owned semi-automatic firearms and their accessories doesn’t work. Chipman and the broader gun control movement’s continued advocacy for a failed policy measure reveals that their political project isn’t motivated by a desire for “gun safety,” reducing violence, or “public health,” but rather a religious passion for civilian disarmament.