Little response seen with gun ban end
Last week marked the sunset for the 1994 Assault Weapons Ban. The ban was a Clinton-era piece of legislation aimed at decreasing the number of deadly weapons on the nation?s streets. Like all issues involving constitutional rights, gun laws are a tricky business and this one was no exception.
A minefield of constraints renders the passage of meaningful gun legislation nearly impossible. For example, any confiscation of guns already legally owned by citizens cannot be countenanced (even machine guns). The second amendment cannot be infringed (a hazy line). Legal use of weapons, such as competition and hunting, must be preserved.
Nevertheless, in 1994 an imperative to ?do something? sent the warriors on both sides to battle. The 1994 Assault Weapons Ban subsequently emerged as a creature of this complicated environment ? a feel-good symbol lacking the teeth to take a bite out of gun crime. Its end, like its beginning, is nothing to get excited about.
The initial popularity of the 1994 ban was mostly due to inflated claims knowingly espoused by supporters such as Senator Diane Feinstein (D?Calif.) and the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence. Even the legislation?s title misleads.
Calling the law a ?ban? is a misnomer since the law grandfathers all existing weapons. The law simply prevents further manufacture or importation. Owning, buying, and selling assault weapons are still perfectly legal. Another befuddlement concerns the weapons affected: only semi-automatic guns are covered. Semi-automatic firearms require the trigger to be pulled for every shot, as opposed to fully automatic machine guns. In order to distinguish ?assault weapons? from other semi-auto guns, the Assault Weapons Ban adds military characteristics, such as a large magazine, pistol grip, or bayonet lug, that have more to do with the appearance and not the operation of the weapon. This severely limits the law?s scope.
The Assault Weapons Ban did restrict the flow of scary-looking weapons into America. However, the purported reason for the ban was to reduce gun violence. Dozens of studies overwhelmingly agree that the law has been an utter failure, mainly because these scary weapons are rarely used in crime.
Before and after the ban, only two or three percent of murders nation-wide were committed with assault weapons. Only about four percent of firearms confiscated by police can be loosely classified as ?assault weapons.? It is very difficult to point to any crime that could have been prevented by the ban. The highest profile case involving the use of an assault rifle was the Washington sniper spree. The perpetrators employed an assault rifle, but used it as a sniper rifle, a gun that is not prohibited. Even if military rifles were totally unavailable, this crime would not have been prevented.
The 1994 ban?s stated purpose of getting dangerous weapons off the streets failed on account of the gun landscape in the country. All that changed is that military-style firearms are now selling for higher prices at gun shows. Likewise, its implied purpose as a stepping stone to more restrictive firearms legislation was doomed to failure on account of the movement of gun issues off the agendas of most congressmen. Anti-gun forces are now faced with a legislative cease-fire for the foreseeable future. The passage of the 1994 ban was indeed a brief moral victory for gun opponents and a moral defeat for the pro-gun crowd, but with no tangible results.
Jeff Cullers (jcullers@) is a fifth-year senior in social and decision sciences, economics, and history. He welcomes all responsible replies.