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Published Tuesday, September 14, 2004, p. A15 in Investor's Business Daily

Sun Sets On Assault Weapons Ban, Legislation Conceived In Darkness

By John R. Lott, Jr.

Do you feel more fearful today then yesterday? Gun control advocates apparently do, but not for the reason that most people think.

At the midnight just passed, the federal "assault weapons" ban expired.

Despite claims that allowing the ban on some semiautomatic weapons to end will cause a rise in gun crimes and a surge in police killings, letting the law expire will show the uselessness of gun-control regulations and the inconveniences they cause.

Very soon it will be obvious to everyone that all the horror stories that were used to make the case for the ban -- one of the two major gun control regulations over the last 36 years -- were wrong.

The risks Americans wake up to Tuesday are being portrayed as deadly serious.Sarah Brady, a leading gun control advocate, warns that "Our streets are going to be filled with AK47s and Uzis."

Ratcheting up the fear factor to an entirely new level, Sen. John Kerry finally entered the fray Friday by claiming that sunsetting the ban makes "the job of terrorists easier."

Despite the heated rhetoric, there is not one single academic study showing that these bans have reduced any type of violent crime. Even research funded by the Justice Department under the Clinton administration concluded that the ban's"impact on gun violence has been uncertain."

Gun Laws Don't Help

When those same authors released their revised report in August looking at crime data up through 2000, the first six full years of the law, they claimed: "We cannot clearly credit the ban with any of the nation's recent drop in gun violence."

My own research examining crime data from 1977 through 1998 also found no reductions in any type of violent crime from either the state or federal laws. The law's only effect was to reduce gun shows by about 20%.

The explanation for these findings is very simple: There is nothing unique about the guns that were banned.

While the "assault weapons" ban conjures up images of machine guns used by the military, the guts of these guns are the same as any semiautomatic hunting rifle. They fire the same bullets with the same rapidity and produce the same damage as hunting rifles.

When Sarah Brady talks about "AK-47s and Uzis" flooding the streets or Kerry says "I never contemplated hunting deer or anything else with an AK-47," people unfortunately think they are referring to the guns actually used by militaries, not their civilian knockoffs.

The firing mechanisms in semiautomatic and fully automatic machine guns are completely different. The entire firing mechanism of a semiautomatic gun has to be gutted and replaced to turn it into a machine gun. The term "military style" is tossed around in the media, but the key word is "style."

Surprisingly, it is now not just gun control opponents making this argument. Some gun control groups, such as the Violence Policy Center, also began changingcourse last spring, a week after the renewal was defeated in the Senate. Despitespending a decade claiming it was a "myth" that "assault weapons merely look different," a Violence Policy Center spokesperson now claims:

"If the existing assault-weapons ban expires, I personally do not believe it will make one whit of difference one way or another in terms of our objective, which is reducing death and injury and getting a particularly lethal class of firearms off the streets. So if it doesn't pass, it doesn't pass."

Credibility Problem

As National Public Radio reported: "(The Violence Policy Center's representative) says that's all the (assault-weapons ban) brought about -- minor changes in appearance that didn't alter the function of these weapons."

It is hard to believe this is the same gun control organization responsible for the widely reported claim that the ban protected police.

So why the sudden conversion? Why wait until a week after the fiercely foughtrenewal was defeated in the Senate before suddenly morphing into Gilda Radner's Saturday Night Live character Emily Litella saying "never mind"?

To put it simply, gun-control groups' credibility is on the line. When it will be obvious to everyone in just months that all the horror stories about banning what have been labeled "assault weapons" were wrong, they want to try toclaim they didn't think the law ever really mattered.

Regulations rarely seem to disappear, especially ones with this much hype behind them. The media will undoubtedly try to keep the debate alive by focusingon particular crimes whenever a previously banned gun is used. But it will be harder to take gun control claims seriously in the future.

Still, it would have been nice if gun-control organizations had been honest and told us all this a decade ago.

John R. Lott, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, is the author of "More Guns, Less Crime."

The opposing article by Senator Feinstein is here


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Lyonette Louis-Jacques's page on Firearms Regulation Worldwide

The End of Myth: An Interview with Dr. John Lott

Cold Comfort, Economist John Lott discusses the benefits of guns--and the hazards of pointing them out.

An interview with John R. Lott, Jr. author of More Guns, Less Crime: Understanding Crime and Gun Control Laws

Some data not found at www.johnlott.org:

Updated Media Analysis of Appalachian Law School Attack

Since the first news search was done additional news stories have been added to Nexis:

There are thus now 218 unique stories, and a total of 294 stories counting duplicates (the stories in yellow were duplicates): Excel file for general overview and specific stories. Explicit mentions of defensive gun use increase from 2 to 3 now.

Journal of Legal Studies paper on spoiled ballots during the 2000 Presidential Election

Data set from USA Today, STATA 7.0 data set

"Do" File for some of the basic regressions from the paper