Published Friday, June 3, 2005, in New York Post

The Daily News front-page story relied on a false statement from a gun-control group.

By John R. Lott, Jr.*

WHEN the federal assault- weapons ban expired last September, its fans claimed that gun crimes and police killings would surge. Sarah Brady, one of the nation's leading gun-control advocates, warned, "Our streets are going to be filled with AK-47s and Uzis."

Well, over eight months have gone by and the only casualty has been gun-controllers' credibility. Letting the law expire only showed its uselessness.

Yet, while this lesson has been learned in the rest of the country Illinois' Democrat-controlled state Assembly last week defeated both a proposed assault weapons and 50-caliber gun bans New York's Legislature was going its own way. The Assembly last month passed new assault-weapon and 50-caliber bans by almost two-to-one margins and some Republican state senators (such as Queens' Frank Padavan) are signing on, too.

The irrelevance of the assault-weapons bans to crime rates was to be expected. Not a single published academic study has ever shown that these bans have reduced any type of violent crime.

Even research funded by the Justice Department in the Clinton years found only that these bans' effect on gun violence "has been uncertain." And when those same authors released their updated report last August, looking at crime data up through 2000 the first six full years of the federal law they stated, "We cannot clearly credit the ban with any of the nation's recent drop in gun violence."

And research examining New York's own five-year-old assault-weapons ban has found it did nothing to affect crime.

Why? Simple: There's nothing unique about the guns that these laws ban. The phrase "assault weapon" conjures up images of the rapid-fire machine guns used by the military, but the weapons in the ban actually function the same as any semiautomatic hunting rifle. They fire the exact same bullets with the exact same rapidity and produce the exact same damage.

Ignorance about these gun laws is amazingly widespread. For example, a spokesman noted that Sen. John Marchi (R-Staten Island) supported the ban because he "feels nobody needs a combat weapon to go deer-hunting." Yet the banned guns have never been the ones used by militaries around the world. These are civilian versions of military guns regular deer rifles that look on the outside like AK-47s etc.

Despite other myths, the firing mechanisms in semiautomatics and 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.

As for New York's proposed 50-caliber ban: These guns just aren't suited for crime. Fifty-caliber rifles are big, heavy guns, weighing at least 30 pounds and using a 29-inch barrel. They're also relatively expensive: Models that hold one bullet at a time run nearly $3,000. Semi-automatic versions cost around $7,000.

The folks who buy them are wealthy target shooters and big-game hunters, not criminals. No one in the U.S. has ever been murdered by such a gun.

The Daily News tried adding to the hysteria with a recent front-page news story that reported, "The manufacturer of a .50-caliber sniper rifle boasts that it can bring down an airplane with a single shot, and that's just one of the things about it that worries local lawmakers."

But when contacted, the manufacturer said that they'd never said that. The News had relied on a false statement from a gun-control group. In fact, there is just too much redundancy in modern aircraft for a single bullet to bring down a plane.

The decision to demonize these particular guns and not, say, .475-caliber hunting rifles is completely arbitrary. The difference in width of these bullets is a trivial .025 inches. What's next? Banning .45-caliber pistols? Instead of protecting people from terrorists or criminals, the plain goal here is is to gradually reduce the type of guns that people can own.

Even for lawmakers, predictions must eventually matter. If legislators can't see that these laws have failed to deliver as promised, it's hard to know when facts will make a difference.

John R. Lott Jr., a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, is the author of "More Guns, Less Crime" (University of Chicago, 2000).


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