Remember that time in 1994 when three former U.S. Presidents–Republican Gerald Ford, Democrat Jimmy Carter and–yes–even the Giant of G.O.P.-ism Ronald Reagan–joined forces in calling for a ban on assault rifles?
I’m old and gray-bearded enough to remember that they did this without anyone accusing them of being soft on crime or terrorism or the Second Amendment or any such thing.
And the ban was passed into law.
In a letter the three sent to Congress they wrote the following:
May 3, 1994
To Members of the U.S. House of Representatives:
We are writing to urge your support for a ban on the domestic manufacture of military-style assault weapons. This is a matter of vital importance to the public safety. Although assualt weapons account for less than 1% of the guns in circulation, they account for nearly 10% of the guns traced to crime.
Every major law enforcement organization in America and dozens of leading labor, medical, religious, civil rights and civic groups support such a ban. Most importantly, poll after poll shows that the American public overwhelmingly support a ban on assault weapons. A 1993 CNN/USA Today/Gallup Poll found that 77% of Americans support a ban on the manufacture, sale, and possession of semi-automatic assault guns, such as the AK-47.
The 1989 import ban resulted in an impressive 40% drop in imported assault weapons traced to crime between 1989 and 1991, but the killing continues. Last year, a killer armed with two TEC9s killed eight people at a San Francisco law firm and wounded several others. During the past five years, more than 40 law enforcement officers have been killed or wounded in the line of duty by an assault weapon.
While we recognize that assault weapon legislation will not stop all assault weapon crime, statistics prove that we can dry up the supply of these guns, making them less accessible to criminals. We urge you to listen to the American public and to the law enforcement community and support a ban on the further manufacture of these weapons.
Gerald R. Ford
Note their acknowledgement that a ban on assault weapons–which are basically machine guns made to mow people down in war and not for deer or duck hunting–wouldn’t stop any and all assault weapon crimes.
But we’ve come a long way since our Founding Fathers–whose idea of a weapon was a musket, for gosh sake–gave us the Second Amendment.
I have no doubt that our founders would be appalled that the machine guns we have now are widely available for anything but war.
Here’s a fact sheet, prefaced with a statement, from Sen. Diane Feinstein, who’s been pushing for a reinstatement of the ban for years (and good for her):
The 1994 Assault Weapons Ban was effective at reducing crime and getting these military-style weapons off our streets. Since the ban expired, more than 350 people have been killed and more than 450 injured by these weapons.
— A Justice Department study of the assault weapons ban found that it was responsible for a 6.7% decrease in total gun murders, holding all other factors equal.
Source: Jeffrey A. Roth & Christopher S. Koper, “Impact Evaluation of the Public Safety and Recreational Firearms Use Protection Act of 1994,” (March 1997).
The same study also found that “Assault weapons are disproportionately involved in murders with multiple victims, multiple wounds per victim, and police officers as victims.”
— The use of assault weapons in crime declined by more than two-thirds by about nine years after 1994 Assault Weapons Ban took effect.
Source: Christopher S. Koper, “An Updated Assessment of the Federal Assault Weapons Ban: Impacts on Gun Markets and Gun Violence, 1994-2003” (June 2004), University of Pennsylvania, Report to the National Institute of Justice, U.S. Department of Justice.
The percentage of firearms seized by police in Virginia that had high-capacity magazines dropped significantly during the ban. That figure has doubled since the ban expired.
Source: David S. Fallis and James V. Grimaldi, “In Virginia, high-yield clip seizures rise,” Washington Post, at http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2011/01/22/AR2011012204046.html
— When Maryland imposed a more stringent ban on assault pistols and high-capacity magazines in 1994, it led to a 55% drop in assault pistols recovered by the Baltimore Police Department.
Source: Douglas S. Weil & Rebecca C. Knox, Letter to the Editor, The Maryland Ban on the Sale of Assault Pistols and High-Capacity Magazines: Estimating the Impact in Baltimore, 87 Am. J. of Public Health 2, Feb. 1997.
37% of police departments reported seeing a noticeable increase in criminals’ use of assault weapons since the 1994 federal ban expired.
Source: Police Executive Research Forum, Guns and Crime: Breaking New Ground by Focusing on the Local Impact (May 2010).