For all of you who are under 30 years old, hearing the current talk about another “assault weapons” ban, let me recount a little bit of history.
September 13, 1994 is a date which will live in gun rights infamy. That was the date that President Clinton put pen to paper and made things a wreck for law-abiding gun owners with the Public Safety and Recreational Firearms Use Protection Act, a subsection of the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994 law that was created at the behest of the Civilian Disarmament Industrial Complex.
Police statistics prior to the passage of the ban made clear how useless the AWB would be in actually reducing crime. The firearms targeted were hardly every used by criminals.
- California. In 1990, “assault weapons” comprised thirty-six of the 963 firearms involved in homicide or aggravated assault and analyzed by police crime laboratories, according to a report prepared by the California Department of Justice, and based on data from police firearms laboratories throughout the state. The report concluded that “assault weapons play a very small role in assault and homicide firearm cases.” Of the 1,979 guns seized from California narcotics dealers in 1990, fifty-eight were “assault weapons.”
- Chicago. From 1985 through 1989, only one homicide was perpetrated with a military caliber rifle. Of the 17,144 guns seized by the Chicago police in 1989, 175 were “military style weapons.”
- Florida. Florida Department of Law Enforcement Uniform Crime Reports for 1989 indicate that rifles of all types accounted for 2.6% of the weapons used in Florida homicides. The Florida Assault Weapons Commission found that “assault weapons” were used in 17 of 7,500 gun crimes for the years 1986-1989.
- Los Angeles. Of the more than 4,000 guns seized by police during one year, only about 3% were “assault weapons.”
- Maryland. In 1989-90, there was only one death involving a “semiautomatic assault rifle” in all twenty-four counties of the State of Maryland.
- Massachusetts. Of 161 fatal shootings in Massachusetts in 1988, three involved “semiautomatic assault rifles.” From 1985 to 1991, the guns were involved in 0.7% of all shootings.
- Miami. The Miami police seized 18,702 firearms from January 1, 1989 to December 31, 1993. Of these, 3.13% were “assault weapons.”
- New Jersey. According to the Deputy Chief Joseph Constance of the Trenton New Jersey Police Department, in 1989, there was not a single murder involving any rifle, much less a “semiautomatic assault rifle,” in the State of New Jersey. No person in New Jersey was killed with an “assault weapon” in 1988. Nevertheless, in 1990 the New Jersey legislature enacted an “assault weapon” ban that included low-power .22 rifles, and even BB guns. Based on the legislature’s broad definition of “assault weapons,” in 1991, such guns were used in five of 410 murders in New Jersey; in forty-seven of 22,728 armed robberies; and in twenty-three of 23,720 aggravated assaults committed in New Jersey.
- New York City. Of 12,138 crime guns seized by New York City police in 1988, eighty were “assault-type” firearms.
- New York State. Semiautomatic “assault rifles” were used in twenty of the 2,394 murders in New York State in 1992.
- San Diego. Of the 3,000 firearms seized by the San Diego police in 1988-90, nine were “assault weapons” under the California definition.
- San Francisco. Only 2.2% of the firearms confiscated in 1988 were military-style semiautomatics.
- Virginia. Of the 1,171 weapons analyzed in state forensics laboratories in 1992, 3.3% were “assault weapons.”
- National statistics. Less than four percent of all homicides in the United States involve any type of rifle. No more than .8% of homicides are perpetrated with rifles using military calibers. (And not all rifles using such calibers are usually considered “assault weapons.”) Overall, the number of persons killed with rifles of any type in 1990 was lower than the number in any year in the 1980s.
- Police View: Over 100,000 police officers delivered a message to Congress in 1990 stating that only 2% to 3% of crimes are committed using a so-called “assault weapon.”
- Florida study: In Florida, only 3.5% of the guns recovered by the police were guns that could loosely be defined as “assault weapons.” State of Florida Commission on Assault Weapons, Report, 18 May 1990, pp. 34-41. State of Florida Commission on Assault Weapons, Report, 18 May 1990, pp. 34-41.
- California study: The California Department of Justice suppressed an official report showing that “assault weapons” comprised only 3.7% of the guns used in crime. While the report was eventually leaked to the media, it received little press coverage.
- The Washington Times, 27 June 92 by David Alan Coia. “Assault rifles said to play small role in violent crime”
- Virginia task force: A special task force on assault weapons found that only 2.8 percent of the homicides involved “assault-type weapons” during 1992.
- Richmond Times-Dispatch, 4 August 1993, by Mark Johnson. “Assault-type weapons rarely used”
- Congressional Record, 13 September 1990, p. E 2826, citing [Police Advertisement], Roll Call, 3 September 1990. Also, see Howard Schneider, “Gun Owners Take Shot at Schaefer Assault-Weapon Bill,” The Washington Post, February 15, 1991.
- Knives more deadly: According to the FBI, people have a much greater chance of being killed by a knife or a blunt object than by any kind of rifle, including an “assault rifle.” In Chicago, the chance is 67 times greater. That is, a person is 67 times more likely to be stabbed or beaten to death in Chicago than to be murdered by an “assault rifle.” FBI, “Crime in the United States,” 1994, p. 18. Matt L. Rodriguez, Superintendent of Police for the City of Chicago, 1993 Murder Analysis at 12, 13.
But then, just as now, anti-gun politicians didn’t let details like facts and statistics get in their way.
The political environment was so dark that even two former Presidents, one an icon of conservatism, joined an obscure Georgia peanut farmer in publicly supporting the ban.
With the stroke of Bill Clinton’s pen, what was legal to manufacturer and sell one day was suddenly prohibited.
Luis Valdes for TTAGGuns likes these instantly became highly sought after and more valuable because they could take flash hiders, pistol grips, detachable 10+ round mags, folding stocks, and, of course, bayonets.
By legislative fiat, the end result was neutered guns and gimped magazines like this.
Magazines over 10 rounds were banned and a number of guns were, too, either by name or through a features test. The Clinton administration crowed about its passage like it was the second coming of FDR.
Despite the electoral armageddon Democrats suffered at the polls in 1994, largely attributed to the ban, they used it as a campaign tool for the 1996 presidential Elections.
But the industry wasn’t stupid and figured out ways to work around the ban in creative ways. Here, we have a 60 Minutes report originally aired in 1999, talking exactly about what the ban did and how gun manufacturers got around it.
As under all prohibitions, prices on many items sky rocketed. Grandfathered GLOCK magazines were especially hit hard.
Since pistols were affected by the capacity limit too, gun makers decided that if they were limited to ten rounds, they’d shrink their guns and make them far more concealable. That horrified gun grabbers. Take, for instance, this Chicago Tribune article from July 18, 2000 titled Guns Foes Warn of ‘Pocket Rockets’.
The gun fits in the palm of your hand. It packs three times the power of its predecessors. It holds up to 10 bullets. It is what police call a “pocket rocket.”
The issue snagged the attention of U.S. Rep. Rod Blagojevich (D-Ill.), a champion of anti-gun legislation who on Monday said he would introduce a bill to ban the weapons. “These are new high-tech guns designed specifically for killing people,” he said during a news conference at the Dirksen Federal Building. “They have no real sport purpose, and they don’t do anything that enhances a gun collector’s collection.”
The weapons started gaining popularity in 1994, and today, virtually all major gun manufacturers produce them, said Tom Diaz, senior policy analyst at the center. Diaz also said the industry has promoted “pocket rockets”–a term coined by Austrian gun manufacturer Glock to market a small, high-powered pistol–in tandem with a wave of state laws that permit licensed people to carry concealed weapons.
Guns like the GLOCK 26 were born because of the legal restrictions placed on the industry. If someone was limited to 10 rounds of 9mm, why would they buy a G17 with all that wasted space? Instead, guns the size of a Walther PPK or Smith & Wesson J-Frame — but chambered in 9mm or .40 S&W — came on the scene and they scared the bejeezus out of the civilian disarmament lobby.
But the industry and more importantly, the law-abiding public loved them.
Alan Gottlieb, founder of the Second Amendment Foundation based in Bellevue, Wash., maintains that the guns fill an important niche.
“They serve a very important purpose for people’s self-defense, especially for women who want to put it in their purse,” said Gottlieb, who said about 22,000 of the organization’s members or contributors come from Illinois. “There’s no such thing as a good or bad gun. It depends on whose hand it’s in.”
Fortunately for gun owners, the Assault Weapons Ban law had a 10-year sunset provision. It was the only way the law would have gotten the necessary Republican votes to pass at the time.
The 2000 and 2002 elections were mostly positive. George W. Bush beat Al Gore, was elected President, and the Republican Party (then somewhat pro-gun) maintained the majority in Congress in won in 1994, even though President Bush said he’d sign a renewal of the ban if it reached his desk.
But when the ban expired, no bill to extend it or make it permanent was ever even brought to a vote in Congress. That was attributed to the huge defeats Democrats suffered in the 1994 election. No bill ever reached President Bush’s desk.
Thankfully, on September 13, 2004, ten years after it was enacted, the 1994 ban expired. It was like a veil was lifted off the bird cage and the warmth of the sun finally came pouring in again.
The market shuddered with excitement (and pent up demand). Things became normal once again. And oh, how certain companies, pro-gun organizations, and gun banners reacted.
The firearms industry cranked up production, finally able to sell what was what was once verboten to the common plebs again. Standard capacity magazines, flash hiders, and telescoping stocks fell like manna from heaven as wallets flung open across the nation.
Websites like AR15.com went nuts with the expiration of the ban.
Pro-gun organizations like the NRA and GOA celebrated.
As you might imagine, the Civilian Disarmament Industrial Complex was less than thrilled with the demise of the ban.
As we now know, the Clinton assault weapons ban was an utter failure. It proved worthless in preventing crime and in reality only affected the law-abiding. Even the gun-grabbers themselves admitted this after the ban ended.
But in the 10 years since the previous ban lapsed, even gun control advocates acknowledge a larger truth: The law that barred the sale of assault weapons from 1994 to 2004 made little difference.
It turns out that big, scary military rifles don’t kill the vast majority of the 11,000 Americans murdered with guns each year. Little handguns do.
You don’t say.
To this day, my tastes and purchasing habits in firearms have been shaped by living through the assault weapons ban years. I see folks spend a ton of cash on fancy muzzle brakes when, to me, a standard $10 A2 flash hider is where it is at.
Folding/collapsing stocks and magazines over 10 rounds are much more important to me and that’s what guides my tastes, even in this era of slick, full-length free-float handguards and space-age muzzle brakes.
The fight, of course, is far from over. The assaults on our rights from those who are working toward complete civilian disarmament continue, just as they always have.
Both sides have learned some lessons and taken them to heart as a result of those dark ten years. The Civilian Disarmament Industrial Complex learned that grandfathering and a features test don’t really work and that outright bans and confiscation are the way to go.