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Effects of the 1994-2004 Ban on Assault Weapons-Part 1 of 6 Parts

On September 13, 1994, President Clinton signed the “Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994” that among other things contained a ban on Assault Weapons as defined in the Act. Interestingly the Act is referred to as the “Assault Weapons Ban” while only 14-pages of a total of 356-pages address assault weapons, and of those 14-pages, 10-pages simply list acceptable rifles and shotguns in single line entries.

Title XI-Firearms, Subtitle A—Assault Weapons, page 201 of the Act has two main provisions:

1. A ban on weapons with at least two military style features (listed below)

2. A ban on large capacity magazines (holding 10 rounds or more)

Definition of “assault weapon” in the Act―a semiautomatic rifle that has an ability to accept a detachable magazine and has at least 2 of the following items:

1. Folding/telescoping stock

2. Pistol grip

3. Bayonet mount

4. Flash suppressor or threaded barrel designed to accommodate a flash suppressor

5. Grenade launcher

6. Ability to accept a detachable magazine

Additionally, the Act added: SEC. 110104. STUDY BY ATTORNEY GENERAL.

(a) STUDY.—The Attorney General shall investigate and study the effect of this subtitle [Subtitle A—Assault Weapons] and the amendments made by this subtitle, and in particular shall determine their impact, if any, on violent and drug trafficking crime. The study shall be conducted over a period of 18 months, commencing 12 months after the date of enactment of this Act.

(b) REPORT.—Not later than 30 months after the date of enactment of this Act, the Attorney General shall prepare and submit to the Congress a report setting forth in detail the findings and determinations made in the study under subsection (a).

From the above paragraph the purpose of the study is to:

1. Study the effect of the subtitle that is about Assault Weapons and the amendments made by the subtitle, and

2. In particular shall determine their impact, if any, on violent and drug trafficking crime.

The first task regarding weapons as stated in the Act is to study the effects of the ban on assault weapons and high capacity magazines. Since the Act doesn’t specify what effects to study, researchers are free to use their imagination and look into such things as whether or not the ban had an effect on violence against police, decrease in school shootings, and the number of people killed or wounded, etc.

The second objective of the mandated study is to study the ban’s effect on 1) violent crime and b) drug trafficking crime. “Violent crimes” is an opened ended invitation for the researchers to examine any number of areas. Since the items to be studied are opened ended and up to the discretion of the researchers, I would expect no two studies to be alike in every detail, but rather to have major difference in their scope and methodology.

Part 3 of the previous four-part series on “Assault Weapons” started off presenting information on “The Effects of the Assault Weapons Ban (1994-2004)” and concluded that discussion with the following quote from Wikipedia:

“The scientific consensus among criminologists and other researchers is that the ban had little to no effect on overall criminal activity, firearm deaths, or the lethality of gun crimes. Studies have found that the overwhelming majority of gun crimes are committed with weapons which are not covered by the Assault Weapon Ban, and that assault weapons [AR-15 style rifles] are less likely to be used in homicides than other weapons. There is tentative evidence that the frequency of mass shootings may have slightly decreased while the ban was in effect, but research is inconclusive, with independent researchers finding conflicting results.”

The above quote followed a short Wikipedia summary of nineteen separate studies that examined the effects of the ban. Since determining the effect of the ban is a controversial issue, the following five blogs present a deeper analysis of many studies which will allow the reader to draw his/her own conclusions on the ban's effectiveness.

As I read the studies, I found conflicting conclusions. I also realized that the various studies do not all use the same criteria in terms of what they were studying. The studies were professionally conducted involving all the analytical tools one would expect. I didn’t envy the researchers who undertook this challenging task.

I did have a few questions though, for example, did the weapons identified in the studies as “assault weapons” meet the definition of assault weapons as defined in the 1994 Act? Did they possess two or more of the forbidden military characteristics? Did the many different record-keepers across the U.S. accurately note the precise weapon used or just generalize and call it an assault weapon if it resembled an AR-15 style rifle?

It's difficult to imagine busy law enforcement personnel looking for two specific features on a rifle to determine if the rifle meets the definition of an assault weapon or if it’s just an AR-15 style rifle with one or none of the military style features.

For example, in the 1999 study by the U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, National Institute of Justice, researchers acknowledge that they counted incidents for the banned weapons and close substitutes before estimating potential ban effects and their consequences. Close substitutes define the issue. If the rifle has only one forbidden feature, it is not an assault weapon and should not be included in the study as it will skew the results.

Does gathering data for other than the specifically identified banned weapons nullify their conclusions if non-banned weapons are included in their findings? Since the researchers did not have access to all the weapons used in a crime, did they backtrack and question the authorities who found the weapon to ensure the weapon was properly identified? It appears each research group made up their own protocols regarding confirming the type of rifle used and many other issues probably without regard for uniformity across the several studies.

It’s possible that the data and conclusions in the several studies do not measure the same activities or use the same standards or definitions. Nonetheless, the following studies are noteworthy for their overall professionalism.

To find studies that examine the ban’s effectiveness, I google searched “effects of the 1994-2004 assault weapons ban.” I also found the below Rand website presented a collection of scholarly studies on the effects of the ban.


In Part 4 of the previous “Assault Weapons” blog, I noted the speed of a fired .223 round (3,240-foot pounds per second (fps) travels at 2,209 mph), and a .30-06 (2,800-fps travels at 1,909 mph). I should have added more examples of bullet speeds for a more meaningful comparisons. Field and Stream recorded the following bullet speeds all of which are faster than the .223 round fired by the Colt AR-15 and many AR-15 style rifles.

Here are the top rounds, as listed by Field & Stream, and the feet per second (fps) they travel upon being fired: (note, they are all faster than the .223)

· .220 Swift — A 40-Grain .220 Swift round moves approx. 4,300 fps.

· .257 Weatherby Magnum — An 87-Grain .257 Weatherby Magnum round moves approx. 3,700+ fps.

· .30/378 Weatherby — A 165-Grain .30/378 Weatherby round moves approx. 3,400+ fps.

· .224 Clark — A 80-Grain .224 Clark round moves approx. 3,500+ fps.

· .22 Eargesplitten Loudenboomer — A 50-Grain .22 Eargesplitten Loudenboomer round moves approx. 4,600 fps. “The 5 Fastest Rifle Cartridges: Few rifle rounds have cracked the 4,000-fps barrier. But the quest for ultra-velocity has produced some real screamers,” by DAVID E. PETZAL | Jul 30, 2020


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