March 2004

Short Shots: 03/04

Assaulting the 1994 Ban
With the first sniper trial of John Muhammad getting started, the one-year anniversary recalls the horrors and fear. There are also legislative attempts underway to ensure that it never happens again. Two Democratic presidential candidates, Congressmen Richard Gephardt (D-MO) and Dennis Kucinich (D-OH), have used the anniversary to introduce legislation demanding that the federal assault weapons ban be renewed and expanded before it expires next year. Lawmakers in Maryland are now requesting that over 40 different guns be added to the list of banned assault weapons. Legislators in other states are following suit.

Guns like Bushmaster’s XM15 are unfairly described as assault rifles, mainly because of their appearance, not their function.

In the gun-control debate, labels are often misleading: The “assault weapon ban” is no different, conjuring up images of machine guns, a view encouraged by the news media, which typically show machine guns in their stories on the ban. Yet, the 1994 federal assault weapon ban had nothing to do with machine guns, only semi-automatics that fire one bullet per pull of the trigger. Rebuilding semi-automatic weapons into machine guns is very difficult, as completely different firing mechanisms are used. It is easier to replace the entire gun than to re-engineer a semi-automatic gun.

Functionally, the banned guns are the same as other non-banned semi-automatic guns, firing the exact same bullets with the same rapidity and producing the exact same damage. The ban arbitrarily outlaws some guns based upon their name or cosmetic features, such as whether the gun could have a bayonet attached.

The media’s focus now is on the so-called sniper rifle. Yet, the .223-caliber Bushmaster rifle used in the sniper killings was neither a sniper rifle nor an “assault weapon.” In fact, it is such a low-powered rifle that in most states it is illegal to use it for even deer hunting precisely because of its low power, too frequently wounding and not killing deer.

Why anyone would think that assault weapon bans would reduce crime is a mystery. In theory, if so-called “assault weapons” are preferred by criminals to commit crime but are seldom used by citizens to stop crime, banning the whole class could reduce crime. But since most guns are semi-automatic, such a ban would cover most guns. However, banning a few semi-automatic guns might very well only change the brand of gun that criminals use.

The law never had much of an effect. Despite simultaneously praising the ban as being responsible for the drop in violent crime during the 1990s, President Clinton, who signed the “assault weapon ban” into law, complained in 1998 how easy it had been for gun manufacturers to continue selling the banned guns simply by changing the guns’ names or by making the necessary cosmetic changes.

Ironically, the banned guns were seldom used in crime to begin with. A 1995 study of the early 1990s by the Clinton administration showed that fewer than 1 percent of state and federal inmates carried “military-type” semi-automatic guns (a much broader set of guns than those banned by the law) when they committed a crime. A 1997 survey showed no reduction in the criminal use of this type of gun after the ban.

Only two studies have been conducted of the federal law’s impact on crime, one of which also examined the state assault-weapons laws. One study was funded by the Clinton administration and examined just the first year the law was in effect. It concluded that, “the ban’s short-term impact on gun violence has been uncertain.”

The second study is found in my book The Bias Against Guns. It examines the first four years of the federal law as well as the different state assault-weapon bans. Even after accounting for law enforcement, demographics, poverty and other factors that affect crime, the laws did not reduce any type of violent crime. In fact, overall violent crime actually rose slightly by 1.5 percent, but the impact was not statistically significant. The somewhat larger increase in murder rates was significant.

The data from the five states with assault weapons bans show no overall benefit, with seemingly random results: violent crime rose in California and Hawaii, remained unchanged in Massachusetts, and fell in Maryland and New Jersey.

The only clear result of the bans was to consistently reduce the number of gun shows by about 25 percent. Features such as bayonets mounts on guns may not mean much to criminals, but gun collectors sure seem to like them.

The purpose of limiting a law to a set period is presumably to test it, to see if it lives up to its promises. The bans have now been in effect for almost a decade, without any evidence of any benefits. —by John R. Lott Jr.


Lott, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, is the author of The Bias Against Guns (Regnery 2003).


The Gun Tests Take: Fueled by false images of machine guns and sniper rifles, the debate next year is likely to be very emotional. But House Majority Leader Tom DeLay has already said the legislation to renew the ban won’t be brought to the floor.

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Glock Deal Criticized
Domestic gun manufacturers are asking the Pentagon and State Department why 50,000 handguns were ordered from Glock, an Austrian gunmaker, without U.S. manufacturers getting an opportunity to bid for the contract, reportedly worth $19 million.

According to Rep. Jeb Bradley (R-NH), the Coalition Provisional Authority ordered the handguns unilaterally, giving no opportunity to U.S. companies to bid. One of those companies, Sigarms, Inc., of Exeter, N.H., in Bradley’s district, employs 130 workers and would have welcomed the opportunity to bid, according to Paul Erhardt, company spokesman. Sigarms already supplies weapons to the U.S. Secret Service, U.S. Air Marshals, Navy SEALs, and local law-enforcement departments that include the Texas Rangers.

Bradley blasted the unilateral contract in a letter to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. “There are a number of U.S. companies that could easily provide these weapons,” Bradley wrote. “Why were other firearm companies, namely American companies, passed over?”

The Glock buy was also criticized by Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif), chairman of the House Armed Services Committee. “... the U.S. taxpayer is paying the largest burden for the reconstruction efforts in Iraq, U.S. companies and the U.S. taxpayers they employ should benefit from these dollars.”

“To single source any product without competitive bidding is an affront to the very freedoms for which we are fighting in Iraq,” said Bob Morrison, heading the Taurus firearms efforts in North America. “What matters in this case is that we, as the firearms industry based in the United States, be allowed to compete bids for firearms required by our government. All we ask for is parity and the chance to compete.”


The Gun Tests Take: Obviously, the domestic manufacturers got shafted here.

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Students For The 2nd Amendment
Most gun owners know that college campuses usually aren’t hospitable places for gun education. But a non-partisan, campus-based student organization is working to change that.

Students for the Second Amendment (SF2A), founded in December 2000, educates young people about their civil rights guaranteed in the U.S. Constitution, one of which is the right to keep and bear arms. SF2A sponsors speakers, workshops, and events on college and high school campuses. With a special emphasis on the right which is the guarantor of all others, Students for the Second Amendment introduces many to the safe enjoyment of the shooting sports. Most notably, the group has inspired a groundswell of pro-freedom, grassroots, student activism on campuses across Texas.

For more information, contact Damasso Torres at (210) 674-5559 or log on to www.sf2a.org.


The Gun Tests Take: This is a neat idea. The group works to counteract anti-gun bias in education, where much of the most virulent cultural and legal bias against gun ownership occurs.

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We’re Not Kidding
If you have been thinking about building the ultimate 10/22 rifle, we suggest you buy a trigger group/action from Tony Kidd while you can. He’s the gunsmith that put together one of the the best 10/22 actions ever, and he makes a light, dependable trigger for the gun as well. Kidd has accepted an R&D job with the government and won’t be building any more 10/22 units for the foreseeable future. Call him at (830) 560-1044 or email ybaverage@msn.com.


The Gun Tests Take: Kidd’s work on the 10/22 trigger is exceptional. Prediction: He’ll be bored with R&D work and will come back to the market inside three years.