The Use of "Assault Weapons" in Crime

The Use of "Assault Weapons" in Crime
February 22nd, 2007  

Topic: The Use of "Assault Weapons" in Crime

The Use of "Assault Weapons" in Crime
The 1994 omnibus crime bill has proven to be a dismal failure as it attempted to curb crimes committed with firearms by banning weapons and equipment that have no bearing on crime, according to a 2001 Bureau of Justice Statistics study.
Looking at the broader picture of all gun use in crime, it becomes clear that "assault weapons" are a minor part of the problem. Police gun seizure data from around the nation finds that "assault weapons" account for less than 2% of guns seized by the police; more typically, they account for less than 1%, according to data compiled from 24 major jurisdictions.
At first blush one might say that the lack of crime using assault weapons or high-capacity magazines is due to the ban. Wrong. Before the ban the AK and AR type rifles, two of the most common, were produced in the millions. These weapons were grandfathered in as per the provisions of the bill. Further, standard capacity (30 rounds or more) magazines designed for these weapons were mass-produced and surpluses are in the millions. There is no shortage of these “pre-ban” magazines and in many cases they can be had for little more than their “post-ban” counterparts.

"Assault Weapon" Statistics
What was crime like before the ban? The following summary of police statistical surveys is excerpted from David B. Kopel. (Kopel's paper contains the citations for these surveys and lists a few more studies as well.)
  • 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."
February 22nd, 2007  
  • 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.
When the gun control side has it pointed out to them that their sweeping "assault weapons" bans will disarm large numbers of voters, they usually come back with a more limited bill which affects a certain number of scary-looking firearms that they claim are the choice of criminals, which, despite the impression given by Hollywood action movies, is completely untrue.
Actually, police departments nationwide agree that criminals do not prefer these weapons:
  • 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."
  • 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
  • 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.
  • David Alan Coia, "Assault rifles said to play small role in violent crime," The Washington Times, 27 June 92.
  • 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.
  • Mark Johnson, "Assault-type weapons rarely used," Richmond Times-Dispatch, 4 August 1993.
  • 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.
It is not without interest that memos were circulated within the California Department of Justice which suggested that the sponsor of the California ban, former Assemblyman Mike Roos (D) and others agreed not to include future studies on what firearms were used in crimes because these facts were "unlikely to support the theses on which the law was to be based." No sense confusing legislators or the public with the facts. Calif. Political Week, September 9, 1991 at 1.

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