David Kopel in his interview.

As I men­tioned last time, David Kopel, a pro­fes­sor at the Uni­ver­sity of Den­ver, was on the Decem­ber 17th edi­tion of The PBS New­shour. Regard­ing the assault weapons ban, he said the following:

Well, I think we can look at what hap­pened when she had her 10-​​year in the past. The Con­gress, when it enacted that ban, also ordered that a for­mal study be done of the results of it.

The study was per­formed by the Urban Insti­tute, a very well-​​respected, some­what left-​​leaning think tank in Wash­ing­ton, D.C. The Urban Insti­tute reported that it had no effect on homi­cide rates. There was no sta­tis­ti­cally sig­nif­i­cant ben­e­fit in terms of sav­ing lives.

As I described in Part 1, the Urban Insti­tute study reached no such con­clu­sion. In any event, David Kopel was back on the Jan­u­ary 16th edi­tion of The PBS New­shour, dur­ing which he said the following:

Well, the Depart­ment of Jus­tice con­ducted a study of the effec­tive­ness of that ban, pub­lished it in 2004, after it had been in effect for nine years, and con­cluded it had done absolutely no good. No lives were saved. There weren’t fewer shots fired in shoot-​​outs with police offi­cers or any­thing else. So it was — it’s a proven fail­ure.

Once again, Kopel is claim­ing that the offi­cial stud­ies con­cluded that the assault weapon ban did “absolutely no good”. In fact, unlike Kopel, the stud­ies were care­ful not to over­state their find­ings. Fol­low­ing is an excerpt from the first chap­ter of the 2004 study, titled “Impacts of the Fed­eral Assault Weapons Ban, 1994–2003: Key Find­ings and Conclusions”:

Should it be renewed, the ban’s effects on gun vio­lence are likely to be small at best and per­haps too small for reli­able mea­sure­ment. AWs [assault weapons] were rarely used in gun crimes even before the ban. LCMs [large capac­ity mag­a­zines] are involved in a more sub­stan­tial share of gun crimes, but it is not clear how often the out­comes of gun attacks depend on the abil­ity of offend­ers to fire more than ten shots (the cur­rent mag­a­zine capac­ity limit) with­out reload­ing.

How­ever, the study continues:

Nonethe­less, reduc­ing crim­i­nal use of AWs and espe­cially LCMs could have non-​​trivial effects on gun­shot vic­tim­iza­tions. The few avail­able stud­ies sug­gest that attacks with semi­au­to­mat­ics – includ­ing AWs and other semi­au­to­mat­ics equipped with LCMs – result in more shots fired, more per­sons hit, and more wounds inflicted per vic­tim than do attacks with other firearms. Fur­ther, a study of hand­gun attacks in one city found that 3% of the gun­fire inci­dents resulted in more than 10 shots fired, and those attacks pro­duced almost 5% of the gun­shot vic­tims.

This does not sound like Kopel’s claim that the study showed that “no lives were saved” and that “there weren’t fewer shots fired in shoot-​​outs with police offi­cers or any­thing else”. In any case, Kopel’s broad claim that the study showed the ban to do “absolutely no good” is obvi­ously false.

Kopel is not the only per­son to claim that the Assault Weapons Ban was proven to be inef­fec­tive with­out pre­sent­ing the so-​​called proof. On Jan­u­ary 24th, the same day that Sen­a­tor Dianne Fein­stein held a press con­fer­ence to announce a new assault-​​weapons-​​ban pro­posal, Vice Pres­i­dent Joe Biden held a “Fire­side Hang­out” to talk about reduc­ing gun vio­lence. The first ques­tion came from Philip DeFranco, an Amer­i­can video blog­ger and YouTube celebrity, who asked the fol­low­ing (about 3:20 into the video):

Mr. Vice Pres­i­dent, the 1994 Vio­lent Crime Con­trol and Law Enforce­ment Act, known as the Assault Weapons Ban, expired because it was proven to be inef­fec­tive at reduc­ing vio­lent crime…

Biden began his response by cor­rectly point­ing out that the Assault Weapons Ban “did not expire because it was proved inef­fec­tive, it expired because it had to be reau­tho­rized in ten years” and that the “last admin­is­tra­tion chose not to seek reau­tho­riza­tion”. Biden went on to assert that “there were fewer police being mur­dered, fewer police being out­gunned when the assault weapons ban, in fact, was in exis­tence”. If true, this would con­tra­dict Kopel’s asser­tion that “there weren’t fewer shots fired in shoot-​​outs with police officers”.

Near the end of the chat, Biden made some inter­est­ing com­ments about his con­cern for the dan­gers posed by assault weapons ver­sus those posed by high-​​capacity gun mag­a­zines. A Huff­in­g­ton Post arti­cle sum­ma­rized them as follows:

More peo­ple out there get shot with a Glock that has car­tridges in a [high-​​capacity mag­a­zines],” said Biden, chair of a White House task force to develop vio­lence pre­ven­tion pro­pos­als, dur­ing an online Google+ chat.

I’m much less con­cerned, quite frankly, with what you’d call an ‘assault weapon’ than I am with mag­a­zines, and the num­ber of rounds that can be held in a mag­a­zine.” A Glock is a type of semi-​​automatic pistol.

I found these com­ments inter­est­ing in that they seemed to agree with some of the state­ments in the Key Find­ings and Con­clu­sions chap­ter of the 2004 study. Fol­low­ing is an excerpt:

• AWs [assault weapons] were used in only a small frac­tion of gun crimes prior to the ban: about 2% accord­ing to most stud­ies and no more than 8%. Most of the AWs used in crime are assault pis­tols rather than assault rifles.

• LCMs [large capac­ity mag­a­zines] are used in crime much more often than AWs and accounted for 14% to 26% of guns used in crime prior to the ban.

This agrees with Biden’s sug­ges­tion that LCMs may be the big­ger prob­lem, at least in some ways. Fol­low­ing are two addi­tional excerpts involv­ing LCMs:

• How­ever, the decline in AW use was off­set through­out at least the late 1990s by steady or ris­ing use of other guns equipped with LCMs in juris­dic­tions stud­ied (Bal­ti­more, Mil­wau­kee, Louisville, and Anchor­age). The fail­ure to reduce LCM use has likely been due to the immense stock of exempted pre-​​ban mag­a­zines, which has been enhanced by recent imports.

• Restrict­ing the flow of LCMs into the coun­try from abroad may be nec­es­sary to achieve desired effects from the ban, par­tic­u­larly in the near future.

Hence, not only does the 2004 study not claim to prove that the assault weapons ban was inef­fec­tive, it makes sug­ges­tions as to how to make it more effec­tive. It would seem rea­son­able to try imple­ment­ing those sug­ges­tions and see­ing if the ban can be made more effec­tive. In any event, we should ignore claims of proof by peo­ple like Kopel and DeFranco unless and until that proof is presented.