"Assault Weapons" and homicide

In another case of a comment that turned into a post:

My good friend Thirdpower, over at Days of our Trailers, pointed out the fallacies in a recent editorial by perennial anti-gun bigot Jesse Jackson.

Although Thirdpower did a good job of succinctly pointing out a major problem in Mr. Jackson’s first point, I don’t feel he went far enough.

Under a federal assault weapons ban from 1994 to 2004, there was a 60 percent drop in assault-weapon deaths. – Jesse Jackson

There was a 60% drop in ALL homicides during that period. -Thirdpower

I’ve looked at this issue in detail before, when researching the issue in forming my own opinion about it (an exercise I heartily recommend for anyone before taking a position on an issue) so I started to put some of my findings out there in his comments section.  As usual it got too long for a comment, so here’s the truth about “assault weapons” and homicide and the effect of the ban on scary looking cosmetic features (sometimes referred to as the “assault weapons ban”):

All my data came from the FBI Uniform Crime Reports.  Not from the NRA, or Brady Campaign, or any other biased group that may have massaged the numbers to make them say what they want them to say.

Every year’s UCR has a table that breaks down homicides by weapon for the year of the report and the preceding 4 years.

The UCR doesn’t differentiate between “assault weapons” and other rifles (probably because there IS no functional difference) so the numbers I use to represent “assault weapons” is actually the number of homicides where ANY type of rifle is used.

That’s an important distinction because it means that these numbers are actually TOO HIGH.  We don’t know by how much, but they are, in fact, inflated in favor of the anti-gun position.

So:  What do the numbers say?

In 1994, the year the ban was passed, and the first year Mr. Jackson cited for his claim, there were 22,084 homicides.  Of those, 15,463 involved firearms.  only 724 were committed with rifles of any type.

That means that rifles of any type were used in 3.3% of all homicides in 1994 and only in 4.6% of “gun homicides”…the metric that the anti-gun lobby likes to use because, I guess, you’re less dead if you’re killed with a knife or something.

Although the number of homicides decrease steadily throughout the period 1994 to 2004 (a trend which actually began in 1991, well before the passing of the Clinton Crime Bill), so did the use of rifles…so the percentage remained fairly steady.

In 2004, the year the ban expired, there were 14,210 total homicides, of which 9,385 were committed by perpetrators using firearms, and 403 using rifles.

To give credit where due, Mr. Jackson was correct that there was a 60% decrease of homicides in which rifles were used (actually 55.6%, but that’s close enough for government work isn’t it?)…but Thirdpower was absolutely correct that there was a corresponding decrease in total homicide (64.3%) and firearms homicide (60.7%).   In fact, if we pretend (as the anti-freedom lobby regularly does) that a simple correlation can be used as proof of causation, then the assault weapon ban decreased non-firearm homicide more than it did firearm homicide.

At any rate, getting back to my point: crunching the numbers again, we find that a very similar percentage of homicides were committed by criminals using rifles of any type:  2.83% of all homicides and 4.29% of gun homicides.

So there may have been a slight decrease but the numbers are remarkably steady.

But, since Mr. Jackson’s contention is that the ten years of “assault weapon ban” CAUSED that slight decrease, obviously, when the ban expired in 2004, the rate of murders with “assault weapons” MUST have gone back up right?  Especially when you consider the huge upsurge in popularity of the AR-15 style platform in all types of shooting endeavors.

Um…not so fast there buster.

In 2010, there were 12,996 total homicides…note the continued decreasing trend…including 8,775 gun homicides and 358 committed by criminals using rifles.

Hmm.  That means that in 2010, 2.75% of all homicides were committed using rifles of any kind, and only 4.09% of gun homicides were committed using rifles.

That’s six years AFTER the ban expired.

Hmmm.

Something doesn’t add up here.

Something is definitely causing our homicide rate to decrease, but it sure wasn’t any ban on pistol grips and barrel shrouds.  In fact, there is no correlation at all between any gun control measure and the significant decreases in homicide rates we’ve been enjoying since about 1991.

You know what HAS correlated nicely with the decreasing homicide rates?

(click the image to go to the source)

One other point to make regarding the use of “assault weapons”, or any rifles for that matter, in homicide:

According to the same FBI Uniform Crime Reports – hands, fists and feet are consistently used two to three times more often to commit homicide in this country than rifles of any type.

Two to three TIMES more often.

That’s 200 to 300 percent.

Perhaps we should be registering and restricting ownership of bodily appendages.

You see how it works?  By focusing on one small element of the issue, and ignoring the greater context, they can make something relatively minor look like a much bigger problem than it really is.  So-called “Assault Weapons” are involved in only a tiny fraction of homicides and even if restricting them were 100% effective (which it would not be…in fact, the 1994 to 2004 AWB demonstrated pretty thoroughly that such a law is approximately 0% effective), it would only reduce homicides by less than 3 percent…and that’s assuming that the bad guys don’t just use their hands and feet instead.

This is what is known as “a solution in search of a problem”; and is prima facia evidence of the lack of rational thought that goes into your typical anti-freedom advocate’s issue selection process.

If you want to verify that the information I presented here is an accurate representation and not just “cherry picked” to reach a predetermined conclusion (another favorite trick of the anti-freedom lobby), here are links to the source data:

1994 to 1998, Table 2-10 (pdf): http://www.fbi.gov/about-us/cjis/ucr/crime-in-the-u.s/1998/98sec2.pdf

1999 to 2003, Table 2-9 (pdf): http://www.fbi.gov/about-us/cjis/ucr/crime-in-the-u.s/2003/03sec2.pdf

2004 to 2008, Table 8: http://www2.fbi.gov/ucr/cius2008/offenses/expanded_information/data/shrtable_08.html

2006 to 2010, Table 8: http://www.fbi.gov/about-us/cjis/ucr/crime-in-the-u.s/2010/crime-in-the-u.s.-2010/tables/10shrtbl08.xls

15 thoughts on “"Assault Weapons" and homicide

  1. Factual, well researched, well written. What is sad, though, is that you don't have the same platform for this that Mr. Jackson has for his opinions.

  2. Perhaps not…but based on the trend that public opinion has been taking over the past ten years or so, those of us who are working to get the truth out and counter the propaganda of the anti-gun media and the left (but I repeat myself), are getting the message across, even if it is just by dribs and drabs.

    Those dribs and drabs add up after a while; and once you've been exposed to the obvious truth, supported by incontrovertible facts…with the notable exception of those for whom being anti-gun borders on religious belief…it's awful hard to go back to believing the half-truths, misrepresentations and blatant falsehoods of the anti-freedom lobby.

    It's like the red and blue pills of the movie "The Matrix". Once you wake up to the truth, you can never go back.

  3. Just a thought, but it does not matter the ratio of deaths due to the method. If 95% of homicides were via the use of a rifle it still would not matter. If 95% were from hammers we would not tolerate banning hammers. If we(gunowners) continue to show the stats for "assault rifle" related homicides and use that as a basis for continued ownership it could come back to bite us. We should instead be shouting that it does not matter the tool it is the user that makes the crime.

  4. It is however an interesting evidence of how the politicians and media try to dope the GDP(generally dome public) into believing it's the tool not the operator. Alcohol, drugs, and vehicles are involved in many times more deaths. Granted the use of those is regulated and heavy penalties imposed for their improper use. However there is no talk whatsoever about banning any of those except for the drugs which are not doctor prescribed.

    • I feel that guns should be regulated and have heavy penalties for misuse too. I think that would be a step in the right direction but the thing about the major gun right activists is that they are unwilling to budge and accuse the other side of taking their freedoms whenever this issue is addressed. Instead of blaming the media and Hollywood for gun crimes, why not focus on the issue of criminals and unfit owners getting their hands on guns. 8,775 homicides is still a large number when just enforcing proper background checks can save a couple more lives.

      • Gun rights activists unwilling to budge? Please look up the National Firearms Act of 1934, and the Gun Control act of 1968…just for starters.

        What has our “budging” bought us? Not a thing. We have budged many times and the next time the gun controllers come up with some other hare brained scheme to rid the world of evil, we’re again accused of intransigence.

        Please point out the time that the gun control crowd was “willing to budge” on their pet issues. Every advance in gun rights we’ve won in the past 20 years has been over their objections (and inevitable predictions of “blood in the streets”, which is just as inevitably proven false). Every time they offer up a new proposal, it’s touted as “a good first step”. How many steps are there and where do they logically lead?

        I, for one, am done budging. We’ve budged enough.

        Background checks are already required for firearms purchased from licensed dealers. If they aren’t being done properly, then what good is another law going to do?

        Oh…you mean that you want me to be required to request permission from the government before I am permitted to sell my privately owned property? And that’s not a freedom issue in what way exactly?

        And for those disinclined to follow the law, how, specifically, would that be enforced? Do you know how many and what types of guns I own? If not, how are you to know when I sell one?

        The only possible way for any such law to be enforceable is complete and total registration. The government would have to know exactly who owns what guns in order to track them to that degree.

        Over my dead body.

        Registration is ALWAYS a precursor to confiscation.

        Not while I’m breathing.

  5. I am so pleased that I found this article I will share it with all my friends.
    who are so willing to give up their freedoms

  6. If ‘In 2010, there were 12,996 total homicides…note the continued decreasing trend…including 8,775 gun homicides and 358 committed by criminals using rifles,’ how can hands, fists, and feet be used 2-3 times more to commit homicides than guns? Unless hands, fists, and feet represent homicide attempts and not actual homicides, in which case a point can be made that acknowledging violent acts do occur, restricting gun access could be linked to a decrease in the amount of times a violent act led to a death.

  7. The second amendment to the U.S. Constitution guarantees every American the right to bear arms. Has any law ever been so ambiguous? What are arms? What does it mean to bear them? At least with the first amendment we know exactly where we stand: Freedom of speech. It couldn’t be any clearer. But, the right to bear arms leaves the second amendment open to different interpretations. We need gun permits to carry a concealed weapon. Do we need knife permits? No. Yet both can, and often do, cause death. We can own a gun, or a rifle, or a sub-machine gun, or a machete, and dozens of other tools to kill, even our own bare hands. So, gun control is a debate in our country that makes no sense unless you broaden the ban or acceptance to include all instruments of death.*^

    Our own blog site
    http://caramoan.ph

    • It’s only ambiguous to those who want it to be. The First Amendment can be equally ambiguous if you choose to ignore the obvious intent of it:

      What is “speech?” Does it include TV? Radio? Cable TV? the Internet? What is a Religion and how free should it be? Should practitioners of Voodoo be permitted to sacrifice live chickens? Should Mormons or Muslims be permitted multiple wives? Should Christians be allowed to pray in public venues?

      What is the “Press”? Does it include only full time employees of established, commercial media outlets? Does it include bloggers in their pajamas? Does it include “free lance” journalists who sell their stories to the highest bidder?

      What is “freedom of the press?” Does that mean the press can say whatever they want whenever they want, even if patently untrue? What about libel? Should the press be shielded from consequences when they refuse to reveal “confidential sources” who leak sensitive personal information on crime victims or information that affects national security or endangers the lives of our military members?

      Ambiguity can ALWAYS be found if you look hard enough.

      If you are really confused about what the founders meant by “arms” then I suggest you study some history, read their writings and public speeches. They make it pretty clear what they meant if you look into it.

      The founders clearly believed that any particular member of “the people” should be able to be as well armed as any particular member of the military.

      BTW: The first amendment is actually more restrictive than the second. The first amendment clearly says “congress shall pass no law respecting…” The first amendment protections only protect against infringement by the federal government (this was changed by the 14th amendment, but at the time the bill of rights was written…)

      The Second Amendment reads “the right…shall not be infringed”. It doesn’t limit the restriction only to the Federal Government, it specifies that the right enumerated shall not be infringed By Anyone.

      Now, unless your contention is that the founding fathers simply weren’t smart enough to understand the implications of the difference in wording, the importance of the second amendment to them is clear.

      There really is no ambiguity in the Second Amendment. It’s very clearly and forcefully stated. The right of Americans to arm themselves equivalent to the typical military member of the day Shall Not Be Infringed. How can any other interpretation be reconciled with the clear statement that the intent of the amendment was to ensure the effectiveness of the militia’s ability to secure our free state?

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