Finally, at long last, the Times has come around to realize that the legend of the assault weapon is but a myth. The most dangerous guns are not rifles, but handguns.
OVER the past two decades, the majority of Americans in a country deeply divided over gun control have coalesced behind a single proposition: The sale of assault weapons should be banned.
That idea was one of the pillars of the Obama administration’s plan to curb gun violence, and it remains popular with the public. In a poll last December, 59 percent of likely voters said they favor a ban.
But in the 10 years since the previous ban lapsed, even gun control advocates acknowledge a larger truth: The law that barred the sale of assault weapons from 1994 to 2004 made little difference.
It turns out that big, scary military rifles don’t kill the vast majority of the 11,000 Americans murdered with guns each year. Little handguns do.
In 2012, only 322 people were murdered with any kind of rifle, F.B.I. data shows.
So why is it that so much attention is paid to big, scary assault rifles (a meaningless term if there ever was one).As I explain The Shooting Cycle, the Brady Campaign decided long ago that their efforts to outright ban handguns would go nowhere. First, they would have to desensitize Americans by banning the big scary military-like weapons. This was their open goal. So it’s no surprise so much attention has been focused on long guns, even though handguns are the most dangerous weapons!
Charles Krauthammer, a conservative columnist, who favors banning all guns, explains the process:
Ultimately, a civilized society must disarm its citizenry if it is to have a modicum of domestic tranquility of the kind enjoyed in sister democracies like Canada and Britain. Given the frontier history and individualist ideology of the United States, however, this will not come easily. It certainly cannot be done radically. It will probably take one, maybe two generations. It might be 50 years before the United States gets to where Britain is today.
Passing a law like the assault weapons ban is a symbolic—purely symbolic—move in that direction. Its only real justification is not to reduce crime but to desensitize the public to the regulation of weapons in preparation for their ultimate confiscation. Its purpose is to spark debate, highlight the issue, make the case that the arms race between criminals and citizens is as dangerous as it is pointless.
De-escalation begins with a change in mentality. And that change in mentality starts with the symbolic yielding of certain types of weapons. The real steps, like the banning of handguns, will never occur unless this one is taken first, and even then not for decades . . . .
The Times explains that this strategy “resonates” with the public:
The continuing focus on assault weapons stems from the media’s obsessive focus on mass shootings, which disproportionately involve weapons like the AR-15, a civilian version of the military M16 rifle. This, in turn, obscures some grim truths about who is really dying from gunshots.
Banning sales of military-style weapons resonated with both legislators and the public: Civilians did not need to own guns designed for use in war zones.
The media, feeding into the narrative, promotes the idea that rifles are so dangerous:
Still, the majority of Americans continued to support a ban on assault weapons.
One reason: The use of these weapons may be rare over all, but they’re used frequently in the gun violence that gets the most media coverage, mass shootings.
The criminologist James Alan Fox at Northeastern University estimates that there have been an average of 100 victims killed each year in mass shootings over the past three decades. That’s less than 1 percent of gun homicide victims.
But these acts of violence in schools and movie theaters have come to define the problem of gun violence in America.
But it had no meaningful impact on gun deaths:
Annually, 5,000 to 6,000 black men are murdered with guns. Black men amount to only 6 percent of the population. Yet of the 30 Americans on average shot to death each day, half are black males.
It was much the same in the early 1990s when Democrats created and then banned a category of guns they called “assault weapons.” America was then suffering from a spike in gun crime and it seemed like a problem threatening everyone. Gun murders each year had been climbing: 11,000, then 13,000, then 17,000.
Democrats decided to push for a ban of what seemed like the most dangerous guns in America: assault weapons, which were presented by the media as the gun of choice for drug dealers and criminals, and which many in law enforcement wanted to get off the streets.
This politically defined category of guns — a selection of rifles, shotguns and handguns with “military-style” features — only figured in about 2 percent of gun crimes nationwide before the ban.
Even the DOJ conceded as much:
“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,” a Department of Justice-funded evaluation concluded.
Handguns are responsible for the most crimes:
Handguns were used in more than 80 percent of murders each year, but gun control advocates had failed to interest enough of the public in a handgun ban. Handguns were the weapons most likely to kill you, but they were associated by the public with self-defense. (In 2008, the Supreme Court said there was a constitutional right to keep a loaded handgun at home for self-defense.)
Better late than never!